Inside the Mike Gundy PR crises, as told by all the emails we FOIA'd

How did Mike Gundy get that OAN shirt, anyway? How do you craft a public apology? What did OSU boosters and faculty think? Lets check the receipts.

Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points, now the official newsletter of The Intercollegiate. And a special hello to all of the new subscribers joining us from the Newsletter of Intent. Welcome! I hope you stick around for a long time.

A few quick housekeeping notes before we get to the good stuff:

1) My colleagues published a huge story yesterday on the consulting industry in college athletics. My hope is to dig into these materials for a newsletter next week, but if you’re interested in how this industry works, and how it might change in a post-COVID world, I think you’ll enjoy reading it.

2) As a special thank you for supporting Extra Points, you can use promocode EXTRAPOINTS at checkout and save 15% off your order over at Homefield Apparel. I don’t even get paid when you do this! I’m only sharing it because I really love Homefield’s clothes, and I think you will too. If you love comfortable t-shirts and vintage college football logos, you’ll really like Homefield’s catalog.

Okay! Enough announcements.

Let’s go fishing in the not-so-still waters of Stillwater…

By Daniel Libit and Matt Brown

Over the past three months, Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy hit on a remarkable trifecta of self-inflicted, public-relations disasters.

First, in a routine teleconference with sportswriters in April, he urged OSU to bring in football players for offseason workouts in the middle of a national lockdown, bizarrely citing their supposed superior ability to fight off COVID-19 — as well as the duty of this unpaid labor pool to get the economy going again.

Then, he followed up by sporting gear from a media outlet well-known for propagating conspiracy theories and Donald Trump’s party line, OAN, which caused a near-mutiny on the Cowboys’ squad. Gundy topped it off by initially trying to “patch up” a Twitter rift with OSU Heisman Trophy candidate Chuba Hubbard, by first appearing in a hastily-made — and, we discovered, internally-critiqued — video, in which the player apologized for the hubbub — but Gundy didn’t.

To see how all this played out behind-the-scenes, we sent public documents requests to OSU for email correspondence in the aftermaths of these incidents. And, well, they have a story to tell.

Let’s start back in the spring. Mike Gundy gives a press conference on April 7

This is where Gundy tells reporters that most of his players should be able to fight off the novel coronavirus, and that it was important to start the football season because of how important it is for the budget of the school and the state of Oklahoma.

Media criticism ensued and the school was forced to clarify its official position:

A local pol privately praises Gundy, but another important OSU ally raises concern

The next day, April 8, a staffer for Oklahoma state Sen. Bill Coleman forwards an email from his boss to Ray Gundy, Mike’s father, applauding Mike Gundy for making a “good point” about the public reporting on Covid cases versus recoveries. Coleman writes:

“He is right, we aren’t doing it and people are recovering. I asked the Health Department and I found the number, about half the number reported are either dead, or have recovered after 14 days. If you want to know how many globes we have and anything else, here it is.”

Ray Gundy, in turn, forwards the email along to Mike Gundy and his son’s administrative assistant. It is unknown how or if Gundy responded to pops.

That same day, Bobby Stillwell, T. Boone Pickens’ long-time business and personal attorney, emails Mike Holder, linking to a critical column by USA Today’s Dan Wolken (via the Austin American-Statesman’s website), in which Wolken took Gundy to task for his medically inaccurate Covid takes. Stillwell expounds:

Strange comments from Gundy. 

I hope you and Robbie are well! 

Let’s get through this .

We are fine here

Love you guys 

Bobby and Gail

There were also pronounced concerns among Oklahoma State faculty leaders

Jason Kirksey, a political science professor who serves as OSU’s Chief Diversity Officer, passes along an email to Holder and several other top school officials, which was written by Louise Siddons, an art history professor.

Siddons writes:

“I was sorry to see the university administration’s disingenuous response to Gundy’s press conference. As a university, we rely on foreign students and faculty to enrich our community (economically as well as intellectually and culturally!); we rely on our faculty and staff to support the policies of the university when it comes to campus health. Why do we continue to protect a staff member whose statements malign our community members and endanger us all? Until this week, I have been universally proud of Oklahoma State’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. I would like to see our administration disavow Gundy’s comments—at the very least. His statements were neither Loyal nor True.”

Then, we learned how Mike Gundy got that OAN shirt in the first place

Okay, so Gundy made a fool of himself in a press conference. It’s hardly the first time. But without that OAN shirt, Gundy’s $1 million richer. So, how did he get it?

On April 10, an OAN flack emails Gundy, saying that the president of the network wanted to send him a shirt “and other items.” Gundy responds just ten minutes later, telling the representative how much he loves the network, and implying that he’d rather like a full ensemble.

By the end of the day, Gundy’s hat and shirt were en route.

Let’s fast forward to June 15, which began in typical fashion

Mike Holder started his day concerning himself with a familiar obligation for any OSU athletic director: paying homage to dearly departed mega-booster, T. Boone Pickens.

8:38 A.M. Holder receives an email from a local company that specializes in “comprehensive recognition solutions,” about a 6 ½-foot long, inscribed bronze plate the university was planning to buy as a casket cover for Pickens’ gravesite.

But Holder’s day/week/month is about to take a rather dramatic turn.

10:34 A.M. CBS Sports’ Kyle Boone tweets out a screengrab of a Facebook post from Captain Steve, a Texoma fishing guide, posing with an OAN-clad Gundy.

