Coach and columnist create a mess at OSU

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The words are black and white. The issue, though, is framed by shades of gray. There’s no good guy. There’s no bad guy. Why is it that fairness and common decency are so simple, yet so rare?

So it is with the controversy that surrounds Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy and his postgame tirade against a local newspaper columnist. Moments after the Cowboys defeated rival Texas Tech Saturday, Gundy vented for several minutes about what he perceived to be unfair criticism of his backup quarterback Bobby Reid.

If you haven’t seen the YouTube video, it’s a keeper, along with the other famous postgame meltdowns of Jim Mora and Dennis Green.

A few excerpts:

“I’m not going to talk about football today. I’m not going to take a question on this game. I’m going to talk about this article right here. This was brought to me by a mother of children. I think this is worth reading. Let me tell you why I want to talk about this article. Three-fourths of this is inaccurate. Fiction. And this article embarrasses me to be involved in athletics.”

Gundy, a former OSU quarterback, who led the Cowboys to their glory days in the 1980s, said Reid, who was benched the week before the Texas Tech game in favor of Zac Robinson, “doesn’t deserve to be kicked when he’s down.”

“Attacking an amateur athlete for doing everything right?” Gundy said. “… Are you kidding me? Where are we at in society today? Come after me! I’m a man! I’m 40! I’m not a kid! Write something about me or our coaches. Don’t write about a kid that does everything right, (whose) heart is broken. And then say the coaches say he was scared! That ain’t true. …That’s all I’ve got to say. It makes me want to puke.”

Gundy’s comments were in reference to a column by the The Daily Oklahoman’s Jenni Carlson, who wrote about why she believed Reid was benched. She led off with an anecdote about Reid’s mother feeding him chicken, presumably by hand, after a game while he was talking on a cell phone. Furthermore, she questioned his resilience and dedication.

Reaction has been predictable. Those in the media circled the wagons around Carlson for “doing her job” and railed against Gundy’s lack of professionalism. Meanwhile, OSU supporters praised Gundy for defending his quarterback, as if Reid were his own child.

They’re both wrong. Gundy. And Carlson.

Gundy needs a lesson in anger management and media relations. Since he was upset and had a problem with Carlson, he should have met with her in private and voiced his concerns.

The press conference was the wrong place at the wrong time. It made for good theater and it probably embarrassed Carlson, which is why Gundy did it.

But it backfired. Trust me, as someone who has worked in the media and been in a few public confrontations with coaches, 20 years ago it would have worked. But that was before the internet, before talk radio.

It doesn’t matter who did what.  We live in an age of sound bytes, not the whole story. Gundy looks bad. Not Carlson.

Carlson doesn’t get a free pass, at least not from me. I read her column and it’s true that she was critical of Reid and to me that’s OK, because in the reality of high-profile, Division I football, criticism is part of the deal if — and this is BIG — it’s done with restraint and responsibility.

That’s where Carlson crossed the line. It’s one thing for a columnist to analyze a player’s performance, why something works or doesn’t work. It’s another to pass judgment on an individual player’s character.

No reporter has nearly enough access to accurately assess an individual athlete’s psychological makeup. And even if they did, in most cases it’s out of bounds.

As far as we know, Reid didn’t lie, he didn’t steal, he didn’t cheat. He just wasn’t good enough to be the starting quarterback.

I can only assume character was never a factor in who played and who didn’t. Of course, now it is, and of course, Reid, the person with perhaps the most character, suffers the consequences.