After a weeks-long internal review of the Oklahoma State football program and coach Mike Gundy, the man who has been at the helm of it since 2005, athletic director Mike Holder and university president Burns Hargis are standing by their man. The two announced on Thursday that they are backing Gundy despite weeks of unrest and uncertainty surrounding the program.
"We have spent the past couple of weeks reviewing our program and talking with current and former players," Holder said. "Our internal review found that Coach Gundy needs to invest more time in building stronger relationships with his student-athletes. However, our review has uncovered no signs or indication of racism.
"After meeting with Coach Gundy, I am confident that he listened to his student-athletes. I believe he is genuine in his commitment to strengthening relationships with his players. I believe this to be a win for everyone. I'm looking forward to seeing the impact this will have on our team."
Hargis echoed Holder in a similar statement, saying in a post on Twitter that the investigation -- led by Holder and OSU's deputy AD Chad Weiberg -- determined that the "underlying issue was a lack of personal relationships between the head coach and players rather than anything racial."
"This issue is fixable," Hargis said. "After meeting with both Mike Holder and Mike Gundy, I believe they are committed to taking steps to strengthen the relationships, which will improve communications and the program."
The review came at a cost, though -- Oklahoma State paid a public relations tax, and Gundy's bank account took a hit. Gundy's five-year rollover contract was shortened to a four-year rollover, his buyout was reduced, and he also received a $1 million pay cut, which Holder said in a conference call Friday was Gundy's idea.
The investigation was conducted by Oklahoma State after several players -- including All-American running back Chuba Hubbard -- threatened to boycott the program after a photo of Gundy last month surfaced showing him wearing a One America News Network T-shirt during a fishing trip. OAN, a far-right cable channel, has been publicly critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Most of the team publicly supported Hubbard after he took his stance, and it created a dialogue within the program as staffers moved to affect change. Gundy has publicly apologized on several occasions and called himself a "dumbass" for wearing the shirt.
It's clear weeks removed from the incident, though, that this was all about a more than a T-shirt. It was about distance. Gundy for years has often referred to players in public forums by their jersey numbers. In a story written last week by Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, that was the underlying message throughout -- a coach whose disconnect with the players was evident. Even Mason Rudolph, who made more than 40 starts over four seasons in Stillwater, said in 2017 that he didn't have much of a relationship with Gundy until his junior year.
"There have been a lot of teachable moments for me here recently," Gundy told Yahoo Sports after being asked about his lack of relationships with his players. "When the players said they felt I was disconnected, it broke my heart. Hearing that led me to look at myself and acknowledge that it's probably true. I've spent a lot of time listening and learning lately, and now I feel better about moving forward in developing deeper relationships with my players. That's what they told me they wanted and that's now a top priority for me."
It's pretty rare for a university president and an athletic director to publicly push a head coach in a certain direction, especially a path as seemingly simple as developing more relationships with players. But this should end what was otherwise a tumultuous month in Stillwater as Oklahoma State preps for a 2020 season in which, on paper, it has one of its best teams in nearly a decade -- and the firepower to potentially get Gundy his second Big 12 title.