1:48 P.M. Chuba Hubbard, a junior running back who gained 2,000 yards for OSU in 2019, quote-tweets the screengrab, with the declaration, “I will not stand for this.”

Now, this is a national story.

3 P.M. Peter Erdoes, a prominent Oklahoma City lawyer whose family is a major university benefactor — having established a $1 million OSU scholarship fund in 2018 — emails school president Burns Hargis with a call for action:

“I am requesting that Mike Gundy be immediately suspended and that an investigation begin into his racially insensitive conduct and incidents of outright racist remarks to current and former players. I’ve been advised that he used the racial slur towards at least one current player as confirmed by another former player I spoke with over the weekend.”

A minute later, Hargis’ executive assistant forwards Erdeos’ request along to Mike Holder and the school’s general counsel, Gary Clark.

Other allegations of racism bubble up, including the claim that Gundy called an opponent the N-word back in 1989, but a subsequent investigation by “uncovered no signs or indication of racism” at OSU, according to Holder.

Meanwhile, in another virtual sphere of campus, a group of academic department heads and faculty council members catch wind of Gundy’s comments during the course of an email exchange over the school leadership’s plans for the start of school.

Thad Leffingwell, the head of the school’s department of psychology, emails several of his colleagues:

The Gundy thing is really gonna be a mess. We are finally going to have to reckon with the propogandist [sic] news stuff we have been looking away from for too long.

If you aren’t up to speed, a photo was shared on social media of Gundy in a OAN (One America News) t-shirt. He had also said he was a fan on the infamous press conference where he said he wanted players back on campus in May. OAN is a far-right propaganda site that is, of course, highly critical of BLM and the current movement. Chubba Hubbard (Heisman candidate) and Amen Ogbongbemiga (star linebacker) have said on twitter that they won’t be doing anything related to OSU “until things change.” This is a nuclear bomb in the athletic department.

Chris Francisco, the math department head, responds:

I'm guessing central administration is probably all consumed with the Gundy situation at the moment...

You didn’t have to be a mathematician to guess that

3:41 P.M. Deputy AD Chad Weiberg receives an email from Kevin Klintworth, OSU’s top athletics spokesman, with a draft of a “Gundy statement”:

I made a horrible mistake in wearing a shirt promoting OAN, a highly political news network, and I am genuinely sorry. I regret the controversy and apologize. While I meant no harm, I know it was inconsiderate-dumb on my part. For too long, Blacks in this country have been treated unjustly and unfairly. I stand solidly with those organizations such as Black Lives Matters to address the systemic racism in our country. Again, I apology to my fellow coaches, players, and fan.

3:45 P.M. Amazingly, OAN’s Chief White House Correspondent sends an email to Gundy — who is now squarely in the firestorm — asking if he would be available for an interview that upcoming weekend when President Trump is in Tulsa for his first, post-pandemic rally. Chanel Rion is an optimist — or something:

Folks, you know what they say: Shooters shoot.

OAN wouldn’t be the only TV outlet sending inquiries to Oklahoma State. Producers from ESPN’s First Take (successfully) and CNN’s Tonight with Don Lemon (unsuccessfully) also write in to solicit guest appearances from Hubbard and Gundy, respectively.

3:46 P.M. Weiberg emails Klintworth again with some “early suggested edits,” cutting out the language about Black mistreatment in America and BLM. The new draft reads:

I made a horrible mistake in wearing a shirt promoting OAN, a highly political news network. I am genuinely sorry and apologize. While I meant no harm, I know it was inconsiderate-dumb on my part. I stand solidly with our players to address the systemic racism in our country and will be talking to all of them about what I can do to help. Again, I apology to my fellow coaches, players, and fans.

In an email to Extra Points, Klintworth confirmed that the statement was never released, adding: “Before the process could get that far, Coach Gundy, without prompting, had pushed out the initial video with Chuba.”

3:52 P.M. Brent Gooden, an Oklahoma-based PR consultant, sends an email to Klintworth with draft language of a statement on behalf of the school’s administration:

“Adminstration [sic]

We are aware and understand the strong reaction from current and former players to the picture of Coach Gundy wearing an offensive t-shirt with the logo of a controversial political news network. We are collecting information and will look into this matter.”

This statement also doesn’t appear to have seen the light of day.

4:45 P.M. OSU President Burns Hargis sends out this statement via Tweet:

5:45 P.M. Holder sends out this statement to the media: 

6:21 P.M. Holder’s statement is reiterated on Oklahoma State Athletics’ Twitter account.

6:34 P.M. Hubbard tweets out the reconciliation video with Gundy, now viewed by over 4 million people. In it, Gundy offers a much-criticized, milquetoast response to the day’s events:

“In light of today’s tweet with the t-shirt I was wearing, I met with some players and realized it is a very sensitive issue with what is going on in today’s society. And so we had a great meeting…”

Gundy delivers a much more fulsome, BLM-endorsing mea culpa the next day, in a video he posts to his own Twitter page.

6:53 P.M. Courtney Bay, the Creative Director for OSU athletics, emails Klintworth, with a plea for production value:

Content of the video aside, we need to do better than this. We need to get a camera and mic next time.. too important for cell phone video.

This is a good point! But hopefully, for everyone’s sake, there isn’t a next time.

***

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Questions, comments, article ideas, FOIA’d documents you would like to share with the world, and more can all be sent to MBrown@TheIntercollegiate.com, or to @MattBrownEP on Twitter dot com. You can reach Daniel Libit at DLibit@TheIntercollegiate.com or @DanielLibit.


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