OSU football: A tragic Wednesday cast a pall on the Cowboys
STILLWATER – Mike Gundy hurried down the steps of his practice-field watch tower, but just to be safe, he held onto the rails.
“I didn't know what was next,” Gundy said.
A routine Wednesday practice on Halloween Eve, the time of year when the OSU football team goes about three quarters speed during the week, had turned tragic. All-American receiver Tylan Wallace had suffered what clearly was a serious knee injury. Center Johnny Wilson also went down, within minutes of Wallace’s injury, and a pall enveloped the Cowboys.
Gundy can be flippant. It’s natural to him. That’s his personality. Just a few days later, after OSU beat TCU 34-27 at Boone Pickens Stadium, Gundy joked that he didn’t know where Wilson had spent the day, “probably up there at the concession stand will be my guess.”
But Wednesday was no time for flip. The Cowboys had heard Wallace scream. Most knew immediately what we all know now, that a torn anterior cruciate ligament would end Wallace’s season and perhaps his OSU career.
So Gundy left his tower and assembled his team.
“He stopped practice,” said quarterback Spencer Sanders. “He came down and he talked to us and kind of just showed us like, ‘Hey, we should play harder for them. We should practice better for them and let's go win this game this weekend for them.”
Gundy has had his trying moments as the Cowboy head coach. Demoralizing Bedlam defeats. A Sports Illustrated hatchet job. A running feud with Boone Pickens. But Gundy says nothing compares to one of his players getting injured.
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“The most difficult thing for a coach is when a player gets hurt,” Gundy said. “Especially guys that give everything they have to the organization. Tylan's a special talent, we all know, but he's very humble. He's very unselfish and he's a tremendous player and he's a very, very hard worker. It's just hard for a coach to swallow. I mean it just almost ruined my week, when I left the office.”
Gundy kept his own spirits up on the practice field. And lifted the Cowboys’ too. They resumed practice, didn’t ditch the gameplan, stayed the course and Saturday earned a hard-fought victory over the Horned Frogs.
“He just kind of talked to us and let us know that you know, this happens and obviously it sucks,” said tailback Chuba Hubbard. “We never wanted that to happen. Sometimes, that can break you. If we would have dwelled on it, who knows what would happen?”
But Gundy said when he went home Wednesday night, he wasn’t so cheerful.
“When I'm here, I don't flinch,” Gundy said of campus. “I stay the course. But when I go home, it just makes me sick. I can't hardly function at all.”
Gundy said he didn’t even tell his sons. Didn’t want to ruin their week. Of course, the news was getting out Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning the Gundy boys were texting dad about the rumors.
Gundy tried to figure out how many days he’s spent as a football coach. He came up with almost 3,000, but that must be practice days. He’s been in the business 30 years. That’s about 11,000 days total. He said Wednesday was the worst.
“I mean, it's one of the most unusual days that I've had as a coach,” Gundy said. “Just a weird deal. We don't practice full speed much this time of year. I don't have an explanation for it.”
Which is why Gundy cherished the victory Saturday. By the time we talked to him, he was back to his old self. Analytical about the game. Charming at times. Cracking wise on Johnny Wilson. But Gundy ratted himself out, saying he lost his cool on the headsets in the final few minutes, trying to order the defense into schemes it hadn’t even practiced. What he described was his version of an emotional breakdown.
“I got out of control because I wanted them to win, so, so bad,” Gundy said. “I really wanted this game for the players, going through what they went through in the middle of the week. We talked a lot about our culture and staying the course.
“So I was really proud of our coaches and schemes and staying with it and the players recovering from it because it's a shock to them. You know that's their buddy, and when that happens it's unfortunate. But it's a tough game, and sometimes that happens, and I was really proud of them as much for this game as any in a long long time.”
The Cowboys, like their coach, held onto the rails.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.