Oklahoma football: Cale Gundy sets high expectations for 2022

Cale Gundy is wrapping up his 28th season coaching football. The Alamo Bowl will be his first turn as a play caller.cover small and probably cropped
Cale Gundy is wrapping up his 28th season coaching football. The Alamo Bowl will be his first turn as a play caller.cover small and probably cropped /

Cale Gundy knows Oklahoma football. After all, he’s been around it and inside of it as long as anybody and more than half of his life.

The 50-year-old Gundy played quarterback for the Crimson and Cream from 1990 to 1993 and was a graduate assistant for his alma mater in 1994. The kid from Midwest City, Oklahoma, played 44 games for the Sooners.

OU football looked a little different in the 90s, but Gundy was one of a handful of players that brought excitement to Sooner Nation in the dark period between Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops.

Speaking of Stoops, he hired Gundy on his first ever staff after taking the head coaching job in 1999. This was after Gundy had been an assistant for four years at UAB. Gundy has been on staff for the Sooners ever since and is now entering his third boss since ’99.

Gundy has had a number of different roles over the years, coaching running backs for from 1999 to 2014, then coaching inside wide receivers from 2015 to 2021, while taking on more responsibility within the offense.

New head coach Brent Venables retained Gundy after Lincoln Riley departed for USC, and in 2022, Gundy will coach all of the wide receivers in Jeff Lebby’s offense.

Under Lebby, the Sooner offense should look a bit like the Baylor offenses in the early 2010s, and Lebby’s triggerman will be Dillon Gabriel, who was coached by Lebby at UCF in 2019 when he was a freshman.

Lebby runs an up-tempo offense built on spreading the defense out and powering the ball up the middle against light boxes and throwing the ball out to wide receivers in space, along with a fair dose of deep shots. A balance between the run and pass will be the key in Lebby’s system, and Gundy’s wealth of knowledge, along with offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh staying on staff, should be a big help to Lebby.

There isn’t much consensus nationally on how good the Sooners are expected to be in 2022. After all, they’ve lost a lot between late November and the present day. Between graduating seniors, NFL draftees, and transfer portal losses (not to mention their head coach and a big chunk of the old coaching staff, especially defensively), the Sooners will look very different in 2022.

But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Riley’s teams were wildly successful when he was the head coach. But, as time passed, it seemed those teams lost a bit of the physicality and mean streak that shaped Oklahoma into the blue blood and titan of college football they are.

It became more about speed and finesse than physical violence. OU stopped running the ball and relied on excellent quarterback play and Riley’s concepts to bail them out. Mindset took a backseat to talent. Defensively, the standard wasn’t being met at all. Despite that, the Sooners were a contender more often than not.

The teams that are winning national championships in the Playoff era, like Ohio State (one), Alabama (three), Clemson (two), LSU (one), and Georgia (one), are all loaded with blue-chip recruits that are developed into first round NFL draft picks. Those players dominate the college ranks while there and are physically, athletically, and mentally on another level.

The Sooners can recruit blue-chippers and can develop NFL talent. That’s never been the problem. They’ve also recruited rather well on offense and defense (especially in July) since Venables took over. The step Oklahoma has to take is dominating on both sides of the football and physically overwhelming teams like the greats of college football.

Having incredible offenses isn’t enough; you have to be excellent defensively and play complimentary football. This includes running the ball effectively on offense while dominating the trenches, having a passing game that can score at will, covering the best receivers in the sport man-to-man, elite defensive front play, sound special teams, and overall team physicality winning mentality, and discipline.

Enter Brent Venables.

His goal and his job will be to take Oklahoma to the SEC-level of play that he and Dabo Swinney took Clemson to over the last decade. OU has to get on the level of champions like Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Clemson, and Ohio State. To do that, to win a national championship, you need to be an SEC team, or you need to play like one and have your program built like one. With OU set to enter the SEC in the coming years, that is the program’s focus as we speak to get on a national championship-winning level.

So when Cale Gundy says there won’t be any setbacks within the program, Sooner fans should listen. He’s seen a lot of OU football over the last thirty-plus years and thinks the Venables is special. He’s echoing what his old boss Bob Stoops said to reassure fans back in the winter.

The bottom line from Stoops, Gundy, Venables, Lebby, and anybody else who knows Sooner football and has been around this program, is that the standard remains the same as it always has and that the program has a couple of final steps to take to get back to the mountaintop.

They’d also tell you that Venables is putting in the work to establish his culture and mindset in Norman, and it’s a mindset that has the Sooners excited for 2022 and beyond.