STILLWATER — When Gunnar Gundy trotted onto the field with the Oklahoma State offense last Saturday, you’d have thought Brandon Weeden had connected with Justin Blackmon or
Barry Sanders had returned a punt for a touchdown.
A mighty roar went up from the Cowboy faithful.
I’m sure the excitement stemmed in part from the fact Alan Bowman was taking a seat. The transfer quarterback started against South Alabama and was not good, though his performance was sullied by a couple dropped passes. Completed only half of his attempts. Threw an interception that led to a quick touchdown.
Still, Gundy being so happily received by Cowboy fans is quite the development. If he was named the starter — Mike Gundy has said the three-quarterback rotation that has averaged a whopping 20.3 points a game will continue Saturday at Iowa State — no one would bat an eye about his dad being the head coach.
Truthfully, OSU types might throw a parade.
Who says nepotism can’t work?
This whole thing is quite intriguing, especially for folks who’ve followed the Cowboys for longer than Gunnar Gundy has been alive. When the Cowboys last had a head coach whose son played on the team, it became a big ol’ mess. The locker room became divided. At least one assistant left the program because of it.
But now, it sure doesn’t seem like Gunnar Gundy is walking down Nathan Simmons Boulevard.
Many Cowboy fans of a certain age will remember the Simmons situation, but for the younger among us, a quick history.
In 1997, Bob Simmons was in his third season as the OSU head coach. His son Nathan, who had turned down scholarship offers from Colorado, Stanford and West Virginia, then all better programs than OSU, was sharing time in the Cowboy backfield with Jamaal Fobbs. They were pretty much even.
But then in 1998, Nathan suddenly became the feature back. He got 204 carries that season to Fobbs’ 89.
Late that year, Simmons suffered a knee injury, and when he returned in 1999, he looked a step slower. He was always the bigger, more bruising back of the two, getting most of his yards between the tackles, but heading into late October, he was averaging only 2.8 yards a carry.
Fobbs, by comparison, was the speedier of the two. He ripped off a couple long, cross-country jaunts, and during a season in which the Cowboys would stumble to a 5-6 record, Fobbs’ big-play potential had everyone salivating.
Any time Simmons took a handoff during a game in Stillwater, there were audible groans.
And the situation caused all sorts of issues internally. After the 1998 season, running back coach Tom Lavigne left OSU for Ole Miss amid rumblings that he’d suggested using Fobbs more but was overruled.
“Jamaal was the best back,” Lavigne told The Oklahoman in 1999. “The truth is the truth. … The best guy hasn’t got the job there.”
And Lavigne pointed his finger right at Bob Simmons.
“I think it was the father-son system, where he wanted his son to play more than the other guys,” Lavigne said. “You’ve got to get over that in this situation. The best guy has to play.”
Which brings us back to Gunnar Gundy.
For this OSU team right now, he sure looks like the best guy for the job. He has the best completion percentage of the three quarterbacks at 61.8%. Garret Rangel is next at 58.6%, followed by Bowman at 57.7%.
Even though Gundy’s yards per completion (9.6) are slightly behind Rangel (10.1) but ahead of Bowman (7.8), Gundy is a much better runner than the other two. Removing sacks from the equation, Gundy is averaging 11.7 yards a carry, Rangel 7.0, Bowman 5.5.
With an offensive line that has been ineffective, having a quarterback who can run is never a bad idea.
The numbers show Gundy is qualified for the job, and frankly, the eye test comes to the same conclusion. That’s why all those Cowboy fans went coo-coo-ca-choo when Gundy came into the game last week.
So, why hasn’t Mike Gundy pulled the trigger on starting Gunnar?
I guessing the appearance of playing favorites has something to do with it. That’s part of the reason why the number of father head coaches with son starting quarterbacks in major-college football over the past seven decades or so can be counted on two hands, research mostly done several years ago by Colorado publicist Dave Plati.
Coach Red Blaik and son Bob at Army in the 1950s. Bob Commings and son Bobby Jr. at Iowa in the 1970s. Jim Dickey and son Darrell at K-State, Jim Sweeney and son Kevin at Fresno State, and Joe Salem and son Tim at Minnesota in the 1980s. Dan Hawkins and son Cody at Colorado and Todd Dodge and son Riley at North Texas in the 2000s. And this year, Deion Sanders and son Shedeur at Colorado.
Head coaches who have quarterback sons often send them elsewhere.
In truth, Mike Gundy hasn’t done Gunnar a ton of favors. Gunnar is a walk-on. He was thrown to the wolves against Kansas State to relieve a banged up and beat down Spencer Sanders; TV cameras caught Gundy’s hands shaking as he awaited a shotgun snap.
Gundy is a much better quarterback than he was a year ago. So is Rangel, and quite honestly, if this season goes much more downhill and gets to a point where it’s all about the future, then the coaches will have to think seriously about using the time to get game experience for Rangel or even Zane Flores.
While there’s plenty for OSU to panic about right now, I wouldn’t hit the button on quarterbacks until I gave one of them a chance to be the starter. And if Gundy was that guy, it sure doesn’t seem like OSU fans would be panicked about it.
An OSU student told our man Sam Hutchens during the South Alabama game, “Everybody loves Gunnar starting. He’s definitely, I would say, the fan favorite.”
Clearly, this isn’t 1999, and Gunnar Gundy is no Nathan Simmons.