Through our partnership with the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and USA TODAY Sports, we have access to some of the greatest leaders in college football today.
Recently we caught up with Mike Gundy, head football coach of Oklahoma State University. Mike is known both for his flair on and off the field and his passion for mentorship and focus on creating a winning culture that sets his players up for success long after they’ve played their final game. We wanted to get his take on why mentorship is the most critical component of inspired coaching.
What’s your take on empowering the person and the player?
When I first started coaching, I thought it was all about the player. Then I realized we had to coach the person first. We adapt our players to who we are, and they learn [over time] that it’s a proven system. This is a team sport – you have to be very unselfish – coaches and players. As we train the person off the field, it helps considerably when we get them on the field.
How would you describe yourself as a coach and a mentor?
More as a mentor now than a coach. When I started, everything was about football. Over time, the person became more important – as well as the concept of the big picture. [On and off the field], I watch attitude and body language of both coaches and players. That allows me to mentor and instill things in our players that they’ll use at some point in their life… and I’m convinced that’s helped our football team.
Why is mentorship in coaching important?
Because these guys are here for four years, graduate, and just a small percentage can make money playing this game. We feel like our athletic department and coaching staff [are] responsible for them moving forward. We teach them and hope we instill an understanding that they need to be prepared for the real world. We work hard at that; we educate them on a lot of things we [never learned]: how to balance a checkbook, how credit cards work, how to buy a house, [the impacts of] drugs and alcohol – all the things that they’ll be confronted with in the real world. We [want to] give them a chance to be successful when they leave Oklahoma State.
Do you think everyone can benefit from having a mentor?
No doubt. We need more of them – parents, teachers, those volunteering their time. It’s a proven fact that those that have a mentor…understand right from wrong. And it’s that simple: try not to make life too complicated. We all make mistakes, but we hope we don’t make mistakes that will impact us for the rest of our lives. That’s where mentoring plays a huge role in society today.
Who was your coaching mentor?
My mom and dad. I was very fortunate to have terrific parents. My dad was very tough on me – instilled toughness, discipline, structure, and accountability – how to do things right. And my mom was there in a tough-love manner. They have always been my mentors. I have also been around great coaches. But it all goes back to how I was raised and it’s something I always fall back on.
What do you want for your team?
I want them to be happy. I think the public sees “winning games” as being happy. There’s no question [that’s true]. But our players realize that the way we mentor and train them will benefit them 10 years later. And they’ll realize the wins and losses won’t be nearly as important as what we’ve instilled in them and what they carry on to make the world a better place.
Want more inspired coaching? Click here to watch Amway Overtime, our three-part interview series with some of the biggest names in college football coaching.