Commentary

Tirade talk, Tebow and Facebook forecasting

Originally Published: September 27, 2007
By Chris Fowler | Special to ESPN.com

Tirades live forever. At least the ones that have been recorded do. And these days everything is recorded. And everything that is recorded quickly ends up on YouTube. So tirades and rants, fights, confrontations, bloopers, binges, wardrobe malfunctions, bad hair days and any other brief episode that at least one human being views as sufficiently interesting are uploaded

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy's postgame tirade certainly qualifies. It will live forever, joining the pantheon of epic rants that can be quickly located and saved for perpetuity. When it comes to tirades delivered after a dramatic, crucial come-from-behind victory, it might be in a class all its own!

As such, it will always be a part of Gundy's legacy, whatever that turns out to be. In these days, legacies can be shaped by whatever pops up at the top of the Google or YouTube search pages or finds its way into your Wikipedia entry. Now, people who had never heard of Mike Gundy and couldn't tell you Oklahoma State's mascot, conference or campus location will simply recognize him as the crazy coach in the orange shirt going berserk for the better part of 3 minutes and 20 seconds, yelling at some unseen reporter, voice rising and falling like a fire-and-brimstone preacher reprimanding his sinning flock.

Maybe Gundy doesn't mind. I haven't spoken to him since then. But the tirade's timing certainly robbed the Cowboys of well deserved kudos for the comeback win over Texas Tech. That's too bad. Maybe the players appreciated their head coach's defending QB Bobby Reid, but wasn't there a better time, place and method to do it?

My buddy Craig James believes that Gundy's rant will help on the recruiting trail. Prospective players will now see him as a guy who will stand up for them. To a man, the current and former players I've talked to applaud Gundy. I will be interested to hear what Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard have to say on GameDay.

Beyond the good theater it provides, Gundy's tirade shines a light on the line dividing fair reporting and nasty cheap shots. Coaches typically have very different views on this than than the media covering them. Typically, though, college athletes are not subjected to the same kind of sharp barbs and damning labels that the pros are.

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In this case, Gundy has a point. Daily Oklahoman sports columnist Jenni Carlson labeled demoted quarterback Bobby Reid mentally and physically soft. He was portrayed as unmanly, a mama's boy. That was why, in large part, he'd lost his job, the columnist claimed.

In writing that, Carlson crossed a line. She stepped out of bounds. College athletes can and often are called mistake-prone, inconsistent, ineffective or unathletic. That's fair game and mostly a matter of record. But don't call a college football player a wimp … or a sissy … (or any of the other anatomically related names commonly thrown around).

Them's fighting words. Manhood has been questioned. In football culture, a more damning indictment can't be made -- and everybody knows this. You might as well be in a saloon in old Dodge City. Prepare to draw your six-shooter.

Sure, radio talk-show hosts often venture into this territory, liberally throwing around labels for shock value. But it's not done too often in print, where opinions expressed on the printed page have an impact spoken words don't. And I've rarely seen those labels used so cruelly on a college player in any medium.

The piece in question was a column. As such, it's based on a reporter's opinions. There is a different standard for columnists, who often overstate, exaggerate or provoke to entertain readers or make waves. Or hadn't you noticed? They are everywhere on TV. These days, if you are not provoking, you are not getting paid.

So, as a columnist, Carlson has some leeway. Whether 75 percent of the column is "fiction," as Gundy claims, is a matter of opinion. I have read it and that percentage seems quite high. What really got Gundy going (and this would make any coach mad) is Carlson's assertion that the coaches shared her belief that Reid is soft and not man enough to play through injuries and lead the Cowboys. The implication was strongly made that coaches had been whispering this around the hallways for a while.

Maybe that's not true. Maybe it is. I don't know. But if somebody whispered it to somebody else who shared that with a reporter, well, that sort of "leak" of private, inner-circle stuff could certainly provoke a coach. "Hamlet" aficionados might ask whether Gundy "doth protest too much?" In other words, did the words hit too close to home?

More on this story

Read the original column from The Oklahoman that caused Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy's initial reaction. Story

• Watch the columnist's reaction to the situation. Video
• On Tuesday, Carlson wrote that she stood by her facts. Story

ESPN.com
Curry: Not just right or wrong
Fowler: It's Gundy's legacy now
Wojciechowski: No winners
Maisel: Get over it
Forde: Losing it

SportsNation
Vote: Gundy's rant justified?

In any case, the column went too far. It started with a premise and ended with a punch line: that Reid's being fed chicken by his mother outside the team bus after a loss at Troy somehow spoke volumes about his lack of toughness and courage. Too cute, too careless with a college athlete's reputation.

So, back to the rant. Gundy had some valid points to make, but I'm afraid a lot of that got overshadowed in his loud and rambling delivery. He lost it and lost his chance to more clearly make his case. He chose to attack and lecture Carlson for not having gained the wisdom and sensitivity that comes only from having to console an upset child. I don't have kids, yet I think I am capable of understanding what's fair reporting and what's not fair. Compassion is not a quality achievable only to those with children.

Let's be clear about one final thing, though: Reid is not a kid. When Gundy makes analogies comparing Reid to a 10-year-old taunted on a playground, it rings false with me. Reid is a few months short of his 22nd birthday. He's a man. There are thousands of people younger than him who are fighting in Iraq. He is old enough by three years to be shot at in Baghdad. He is old enough to be criticized by a local sports columnist. As long as the criticisms are fair. In this case, they were not.

