News 9 went one-on-one with former Oklahoma State linebacker Lawrence Pinson. Pinson played at Oklahoma State from 2002-05 after finishing up his prep career at Jenks. He wanted an opportunity to set the story straight in regard to the Sports Illustrated accusations that have come to light throughout the week:
What was you first reaction to hearing the allegations against Oklahoma State?
"My first reaction was honestly shock, especially being there with pretty much all of the players who were listed. I was there from 2002 until 2005. So I was there for the Les Miles' era and the beginning of coach (Mike) Gundy's, so I worked with some of those players; I worked with coach (DeForest), he was there all the years that I was there. I was just shocked because, as a starter during my three years there at OSU, I never saw any of those allegations. Some of the names that were mentioned, I played with Vernon Grant and he was one of my roommates, as well as, Darrent Williams. They were great, stand-up guys who both unfortunately passed away and they were good friends of mine. It was said because, for one, they couldn't defend themselves and No. 2 because the allegations against them are just crazy.
"Being a part of a program on the rise, being there in '02 when a lot of (the success) really started, it began a winning tradition. That was when we beat OU and Nebraska and it seemed like the whole future of OSU seemed to go upward. We went to a bowl game every year except for my senior year when Gundy first took over. I was shocked, man. The program has been doing so good, we're all over the media now, we're in the rankings, I just couldn't believe that the players who were mentioned were accusing OSU of these allegations."
Is there truth to the claims that Les Miles granted easier access to the players for boosters?
"Not at all. There is no truth to that whatsoever. In fact, as far as (who was allowed access) from the media, boosters, it was usually just former players or Garth Brooks who were allowed in our locker room … Hart Lee Dykes, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas. Usually it was former player alumni who were allowed into the locker room, there wasn't access to a bunch of boosters being in the locker room.
"Even on The Walk, it would be pretty noticeable when someone stops. We'd give hugs to our family or something like that, but it's pretty noticeable if somebody outside of your family is giving you an envelope full of money.
"And my question is, if they were handing out money, why weren't the starters getting paid? I'm just curious. If anyone is going to get paid, I would think it would be your exceptional athletes. I talked to a couple players who were former starters, as well, and I was like, ‘Hey, how come nobody told me we was getting paid?' And they laughed and shot it down, as well.
"None of us got paid. I just find it amusing that the players that didn't even start say they're getting paid but the starters never got paid. I was like, ‘We got our program backwards,' just making jokes. I just thought it was funny that all the players I've talked to, some of who have gone on to play in the NFL, none of them have received any payments outside of what was allotted in the per diem."
This is a hot-button topic with a lot of players coming out of the allegations, but what was your relationship with John Talley like and did you do work for him?
"Yeah I worked for John Talley and, in fact, John Talley saved my life. Coming in as a freshman, I'll be honest with you, I was headed down the wrong road. I got arrested before my freshman year started, I was on campus training and getting ready to go into my freshman year and I got arrested. Coach Miles actually told me, ‘this is unacceptable,' I had to work off community service hours.
"So John Talley had me work for him and go tell kids about what I did, which for me, that was huge, because I had to hold myself accountable in front of all these kids telling them about the path I had took, you know, getting in trouble with the law and that there are consequences for every action. I was nervous, I had never done public speaking before, but from that day forward my career has been based off that one moment. Doing that, getting arrested, working off 75 hours of community service and working for John Talley. He made sure I worked somewhere hard that was out in the field, working with horses at his ranch, speaking to kids, which I developed a passion for.
"At that point I joined FCA and worked with him throughout my career there and the speaking engagements that he gave me actually helped keep me out of trouble from then on, I never got in trouble from that day forward and I owe that to John Talley. I think the allegations against him about paying players too much … just … John Talley is a hard worker and he values that hard work. And any player I've know that's worked for him, he's made sure no one got any freebies from John Talley. That was his biggest thing was working hard and explaining that to all the players, ‘I'm going to pay you but you're going to have to work for it.' It would be hauling hay, cutting down trees or whatever. I learned a lot from Mr. Talley."
What would any of your former teammates who accused him of wrongdoing have to gain from it?
"Honestly, I don't know. I have no idea. Anybody that knows John Talley, and I played with his son Saul Talley when he was there, knows that John is a good man. Honestly, I genuinely don't think I know of a person that's that good and truly, genuinely an honest man all the time even when people aren't looking.
"In all the years that I've known him he's always done the right thing. I don't know what these players are getting out of accusing him of anything. I don't know if they got paid, I don't know if they're looking for attention, but to slander his name, that's when I was like, ‘This is ridiculous.'"
Have you spoken to any of your former teammates who have been quoted in either installment of the story so far?
"Yes, I've talked to a couple of them. I haven't reached out to a lot of them yet because, at first, I'm just trying to get all the facts. You know, I played with Rodrick Johnson, I mentored him. I played with all these guys. I played with William Bell; I played with (Brad) Girtman. I actually ran into Girtman about four months ago out in California. All of these guys got kicked off the team. Thomas Wright, he was one of my roommates. You know, I get that they're not happy with their lives but I guess they're just seeking attention or, for whatever reason, I don't know why they would choose now as the time to spill the beans versus doing it when they got kicked off the team immediately.
"Why all of a sudden when OSU is doing great, we're a ranked program, coach Gundy and Boone Pickens have turned the program completely around, so the timing of it is just crazy to me and the allegations … where is this coming from? Clearly there is a motive behind it. I don't know if someone was paid or something but it's just crazy and very sad for the whole Oklahoma State community."
Since you knew all of these guys, can you speak to their character and the validity of their statements?
