Why the Thunder’s Mark Daigneault and OSU’s Mike Gundy are kindred spirits

Why the Thunder’s Mark Daigneault and OSU’s Mike Gundy are kindred spirits

For one, the Oklahoma Thunder coach finds Gundy’s coaching philosophy completely charming.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Feb 20, 2024, 7:00am CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Feb 20, 2024, 7:00am CST

(This story originally appeared in Berry Tramel’s newsletter. Subscribe here.)

Mike Gundy rotated three quarterbacks last September, exasperating media and fans and maybe even opponents, most of whom prefer that their football stays between the line.

But some looked at Gundy’s maverick nature with admiration. Count Mark Daigneault in that crowd.

Yes. The Thunder basketball coach.

Daigneault, who often deploys an 11-man rotation and at times even more, maybe sees a kindred spirit in Gundy.

“He’s a bad man,” Daigneault told me during football season. “He’s a dandy. He’s a gem. He’s his own man.”

On Super Bowl Sunday, I again talked football with Daigneault.

He grew up in Leominster, Massachusetts, 52 miles north of the Patriots’ home in Foxboro and 48 miles west of Boston.

“Pretty big football fan,” Daigneault said. “New England was the hub of NFL excellence for 20 years. I grew up in the middle of that success, extreme success, for a very very long time. Two decades of extreme success.”

Daigneault played high school football, but not because he was committed to the gridiron. The night before freshmen-team tryouts, his friends talked him into going out. He ended up playing all four years.

“But only because my friends played,” Daigneault said. “I didn’t like getting hit, I didn’t like hitting anybody. It’s a tough sport to play if you don’t like those two things.”

Daigneault wouldn’t even reveal what position he played. Said he was too embarrassed.

“I played high school football in Massachusetts,” Daigneault said. “When you grow up in one environment, you think that’s the only thing. Then I moved to Florida, and I saw a high school football game in Florida, and I was like, ‘Wow. I should never admit to anybody that I played football or what position I played.’”

For the media, Daigneault is a great coach to cover. He legitimately answers questions, even goes in-depth on why something worked or didn’t work, and he offers insight on a game, before or after.

Billy Donovan talked in generalities. Scotty Brooks did, too. Daigneault talks in specifics. It’s a welcome change and much appreciated.

I told Daigneault it had been 28 years since a football coach (Howard Schnellenberger) truly was willing to explain the intricacies of the game to me. I wondered if Daigneault’s communication style would be different if he was coaching football?

“I don’t know,” he said. “My favorite thing about the football coaches is how they cover their mouths with the playcards, on the play call thing. I think that’s really cool, and I wish there was a way to do that in basketball. Because when they do it, I’m like, ‘Man, I wish I knew what they were calling right now.’ It’s a cool deal.”

Gundy is a good communicator. He’s more willing than most football coaches to explain the game, but he’s no Daigneault.

“I like Gundy,” Daigneault said. “I’ve gotten to know him a little bit, but he doesn’t seem to be influenced by noise, outside opinion. His convictions come from an internal place.

“He’s highly collaborative, so he’s not like this guy who’s just this genius in his office and it’s just him. He delegates probably as much as anybody to his staff. Empowers all of his people. So he’s an unbelievable collaborator and listener to the people around him. He’s not shutting everybody out. He’s following his internal thing.

“This year was a great example. Again, playing six quarterbacks or something, and it seems crazy at first, and the next thing you know, they put together, obviously, a pretty good year. He’s had uncommon success up there.”

Daigneault turns 39 Friday. He and Gundy, 56, are from different parts of the country, different sports, different levels of sport and different generations. But they are connected by a spirit of fearlessness, a desire to try new things.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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