Let's see if Oklahoma State responds to the buttons Gundy pushed.

Meanwhile, the fallout of the wild shootout in Stillwater, Okla., was pretty ugly. Texas Tech defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich was removed from the staff, technically reassigned, so that he will be able to devote more attention to his ailing wife. Tough guy Ruffin McNeill takes over. "Coach Ruff" is a popular guy with the Red Raiders, which is why they didn't balk when he dropped the hammer this week, putting Tech's defense through some brutal, physical practices. It started Sunday night, the day after the meltdown in Stillwater. After a Monday off, Tech was back at it the next day with a practice as hard-hitting as two-a-days.

The Red Raiders have three home games ahead, starting with I-AA Northwestern State and should sit at 6-1 when that defense will be tested at Missouri on Oct. 20.

Mr. Tebow

I will call him that because Tim Tebow insists on addressing me as "Mr Fowler." He was just raised that way. Makes me feel old to think that Tebow was in diapers when GameDay first hit the road.

Tim Tebow
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesTim Tebow has become a prime target for opposing defenses -- and opposing fans.
Tebow is all class, which makes it amusing that he has become college football's prime target for opposing fans -- at least those opposing fans who are not scrambling to get his autograph. Last week fans at Ole Miss, fresh off a stinging loss to Florida, gathered around the fence next to the field to slap hands with Tebow and ask for his autograph. It will be, you see, his one and only trip to Oxford and Rebel fans wanted to get close to this folk hero in the making.

Then there's the flip side. Georgia fans surrounded our set after the Dawgs OT win at Tuscaloosa. Chants of "We want Florida" quickly dissolved into "Tebow Sucks."

Huh? Georgia has three games before the game formerly known as the Cocktail Party. Taunting Tebow long distance at that moment is nutty. But that shows how fixated opposing fans have become. Opposing defenses, too. Tebow says Tennessee's players were in his grille from the start, but eventually quieted down.

It'll be hot and nasty next week in Baton Rouge. Tebow took official and unofficial recruiting visits to LSU. He was on the Tigers' sideline when they choked out the Gators two years ago. Urban Meyer remembers eyeballing the blue-chip recruit over there, hoping Tebow wasn't being swayed by the electricity of Tiger Stadium He wasn't. LSU was about his "third or fourth" choice on signing day.

Unless you're a Gator hater, it is hard not to like Tebow. If he can somehow conquer the defense that destroys all quarterbacks next Saturday night, the Heisman buzz will be deafening.

Under Tebow's guidance, Florida's offense has topped 500 yards in all four games. His total of seven completions longer than 40 yards already exceeds last season's total. He has also run for seven TDs, one more than Pat White. Yes, Mr. Tebow is off to a superb start.

Stunning Stat

Notre Dame is struggling. That's not news. But do you realize how many individual players are averaging more yards total offense than the whole Irish offense?

Take a guess.

The answer: 109. That's almost one player per I-A team!

Facebook Update

Researcher Chris Fallica, whose success in a prognostication contest was detailed here last week, maintains his lead in the Facebook Pick 'em thing. First out of almost 30,000 entrants. Chris thanks all of you who responded to the column note by reaching out to him. But sorry, he is not embracing new friends at this time. That includes you, ladies. He is happily married.

And he is not sharing his picks there.

No, that will happen only here, folks. So find a reliable pen. Fallica has released these selections as his top choices this week.

Alabama over Florida State
We are both a bit surprised that the Seminoles are favored by the same count over Bama as they were at Colorado, when they were outgained and outperformed in most categories, but won. The Noles have had two weeks to get ready, while the Tide were heartbroken Saturday by Georgia. The Jacksonville crowd should be pro-FSU. But the pick is Bama to smother the Seminoles' feeble attack and score enough to eke out a reinvigorating W.

Florida over Auburn
Payback is a … well, it's not pretty. The Gators are not looking ahead to the regular season's most mammoth game against LSU next week, according to Tebow. That's because they self-destructed at Auburn a year ago, suffering their only loss of 2006. Fallica says it gets even uglier than the experts expect. Florida's defense will increase Auburn's misery. I am not that solidly with him on this one.

Cal over Oregon
If he were to take sides on the week's best matchup, in Eugene, he would lean to the visitors from Berkeley. That's a lean, not a lock, he insists.

Testing Penn State's Resolve

Keep an eye on Penn State's attempted bounce back at Illinois. The Lions always have recovered quickly after a loss to Michigan, including a 63-10 demolition at Illinois the week after 2005's stunning last-second loss in the Big House. Improvement under the Zooker was illustrated in 2006 when Penn State trailed 9-3 until midway third quarter and needed an onside kick return for a touchdown to ice the victory. Saturday is a test of the Lions' maturity and resolve. I think they will pass it.

I just can't believe Penn State is only a field goal better than the Illini, even in this situation. Illinois has not seen a defense anything like Penn State's.

"GameDay" will broadcast from outside Autzen Stadium on Saturday morning and will head back to Baton Rouge next week, as long as Florida and LSU both win.

Chris Fowler is the host of ESPN's "College GameDay." Kick off each Saturday with "College GameDay" at 10 a.m. ET to get the latest news on college football.

Chris Fowler

College Football
Since 1989, Chris Fowler has been ESPN's primary college football and men's college basketball studio host. He's anchored College GameDay, the network's award-winning Saturday morning college football preview show, since 1990.