Mike Gundy first mentioned it from the temporary stage set up on the Camping World Bowl turf for the trophy presentation.
Then, he brought it up again in the postgame press conference.
Next season was a re-occurring theme from the Oklahoma State coach in the minutes after this season ended Thursday night in Orlando. There was a win over Virginia Tech to be talked about. There was a senior class to be lauded. And yet, Gundy clearly had what’s next on his mind.
“We enjoy the win tonight,” he said during the press conference, “and we’ve got to get started on next year.”
I’m not sure Gundy went back to the hotel Thursday night and started scheming for next season — but I’m not sure he didn’t either.
The Cowboy coach is ready to rebuild.
There’s reason to think he can.
Reason to think he should, too.
In early December, Gundy received a big pay raise. His salary will increase to $5 million in 2018. If that seems like a big number, it is. Only 10 head coaches in college football made that much this season, according to USA Today, and they are names you know.
So it will be in 2018 even as the Cowboys lose Mason Rudolph, James Washington, Marcell Ateman, Brad Lundblade, Zach Crabtree, Chad Whitener, Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards. All of those seniors started for two years, and with the exception of Ateman and Whitner, the rest started for three-plus seasons. That’s a huge loss of talent, experience and leadership.
Under Gundy, though, OSU has developed a strong track record of reconstruction. Gone are the days when the loss of a significant talent meant a huge drop off. That is partially evident by the fact that the Cowboys haven’t won less than seven games since the second year of Gundy’s tenure.