- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 19, 2011

STILLWATER, OKLA. (AP) - Coach Mike Gundy is taking a less-is-more approach at No. 6 Oklahoma State.

Less practicing, more winning.

Gundy has instituted shorter practices for the Cowboys in recent years, coinciding with a steady rise up the rankings. Instead of taking advantage of the maximum 4 hours per day or 20 hours per week allowed by the NCAA, Oklahoma State is on the field practicing less than 4 1/2 hours per week.

That’s 1 hour, 45 minutes on Tuesdays, 1 hour, 35 minutes on Wednesdays and an hour on Thursdays. That’s it.

“We’re nowhere near the 4-hour rule. We don’t ever get near 4 hours, or 20 hours a week,” Gundy said. “I mean, we have to fill out the paperwork but it’s a non-factor.”

The goal is to focus more on game days than practice. So far, it’s an overwhelming success.

Oklahoma State (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) is experiencing some of its best times ever, winning a school-record 11 games last season and reaching the midway point of this season undefeated and sitting in fourth place in the BCS standings _ the program’s highest position ever _ heading into Saturday’s game at Missouri (3-3, 1-2).

It’s not just fun because the Cowboys are winning. It’s a concerted effort by Gundy and his staff.

“If you’ve ever had a job where when you got up, you were dreading getting to the office because of the boss or your environment or you didn’t like it, it’s not very fun. Your production level’s going to go down, I don’t care who you are,” Gundy said.

“If these guys feel that way about football here, then we’re wrong as coaches. We’re dead wrong, because there’s only just a few of them that’ll do it no matter what because they’re so mentally tough.”

Gundy understands that college football can be a grind on players. Back when he was a quarterback for Oklahoma State in the 1980s, he got done with football in May and had all summer to get a part-time job, hang out at the pool, coach an American Legion baseball team and generally get away.

Now, the sport is a year-round pursuit without much down time beyond spring break and a week or so after a postseason bowl.

Gundy said he realized about three years ago what was happening to the players who weren’t willing to keep plugging along no matter what. He recalled “seeing kids that were willing to run through a wall when they were a sophomore and then by the time they were a senior, they didn’t even want to start to run toward that wall.”

So, he listened up. He talked to his seniors about what changes could be made, and over time he has developed the current plan.

Like their hurry-up offense, the Cowboys make the most of their time, with focused, fast-paced practices. They’re also on the field for a little over an hour on Sundays without pads, correcting mistakes from the previous day’s game, and each week has about 7 hours of team meetings and film study scheduled _ although players can go over the tape more on their own, too.

“We know that either way we’re going to get our work in in practice. Whether we practice for an hour or practice for three hours, the same result’s going to come out,” said tight end/defensive end Wilson Youman. “But we’re happy that we don’t have to go out there as long anymore.”

There’s no one Gundy points to as an example for what the Cowboys are doing now. He said his staff keeps track of practice lengths and even how many plays are run in each period of practice, so the whole process can be re-evaluated later. The path to this year’s practice regimen started with a change to shorter sessions for the 2009 season.

It’s no exact science, but there is some practical reasoning behind what he’s doing.

The team’s goal is now is to run a whopping 95 offensive plays in each game, but instead of using prolonged practices to build up endurance, the Cowboys try to save energy for Saturdays _ particularly as the season wears on.

“They only have so many plays in them, so if you’re going to average 90 plays a game, then your practice plays have to go down because you can’t practice all the time and then play 90 plays in a game,” Gundy said.

He has even incorporated music and occasionally humorous skits into practice to keep the atmosphere lively.

“We do the best we can to make sure our players are having fun, so their mental approach is they look forward to coming over and being in the offices with us, they look forward to being in meetings, they look forward to being in practice because they know they’re going to have fun,” Gundy said. “They don’t dread it all day. I don’t want them to feel like they’re going to the dentist’s office.”

There has been some sacrifice. With abbreviated practices, there’s only so much that can be done. The offensive playbook only has about 45 base plays, and offensive coordinator Todd Monken has to really choose what he wants to tinker with.

“It forces you to be a little bit more simple,” Monken said. “I like creating stuff and the more plays I have in practice, the more I can get in practice and the more I can do. Sometimes that becomes counterproductive.”

The limited practice time is a complete change in culture from a decade ago, when Les Miles was in charge, Gundy was the offensive coordinator and Monken was on the coaching staff.

“I’d like to practice like Les did. I’d like to be out there about five hours,” Monken said. “But that’s not realistic. I like being out there. That’s more my style. I wish we could coach them in the summer. I wish we could teach and coach and be around them a lot more, but there is a fine line between it.

“It doesn’t become fun anymore and it becomes a job out there.”

Gundy, who’s now in his seventh year, carried over those long practices at the start of his tenure before realizing there might be a point of diminishing returns.

“It would never get sloppy, but after about an hour and a half, you kind of want to go home,” Youman said. “That’s how it is now. We get in, get our work done, work really hard and get off the field.”