Mike Gundy didn't get the chance to try and beat LSU on the football field. His Oklahoma State team was denied the chance to play in the BCS National Championship Game despite finishing with the same 11-1 regular season record as Alabama.
But Gundy finally got something of a shot at the Tigers Thursday night in a packed ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Houston — or at least a shot at LSU coach Les Miles — and he delivered. Gundy beat Miles for the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year Award to the delight of former OSU players like Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant.
The first sellout in the 26-year history of the Bear Bryant Awards, which benefits the American Heart Association, saw Gundy emerge as the winner from a list of eight finalists that included two former University of Houston coaches — Baylor's Art Briles and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, who was nominated for his work at UH this season.
"It's huge for us," Gundy said. "I think we have 26 players on our roster from this area. Houston players like Stillwater."
It's not close to a national championship — not even in the same stratosphere — but it's still a sweet win for a guy who grew up watching Bear Bryant on TV.
"There weren't a lot of games on TV back then," the 44-year-old Gundy said. "But you'd get to watch Bear Bryant on a few of the ones there were."
Doing it in Houston might mean more to Gundy and Oklahoma State from a practical standpoint. The Cowboys have built their program into a power by turning to plenty of Houston area recruits.
"It's huge for us," Gundy said. "I think we have 26 players on our roster from this area. Houston players like Stillwater. They can go up there and pretty much know they're going to be playing most of their road games South of Stillwater. Their family and friends still have the chance to watch them play.
"And Stillwater seems to be an easy transition for them."
For a coach who is still most known for his "I'm a man! I'm 40!" press conference that's a longtime YouTube classic, winning the Bear Bryant is further validation of his enthusiastic methods. Gundy is enjoying the spoils of the breakthrough, set to sign a new mega contract extension that's expected to bump his pay up to $3.7 million per year. He's seen Oklahoma State turn into something of a brand for really the first time since Barry Sanders played there — to the point where several of the players Gundy coached who went on to the NFL came back this season to soak in some of the success.
"We'd have guys come back during their bye weeks (in the NFL) to stand on the sidelines and be a part of it," Gundy said. "That means a lot."
You get the sense that beating Miles and LSU for Coach of the Year means a little something to Oklahoma State as well.
For more, stay tuned to CultureMap for a full column on the top college coaches' time in Houston.