I carp a fair amount about Greg McGarity’s lack of PR skills, but compared to this, he’s a friggin’ PR guru.
After OSU players got a text message from team officials on March 17 telling them there’s “no need for you to return to Stillwater for any football related activities” because of COVID-19, they had little contact with Gundy as a team in the following two months.
Gundy compounded his lack of leadership and presence in front of the players with a series of actions and comments that simmered an undercurrent of anger in the program.
In his infamous COVID-19 news conference in early April, Gundy did more than issue his decree for the players to return to Stillwater to “run money through the state.” It wasn’t lost on the players that their coach, who makes $5.25 million per year, cast the players as robotic economic pawns rather than humans vulnerable to the pandemic.
Along with trying to restart the economy, Gundy resisted a pay cut.
He said of salary cuts, which have become commonplace for millionaire coaches: “I personally don’t want to get involved in that. It’s too early for me.”
Some of the internal frustration came from an announcement in late April of the athletic department taking away the football players’ stipends and a limit on access to summer school classes. While the players eventually received stipend money from the school when they returned to campus in early June, the uncertainty amid the pandemic led to a period of frustration and a rise in tensions.
On April 23, a few weeks after Gundy’s remarks about “running money through the state,” Oklahoma State football players received a group text message from Rod Johnson, the assistant director of football operations. It came under the header: “IMPORTANT SUMMER SCHOOL INFORMATION.” Johnson told the players that access to summer classes would be limited to scholarship players “making progress toward summer or fall graduation or eligibility purposes for fall competition.”
Johnson also told them in text messages viewed by Yahoo Sports: “THERE WILL BE NO ROOM & BOARD STIPENDS.”
That news blindsided many of the Cowboys’ players during the financial crunch of the pandemic. Stipends pay about $1,200 per month. The lack of access to summer school classes for players meant some players wouldn’t be eligible for federal Pell Grants, which pay up to $3,000 for summer classes.
In an environment where many coaches rallied for their players, Gundy didn’t announce the cuts to the players or address them directly. Instead, Gundy had an underling text them.
That raises tone deafness to a whole new level. “But wait,” you might say, “maybe there were other schools doing the same thi…”
A poll by Yahoo Sports of Big 12 schools showed that Oklahoma State was the only school that both announced cuts on summer classes and a stipend withdrawal while not cutting coach or athletic department salaries. Many cringed at the perception OSU presented, as Gundy has made nearly $45 million in salary as a head coach and athletic director Mike Holder is slated to make $950,000 this year.
Never mind. No wonder the players reacted the way they did.