NORMAN, Okla. ― The wail on an airhorn sent Sooners players scattering across the practice fields.
Once everything settled Monday morning, crimson-clad receivers had gathered in a far, empty corner of the practice fields. They lined up for drills and looked to their position coach ― and for the first time in a very long time, it wasn’t Cale Gundy.
Not since the 1998 Sooners were preparing for their season finale against Texas Tech has Oklahoma held a football practice without Gundy being part of the program.
The longtime Sooner assistant abruptly and shockingly resigned late Sunday evening. After 23 consecutive seasons on the Oklahoma coaching staff, Gundy announced via Twitter he was leaving his job immediately because he said a word he called “shameful and hurtful” during a film session with players.
“I noticed a player was distracted and picked up his iPad and read aloud the words that were written on his screen,” Gundy explained in his statement. “One particular word that I should never ― under any circumstance ― have uttered was displayed on that screen.
“In the moment, I did not even realize what I was reading, and as soon as I did, I was horrified.”
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Gundy offered an in-depth explanation of why he was resigning, but we were still left with questions.
How did this end with Gundy resigning?
Why did it go this way?
In a world that now questions pretty much everything, lots of us wondered whether there was more to the story. Did something else happen? Were there other transgressions? Those of us in the media world have long been in the habit of questioning everything, so we’ll keep poking around. We’ll eventually get to ask questions of Oklahoma coaches and players, too; none were made available for interviews after Monday’s practice.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say what Gundy wrote was the entirety of the situation. A player in a film session wasn’t paying attention, Gundy became enraged about it, and when he started reading what was on the screen as a way to make an example of the player, Gundy ended up using a word he shouldn’t have used.
We don’t know what the word was.
But Monday afternoon when Sooner coach Brent Venables released a second statement regarding Gundy’s resignation, we learned it was “a racially charged word that is objectionable to everyone.” Venables also said in his statement Gundy said the word “not once but multiple times.”
Still, how did Gundy go from reading a racial slur off a player’s iPad to resigning?
First of all, his departure wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction. The incident occurred last week, per Gundy’s statement. That means at least a couple of days passed before he resigned, and there’s every reason to believe lots of internal discussions were had during that time.
Players with players.
Players with coaches.
Coaches with coaches.
Gundy no doubt had a chance to hear from lots of people with lots of perspectives. In the end, he decided it didn’t matter that he’d been angry. Or that he’d read someone else’s words. Or that he never intended to say such a thing.
“The unfortunate reality is that someone in my position can cause harm without ever meaning to do so,” Gundy wrote. “In that circumstance, a man of character accepts accountability. I take responsibility for my mistake. I apologize.”
But of course, he did more than that.
Why make that leap?
Gundy and others within the program might ask a different question: how could he not?
Ever since Venables took over Oklahoma football, he has been insistent on doing things the right way. He preaches character. He emphasizes details. He even launched S.O.U.L. Mission, an entire program focused on the holistic development of players beyond football.
In the team’s main meeting room, Venables went so far as to have one of his core beliefs plastered across the wall.
“Wrong is wrong, even if everyone is doing it. Right is right, even if nobody is doing it.”
After the spring game, Venables said, “I’m just trying to tell that to our guys in a very practical way ― just do what’s right.
“If we’re going to be a championship program, that matters to keep the insidious behavior out of our locker room and our program.”
That is the standard.
“Everything matters in this program, both internally and externally,” Venables said earlier this year.
Players know it. Coaches know it.
Cale Gundy knew it.
When faced last week with the decision about what to do, he had to be mindful of the expectations that have been established. He had to be thinking about how he would lead players who were expected to do right after he had done wrong. He had to recognize no one was above the rules.
That’s why he did the next right thing and resigned.
“I recognize this is a critical moment for Oklahoma football,” Gundy wrote. “This team ― its coaches, players, administration and fans ― do not deserve to be distracted by off-the-field matters while working to continue the tradition of excellence that makes me so proud to be a Sooner.
“I won’t do the program I love the disservice of distracting from this mission.”
This decision couldn’t have been easy, not for Gundy, not for Venables, not for any Sooner. But if your program is built on doing things the right way all the time, there is little wiggle room. That standard doesn’t get thrown out when the situation involves an assistant. It doesn’t cease to exist in a behind-closed-doors film session.
“Coach Gundy did the right thing in resigning,” Venables said in his statement Monday. “He knows our goals for excellence and that coaches have special responsibilities to set an example.”
Cale Gundy understood that. Resigning, then, wasn’t a leap. It was a necessary next step.