Millwood football coach Darwin Franklin knows people might make assumptions about why Cale Gundy spoke to his team this week.
They might think the former Oklahoma assistant did it to rehab his reputation.
Or that it was a publicity stunt.
Gundy did resign earlier this month after reading a racial slur multiple times off the screen of a player’s iPad, and he hadn’t made any public appearances since. So going to Millwood, a predominantly Black high school that has some of the most successful athletic programs in the state, carries some eyebrow-raising optics.
Franklin didn’t care about any of that. Not what people might think. Not what outside perceptions might be.
That’s because he knows the story behind Gundy being there.
“We reached out to him,” Franklin said.
Gundy’s resignation has fueled anger; one side says anyone who’d back Gundy after what he did is racist while the other says the player with the offending words, not Gundy, should’ve been the one punished. Harsh extremes rule the day. Nuance takes a backseat.
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Get outta here.
“This is the biggest issue with society – something happens, and you just cut folk off,” Franklin said as he sat in his office Tuesday. “How will they grow if you don’t have a conversation? How will anybody learn and figure out what’s going on if you don’t talk?
“You gotta talk.”
That’s why Cale Gundy was at Millwood.
It started because Franklin just called to check in on a friend.
Coach @OU_CoachGundy, @TeamMillwoodFB @MillwoodAthlet1 thanks you for speaking to us about passion and what true accountability looks like. Your honesty helped us to grow as individuals and as a team on and off the field today. We appreciate you. #FalconPride pic.twitter.com/ObRSong30f
— Darwin L. Franklin (@CoachFrank4XL) August 16, 2022
The Franklins and the Gundys have known each other for decades. First, it was Franklin’s dad, Varryl, the legendary basketball coach at Millwood, and Gundy’s dad, Ray. They crossed paths when their kids were young, the Gundys in Midwest City, the Franklins nearby on Oklahoma City’s east side.
Darwin and Cale continued crossing paths as adults. Coaching clinics. Recruiting calls. In-school visits.
When Franklin heard the news about Gundy’s resignation, Franklin was stunned.
“That’s not him,” he thought. “That’s not his heart.”
Several days later as Franklin was driving home from practice, he decided to call Gundy. No agenda. No plan. Franklin just wanted to make sure Gundy was OK.
“Hey,” Franklin said after Gundy answered. “How are you doing?”
“Hold on,” Franklin remembers Gundy saying. “Before you even get started, Darwin, I was wrong, and I’m sorry for what I said. There’s no way for me to understand how that word makes you feel. But I did not mean that at all.”
“I know you didn’t,” Franklin said. “You don’t gotta tell me, you know?”
Still, Gundy didn’t let himself off the hook.
“I have to be accountable,” Franklin remembers him saying. “I said it.”
Franklin: “I know it’s not your heart. I know that’s now how you feel.”
Gundy: “But I gotta accept responsibility for it.”
The two men talked for so long, Franklin made it all the way home.
“I’m still here for you,” Franklin remembers Gundy saying. “If there’s anything you need, just let me know.”
“You know what?” Franklin said. “There is something.”
Sitting in his truck in the driveway, Franklin had an idea.
“Come talk to the kids about accountability,” he said to Gundy. “The fact that you are accepting accountability on the biggest stage and you’re accepting it without making excuses … will you come talk to my guys?”
According to Franklin, Gundy said he needed to talk to his lawyers, to make sure there weren’t any legal reasons he shouldn’t speak to Millwood’s football team, but the next day, last Friday, he texted Franklin back.
I’m all in. Let’s do it.
On Monday, Gundy spoke to Millwood’s players. He had two main points: passion and accountability.
“He talked about how he did everything with passion,” Franklin said. “Everything that he did over the course of his life, he did it with passion. He didn’t half do it. He wasn’t faking it. He was gonna do stuff with passion.”
Then came accountability.
“One of the biggest things was, accountability isn’t just you making sure somebody else is accountable,” Franklin said. “You can’t make sure somebody else is accountable till you’re accountable for yourself.”
Gundy also took questions from the players. One asked how he handled ugly, hurtful comments posted online.
“Easy,” Franklin remembers Gundy saying. “I know who I am. I know the Lord above. I know he’s my god. I know who I am without a shadow of a doubt.
“I said it. I’m responsible for it. But I’m gonna be OK because I know who I am.”
Gundy offered to help the players in any way possible, Franklin said. At one point, a quarterback asked Gundy what he could do to get better, and the former Sooner signal caller began offering suggestions. Know your reads. Understand your checks. Watch film.
Watching Gundy talk with the players, Franklin had a realization: he wouldn’t be surprised if Gundy started popping up at high schools around the area sharing his story and helping players.
That’s because Franklin could see how Gundy was energized by the interaction.
Franklin, by the way, doesn’t disapprove of the decision OU football coach Brent Venables made regarding Gundy. Whether Venables forced the resignation or merely accepted it, Franklin understands he was just doing what he thought best for his program.
That, too, is what Franklin believes he did by having Gundy talk to his team.
“I don’t know if he was forced out. I don’t know. I don’t need to know,” Franklin said. “All I know is he was accountable. He said, ‘I’m accountable for myself,’ and because he was accountable for himself, that was the lesson that these kids needed to learn.”
And if some people still think it was a publicity stunt, so be it.
“It doesn’t matter,” Franklin said. “I knew what our guys could get from it.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cale Gundy spoke to Millwood football team after Oklahoma resignation