STILLWATER – Ollie Gordon wasn’t 10 seconds into his on-field postgame interview at West Virginia Saturday when Rashod Owens dropped by, tapped Gordon on the shoulder and told ESPN+ viewers: “He is a DOG!”
Owens disappeared and Jason Brooks and Noah McKinney took his place over Gordon’s right shoulder, just as Trey Rucker and Cole Birmingham appeared over Gordon’s left, Rucker hollering “We love ‘O’!”
Then Jaden Nixon popped into the frame, counted Gordon’s touchdown total on his fingers and shouted: “He had four! Four!”
Braden Cassity came next with Joe Michalski, the latter forming an “O” with his two hands.
Gordon straightened his face from laughing and said: “All I can do is thank my teammates.”
At that Alan Bowman walked over to Gordon, removed his helmet, tapped Gordon on the shoulder, pointed to him and said: “This is the guy right here.” The two high-fived and Gordon finished his interview.
This is what beating West Virginia for a three-game winning streak looks like.
This is what the birth of a college football star looks like.
But also, this is what a team tied together and invested in each other looks like.
That was a quarterback, a backup running back, a wide receiver, a tight end, a safety and four offensive linemen storming Gordon’s set.
“This group has been good, their core,” Mike Gundy said Monday. “Ollie is very entertaining. He’s a social butterfly, got a lot going on, very vocal. The team has kind of grasped that. They like that about him. That’s a good sign when you have a player who’s getting the recognition he is and they’re all still happy.”
Gordon is the central figure here. OSU doesn’t turn its 2-2 start into a 5-2 surge without his production, which then brings his magnetism into the story.
Less apparent is the culture in which Gordon performs. Its omnipresence is the result of Gundy’s 19 years as head coach. It encompasses a lot more than recruiting philosophies, hiring practices and game planning according to personnel.
Togetherness fits in there somewhere. It comes in handiest during seasons like this, when a subpar September prompts concern about October and November fracturing.
“It’s always on my mind,” Gundy said. “Because my job is to keep (players) together, keep the staff together, keep everybody from feeling sorry for themselves and letting the thing go the other direction. So my job gets increased big-time in those situations. Not Xs and Os, more with the team and the attitude and the morale for everybody.
“We’re in a society that chooses to find things that are negative. So that’s a real challenge for me. That’s when my job gets ramped up in a big way.”
Like so much about his job, this was something Gundy did not manage well initially.
“You learn on the run,” he said. “You’re lucky in this profession, if you’re a head coach, if you get past three or four years. You get another contract. You’re lucky because you’ve finally learned. And then after about 10 or 12 years you start to become a decent head coach. And then when you get to 20 like me you can pretty much handle anything. Because you’ve seen so much. You get better at it.
“So a guy like me in year 19 compared to year four, it’s not even close. I’m a ‘3’ on a scale of 1-10 in year four. I just told Chad (Weiberg, OSU’s athletic director) I’m a ‘10’ on the scale right now.”
Gundy was kidding. Buy him a beer and he’ll surely admit no coach who takes four games to figure out Gordon’s value to an offense deserves a “10.”
For the sake of culture, and leaning on it to keep the Cowboys on track, Gundy deserves marks as high as Gordon’s over the three-game winning streak. He deserves bonus points related to NIL, the transfer portal and the state of college football.
“You’re dealing with so many different personalities. And there’s so many different resources outside of here that are talking to the players,” Gundy said. “People back home, agents, runners, friends, different things. And they’re feeding them different information. I’ve got 140 of them, so I can’t individually meet with all of them. It’s a real challenge.”
He acknowledges it’s as much a team effort as Gordon’s ESPN+ interview.
“Essentially I have to tell the staff, ‘You have to take care of your players. That’s your job. That’s what you get paid to do. Not me. Take care of your group,’” Gundy said. “So I start delegating it and try to deal with the (players) who I think could be an issue. Hopefully those coaches can handle their players. It makes it easier in the big picture.
“And you have to have leadership. Because when I’m not in the locker room, somebody’s got to do it, not me. It’s not my locker room, it’s their locker room.”
That part is as player-driven as Gordon’s West Virginia interview. Which is probably why Gundy got such a kick out of the scene.
“I walked off and was feeling good about myself and was like, ‘Now they’re interviewing players like the NFL. They don’t even want the coach,’” he teased. “That’s the guy they should have gotten.”
Nah, the coach is doing enough. He is maintaining a culture in which his budding-star running back can prosper.