Speaking of what-ifs, would Mike Gundy have gone to OU if Troy Aikman stayed a Sooner?
My what-if series continued in the Thursday Oklahoman with the what-if on Troy Aikman. What if Aikman hadn’t suffered a broken ankle against Miami 35 years ago this October?
I have enjoyed writing this series – what if Darrell Royal had become the OU coach, what if Mickey Mantle had become a Dodger, etc. – and by the correspondence I’ve received, I believe the readers have enjoyed it, too.
Of course, these what-ifs are a rabbit hole. The what-if on Royal, for example, explains that there’s no Barry Switzer at OU. But I didn’t expound. Just because there was no Switzer at OU doesn’t mean there would have been no Switzer anywhere. That’s wild and fascinating speculation – not just considering OU without Switzer, but Switzer without OU.
And here’s another, that really struck me strongly. Terry McLemore, who spent many years doing statistics for OU radio broadcasts, wrote me today about the Aikman what-if. And he asked a rabbit-hole question.
What if Aikman had quarterbacked OU the entire 1985 season – and caused Mike Gundy to sign with OU.
Perhaps you remember the story. Gundy was an excellent quarterback prospect coming out of Midwest City High School, class of 1986. In February ’86, 10 days before signing day, Gundy committed to OU. But he still had his Stillwater visit to make, and in those days, most guys made their decision right up against signing day in February.
Gundy went for his OSU visit, changed his mind and signed with the Cowboys. You know the rest. He became the Big Eight’s career leader in passing yards and now is OSU’s 15-year head coach, with more wins than anyone in school history. Heck, Gundy’s 129 victories are more than the combined totals of the next two head coaches (Pat Jones 62, Jim Lookabaugh 58).
But let’s go back to February 1986. Gundy clearly made the right decision. The 1985 Sooners had won the national championship, with true freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway directing the wishbone. Holieway had taken over after Aikman’s broken ankle, and while OU was using a wishbone formation with Aikman, it clearly was a hybrid wishbone, with the passing game a much bigger part of the offense than ever before in the multiple eras of option offenses.
Gundy, while a scrappy, mobile quarterback, was not a traditional optioneer. Heck, the Sooners also were recruiting Lawton’s Charles Thompson and indeed signed him that February. If you’re running the wishbone, who’s going to be your quarterback – Gundy or CT?
Gundy was smart enough to know that. OSU offered a more diverse offense and a quicker path to playing time; Gundy indeed became the starter early in the 1986 season and spent most of four seasons as the Cowboy quarterback.
But let’s go back to the what-if. What if Aikman had remained healthy, perhaps even, as Switzer suggested, leading OU to the 1985 national title.
That changes everything. OU would have a pro-prospect quarterback who had just won big. The forward pass would not have been a foreign concept in Norman. A mobile, throwing quarterback who didn’t mind sticking his head into the fire – which fairly adequately describes Gundy circa 1986 – would have been a good fit for the Sooners.
It wouldn’t have been crazy for Gundy to think he could succeed Aikman. Following Holieway? That’s a stretch. Following Aikman? That could be done.
My how the future could have been changed. What if Gundy had taken over for Aikman in 1988? What if that indeed was Switzer’s final season, with Gary Gibbs taking over and having an aversion to the wishbone? Gundy would have been all set.
Maybe Cale Gundy comes to Norman, sits behind his brother for a year, then spends four seasons as the OU quarterback, giving the Sooners a Gundy dynasty at quarterback. Maybe with a senior Cale at QB in 1994, Gibbs doesn’t go 6-5 and get fired.
The futures of both Bedlam schools would be vastly different.
Wild. I told you, rabbit holes. But fun to think about.