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Gundy vs. Lunt: Unfair Fight, Easy Fix

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Mike Gundy's move to block Wes Lunt doesn't feel right. Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images.
Mike Gundy's move to block Wes Lunt doesn't feel right. Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images.

We really want to like Mike Gundy. Not root for him. Not hope he helps Oklahoma State win the Big 12 or stalk a national title. Just look at him and the job he does and approve of both.

You don’t want to think he’d do something malicious, like jeopardize a former player’s future.

There’s something rare and special about a college coach making it happen at his alma mater. Gundy, once the top prep quarterback in the state of Oklahoma who handed footballs to Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders during his days in Stillwater, is one of only 12 coaches doing it in the FBS.

He’s built a winner at Oklahoma State. He’s recruited future NFL stars. He’s hired very good coaches, humbly making room for offensive coordinators to come in and do things differently when other head coaches might retain more control, but also boldly finding his newest defensive coordinator on his own staff when many were calling for an outsider to get a shot.

In truth, if not for a career night in 2011 from an Iowa State quarterback who’s no longer on the Cyclones campus, Gundy may have already played for a national title.

This can’t be the type of person who’d hold something against someone who doesn’t want to be part of the program.

True, he unleashed the regrettable, yet unforgettable “I’m a man! I’m 40!” rant in 2007 when Gundy went after a local columnist who had tried to explain quarterback Bobby Reid’s recent benching. This was the poorest of poor form, but it was also a head coach defending one of his players. There can be far worse indictments of a head coach these days. As time passed, don’t doubt for a second that that passion and protection didn’t play well in living rooms throughout the Southwest.  

There’s no way that years later moms and dads would wonder if the same coach was really that invested in their son’s welfare.

Nah. He’s grown. In 2011, Gundy and his wife, another Oklahoma State graduate, endowed a scholarship for the quarterback position at their alma mater. This offseason, he’s taken to Twitter to connect with followers in a casual Q&A session. He could have picked questions carefully and hidden from obvious topics, but take a look at this #AskGundy interaction with the college football blog Every Day Should Be Saturday:

Dear @CoachGundy: please verify your age and gender. (i.e., male, 40)

@edsbs Gender: Male. Current age: 45 #AskGundy

Again, you want to like him because these are not the norms in his industry. And that’s in peril today because Gundy is again outside the norm — but in a bad way.

Sophomore quarterback Wes Lunt announced his plan to transfer two weeks ago, certainly to head to another Division I school to spend his next four years and three seasons. A departure seemed inevitable, in one form or another. The Cowboys had quite a quarterback derby going and Lunt was competing with senior Clint Chelf and sophomore J.W. Walsh. By the end of the spring, it appeared Chelf would be the starter, which meant Lunt or Walsh might move on and no one would begrudge either of them for doing what so many other quarterbacks do when playing time becomes the issue.

Gundy, though, is putting obstacles between Lunt and possible destinations. Various reports late last week and throughout the weekend had Gundy blocking Lunt’s move to schools in the Big 12, SEC and Pac-12, plus Central Michigan and Southern Miss.

This wiped out 37 schools, including Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Southern Miss, schools Lunt preferred, along with Illinois and Louisville, according to ESPN.com.  

Gundy has remained silent, though that could be easily explained as staying out of the mud and not implicating a player for giving phony reasons to transfer or a school for tampering. The lack of words neither helps nor harms an urge to give him the benefit of the doubt and trust there’s a reason he’s stunting the kid whom he named the starter this time last year, a kid who literally gave his body to the team and suffered a concussion and a knee injury that limited him to just five starts.

But you also have to wonder why Gundy is limiting Lunt’s ability to move. Gundy nearly took the Tennessee job last winter and considered the opening at Arkansas. There’s no clause in the contract Gundy signed after the 2011 season that keeps him from going to particular schools. There wasn’t any wording in Lunt’s scholarship to set specific prohibitions, either.

Now there are explanations.

  • Gundy would be a fool to release Lunt, or any player, to a Big 12 school. There are potentially crippling trade secrets at stake there that could haunt the Cowboys for many years.
  • Oklahoma State plays Central Michigan in 2015 and 2016 and colleges often prevent players from transferring to a future opponent, even if it seems silly a burgeoning Big 12 power is proactively worried about a MAC threat two years in the future.
  • Gundy’s offensive coordinator the last two years, Todd Monken, is now the head coach at Southern Miss. For all we know, Gundy asked or Monken volunteered that he wouldn’t take any Cowboys with him. At minimum, that’s a gentleman’s agreement, though one that’s often skipped.

It’s a little harder to defend Gundy thwarting moves to the SEC and Pac-12, especially given the only publicized possibility. Lunt’s high school coach in Illinois, Rochester’s Derek Leonard, told Zach Kerker, the sports director at 1450 AM in Springfield, Ill., that Gundy blocked those two leagues because a member and Oklahoma State “could play in bowl games."

The Big 12 does indeed have bowl partnerships with both leagues, but the current agreements expire after this season — though the Big 12 and the SEC will play their champions in the Sugar Bowl beginning in 2015. Unless Gundy knows that, it’s a weak argument. If he does know of the future, it’s still not especially strong reasoning.

Curiously, the ACC is excluded from all of this, even though Oklahoma State opens the 2014 season with Florida State and the Big 12 is widely expected to partner with the ACC in the coming bowl cycle.

The real problem here is not Gundy, though. It’s the system that allows Gundy to do this and allows him to act so out of focus. There’s nothing in the vast NCAA legislation that prevents Gundy from having control over Lunt even after Lunt has left Gundy’s program. Lunt has to have a release to transfer and accept a scholarship. The only exception that exists is a rule allowing Lunt to go where Gundy does not want him to go as long as Lunt pays for school his first year. That sounds like a punishment, whereas coaches are free to go from place to place and accept far more rewards than penalties.

Gundy is, in one bold and callous way, protecting his program and again looking out for the best interests of his players, his staff, his fans and his school, all while operating within the rules. That doesn’t make this the smart, proper or commendable move, though. If a guy like Gundy can be made to look the way he does right now, that’s a pretty strong indication it’s time for a change.

It would be easy to repair and doesn't call for exclusive committees or elaborate clauses. Maintain the intra-conference restriction as well as the one-year wait on the sideline for all other moves. Follow those two rules and let the players pick where they want to play, just like how the coaches pick where they want to coach.