"Well for the most part, as you already know, most of these guys were kicked off the team or they had problems, honestly. I'll be honest with you, coach Miles was more than lenient with all these players. We actually had a council with myself and a leader from every position that was called ‘the unity council,' and coach Miles would come to us and ask, ‘What do we need to do with these players that are having a hard time?'
"Whether it be players who were dealing with drug addiction, players who were getting in trouble academically, players who were just getting in trouble. We would sit and meet every week and talk about the problems on the team and coach Miles kept giving them opportunity after opportunity after opportunity and it would come to a point where he would ask us, ‘What should we do?' And, as far as the unity council, we would vote and decide it wasn't a good fit for our program or our team and we decided to let those players go.
"I think it's crazy for them to say, ‘Oh this happened or this happened,' they were given more than enough opportunities to get things right. It comes to a point where the coaching staff and the team couldn't tolerate it anymore."
You have already made it clear but I have to ask: Where you ever at any point offered any improper benefits, either monetary or with unethical academic assistance?
"No. I wish I'd been a straight-A student but no I didn't get any money and I didn't get any help outside of what was offered to us at the academic center, but they didn't write our papers – they didn't do anything for us – they made us do all the work. No, I didn't get any of those treatments and I'm dumbfounded and curious as to why there has yet to be a starter who has claimed to receive these benefits?
"And rest in peace Vernon Grant and Darrent Williams, but those are the only two starters that they've mentioned other than Tatum Bell and Josh Field, who each went on to have great success in their professional careers. I'm out here (in Las Vegas) with D'Juan Woods and asked him, ‘Did you get paid?' If anybody got paid, it would have been him and his brothers, right? And they didn't. His family had a dynasty there and he told me, ‘Lawrence, I didn't get nothing.' I started talking to the other linebackers and saying that I hoped I wasn't being naive and I was checking around to see if maybe somebody did get something. It's actually been great for me because I've been able to re-connect with some of my old teammates but they've all told me, ‘Nah, we never got anything. It's all crazy.'
"This is the truth, that's all … I just feel like there's no proof on any of this stuff. It's just ‘he said, she said,' and I think at the end of the day we will find out the truth … I don't even know why they would write a story about it with no facts whatsoever."
You were a prominent player on the defense and a multi-year starter. You already said you were never offered, but did you even hear about ‘pay-for-play' bonuses being offered by Joe DeForest?
"I recruited for coach DeFo. I brought Brandon Pettigrew in and I brought a couple other players in. Coach DeFo never gave us any money or had anything to do with the Orange Pride girls or doing any crazy stuff. It's all hearsay because I was there, like I said, all four years and he never paid anyone to do any kind of sexual favors for recruits and I was like the biggest (recruit) host of them all. I would take the players out to parties, show them a good time, introduce them to the Orange Pride girls and we'd all have a good time but there was never any of that stuff going on that's been said. I made sure of it.
"I had to be accountable to coach DeFo, who was the best special teams coach I ever played for. He was the reason I even got the opportunity to play in the NFL because it was through special teams and he taught me that. It's crazy."
Your career, as you've mentioned, spanned the end of the Les Miles era and the beginning of coach Gundy's. Do you think Gundy's dismissal of a lot of the players who might have been troubled or had been having issues – kind of a mass exodus – created some of this bad blood that seems to have, at least in part, led to what is coming out this week?
"I believe that had some of the driving force behind it. In (Gundy's) defense, like I said, they had every opportunity to fix it but I think what coach Gundy did was a very honorable thing. Some of these guys were great athletes for our team and when coach Gundy released them it was hard because we could have used those guys. It was my senior year and that was the only year we didn't go to a bowl game. I was used to going to a bowl game every year. When he dismissed these players it was hard because we needed these players, but at the same time I look at what he did and the sacrifice that he made and I was like, ‘You know what, he's focused on doing everything the right way.' I respect him for that.
"Our record didn't show it then, but the next year and the year after, you could just see that the program was on the rise. And, like a lot of people have said, coach Gundy didn't always go after the best player and I think he learned that from when we did go after the best players and they were always a headache, they weren't coachable; Gundy started looking for local talent and in the Texas area. He started taking these three-and-four star athletes and making them into five-stars because they would listen and be coachable. That is why the OSU program was able to become what it is today."
You were a part of building a program and were in the transitional stage of getting it to where it is today. Does it anger you that the work that you and a lot of guys put in is being called into question on a national stage?
"Definitely. It is something I took pride in. Coming out of (Jenks) high school, I could have gone anywhere. I committed to OU, committed to LSU and looked at Missouri; I could have gone to any number of big-time schools. I chose to go to Oklahoma State because I believed in what coach Miles was trying to do. I didn't want to go to a school that was already established. The class I came with included D'Juan Woods, Vernand Morency, Darrent Williams and Vernon Grant, we came in together and we talked that summer and decided that we were going to make Oklahoma State a force to be reckoned with.
"We were always known as the stepbrother to OU; we were the laughingstock of Oklahoma and we didn't want to be that. With coach Miles we were going to turn that ship around. My freshman year we beat OU, we beat Nebraska which is something we hadn't done in I think I think 50-plus years, and we started making statements. From then on we went to the Houston Bowl, then the Cotton Bowl and then the Alamo Bowl. We started getting used to a winning attitude and changed the whole culture of Oklahoma State.
"When coach Miles left and coach Gundy came in, that's when we were having some of these problems with some teammates but coach Gundy just cleaned shop. He wasn't going to put up with it. His attitude was, ‘if you don't want to do this right, you gotta go.' My hat goes off to coach Gundy and I am proud of what he has done with the program. I am proud to be a Cowboy."
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