Updated: Dec 28, 2022
Longtime assistant Cale Gundy has been a staple with OU football
By Eric Bailey
Joe Jon Finley didn’t mince words when asked about Cale Gundy’s longevity on the Oklahoma coaching staff.
“He means everything,” OU’s tight ends coach said about Gundy. “He’s exactly what an Oklahoma Sooner should be. If you put ‘Oklahoma Sooner’ in the dictionary, his face will be beside it because he loves this place so much.
“He’s just so passionate about his job.”
Cale Gundy went from record-setting quarterback to taking part in more games than anyone in the school’s storied football history.
A Midwest City (Okla.) High School graduate, Gundy is preparing for his 29th season inside the Oklahoma locker room. He was a quarterback at OU from 1990-93, a student assistant here in 1994 and he’s been an offensive assistant coach at his alma mater since 1999.
Gundy turned 50 earlier in April, which translates into more than half of his life being invested with the OU football program. The math is incredible. He’s been involved in 362 Sooners contests, which equals 27.6 percent of every game (1,312) played at Oklahoma since 1895.
Gundy is entering his 24th season in Norman, which advances him ahead of Barry Switzer (23 years) as the longest-serving coach at the program.
“Cale’s commitment and loyalty to OU is long and strong,” legendary coach Bob Stoops said during a recent interview in The Athletic. “He’s the guy I always looked to for the pulse of the program — from recruiting, to the attitude and culture of the players, on and on. When we needed to be tough, when we needed to relax a little.
“Sure, he’s had other opportunities. But he loves what he’s doing here too much to leave. Very similar, I guess, to me. I never felt like there was something better out there.”
Even when the OU program was arguably at its weakest point during Gundy’s coaching career, he was at his strongest.
There were so many unknowns after head coach Lincoln Riley unexpectedly departed in late November 2021. Gundy spent most of the next week reassuring current and future players that everything would be OK, despite not knowing if he would still have a job at the school with the coaching change.
He even jokingly asked his older brother (OSU head coach Mike Gundy) if there was an opening for him with the Cowboys.
“Whenever Coach Riley left and Coach Stoops took over (as an interim coach), he was the one who brought it all together,” Finley said of Cale Gundy. “He did a great job calling plays in the bowl game. He did a great job keeping our guys together and holding our recruiting class together.
“He’s a head coach that’s not a head coach. He deserves all the credit in the world.”
While calling plays in the 2021 Alamo Bowl was new, the details of coaching weren’t lost on him. It’s what he has done since working with quarterbacks (as an assistant at Alabama-Birmingham), running backs and wide receivers.
“Well, I just think it’s something that I was kind of born with. I love taking on responsibilities. I like to be in charge or in control,” said Gundy. “Over a lot of years I have no problem giving my input, whether my input is taken or whether I’m told it’s a good idea or a bad idea. That’s just how I was raised and how I was taught by my parents. But I just want to help. That’s all I want to do, man. I want to help.
“I’m not one of those (people) who is going to sit in the back and not say anything.”
During his time at OU, Gundy believes his experiences have helped him better navigate coaching and life.
“Having the opportunity to be given a lot of responsibilities over the years has made me not only a better football coach, but just a better person. And that’s something that I want. I want responsibilities. I want people to ask me to have to do things,” he said.
Gundy has worked in various capacities and under a handful of offensive coordinators during his time at OU. He began as a running backs coach under Mike Leach and Mark Mangino back in 1999. He was shifted to inside wide receivers in connection with Lincoln Riley’s arrival in 2015.
His history at OU and his dedication to the program over the past two-plus decades helped make him an easy choice when new head coach Brent Venables began piecing together his staff upon his arrival in early December.
“(Cale has) always been a great connector of people, procedures and a connection to the history and tradition of the program. He’s embedded. He’s like the very fiber itself,” said Venables when asked about the reasoning behind his decision to retain Gundy as an assistant coach. “He’s incredibly loyal, he knows so many people and he’s got a great memory. He’s able to pull from all of the past experiences, both good and bad. He loves this place. He loves his players. He has a great knowledge of football one-on-one.
“So whether it’s recruiting in this state or the state of Texas, or it’s football Xs and Os, or again, being able to connect people to get things done efficiently — he’s the guy. There’s nobody more qualified to do it. He’s just a rock of stability with the consistency.”
According to Venables, the tough demeanor and competitive edge Gundy brings to the program are other characteristics that make him so valuable.
“You can probably coach him harder than anybody in the program. He’s got great, thick skin.
His dad raised him the right way,” said Venables. “He’s ultra, ultra-competitive. He’s going to show up early and stay late every day, so he’s really what you want from anybody associated with the program.”
Prepping for his first season under Venables and new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, Gundy is handling all wide receiver coaching duties.
He was recently asked to describe how much things have changed from his first year as an OU offensive assistant coach to now.
“Well first of all, I’ve got to admit I can’t remember much from ‘99,” Gundy said during a spring football news conference. “I just remember that was the first time I started coaching here. But I love the system that we’re in offensively (now). It’s a very exciting system. And we’ve got a very impressive offensive coordinator. (Coach Lebby is) as well-rounded as any offensive mind I’ve ever been around in college football. He’s a guy that played offensive line — he learned it. And to me, that’s kind of always key and that’s where you get the bright minds are the ones that really truly learned the offensive line play, the run game and the pass game.
“And then obviously he had a chance to evolve and started getting skill positions and now he’s with the quarterbacks. But (he’s) very impressive as an offensive coordinator. There’s not anything in the offense that has to do with any 11 players on our side of the ball that he does not know alignment, assignment, technique. Very, very impressive.”
As mentioned, Gundy turned 50 recently, but he’s never been more energized or enthusiastic about the future of OU football.
“I’m as excited as I’ve ever been and I’m not just saying that. I think OU football’s in the best (hands) — we’re headed in the best direction that we’ve been in a long time,” said Gundy. “It starts with the top with our leadership. It starts with everything that we’re doing off the field with our players, that they’ve been so excited to really grasp and want to be a part of, with our SOUL mission group, and Brent’s a very impressive person.
“He was here for so many years before he left. He was always a great football coach, but he’s taken a huge, huge step from just the Xs and Os and the football and the recruiting side of it. He’s really (dived) deeper. He’s looked into how can we all be better? How can we all serve? How can our players want to come to practice every single day? How can they want to be here and love to play football and love to compete with the guy next to you?
“We’re doing things that are making us all different. I’m as excited and couldn’t be more pleased and happy with what we’re doing here and the direction we’re going.”