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Brad Underwood to Illinois? Total headscratcher

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Report: Brad Underwood leaves Oklahoma State for head coaching position at Illinois

Sports will shock us, knock us back and leave us grappling for words.

Sometimes, “wow” is all we can muster.

That was the case Saturday afternoon when news surfaced that Brad Underwood wasn’t just leaving Oklahoma State for Illinois. He’d already left. Within a few minutes of several national college basketball reporters breaking the news, a photo surfaced on social media of Underwood with Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman.

Wearing Illinois garb.

Holding a #WEWILLWIN poster.


A little more than 24 hours after OSU’s loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Cowboys were looking for a new coach. It’s head spinning. It’s head shaking.

Mostly, though, it’s head scratching.

Underwood was underpaid for the results that he produced this year. No doubt about that. His contract paid him $1 million for what is now his one and only season in Stillwater, making him the lowest paid coach in the Big 12.

His contract called for only incremental raises over the next couple years. To $1.1 million next season, $1.2 million the next, then $1.4 million and $1.6 million.

But Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder hired Underwood from a low mid-major program. He’d never been a major-college head coach, so Holder wanted to see results, then talk about a contract renegotiation.

No harm in that.

But after the results Underwood produced, he was due a raise – a serious one at that. Everyone in orange and black knew it. Everyone in college basketball knew it.

Perhaps those contract renegotiations had already started and were going badly. Holder is a well-documented penny pincher, but at a university that has long had limited resources -- and after he goofed and gave Travis Ford a 10-year contract that continually bit him in the backside -- it’s understandable why Holder would be frugal.

But it’s hard to think OSU wouldn’t have at least doubled Underwood’s first-year salary. That would’ve been less than Illinois ultimately offered (six years, $18 million), but if Underwood knew he was getting that big of a bump, it might’ve been enough to keep him from even talking to anyone else.

Underwood must have known he was going to be able to live quite comfortably in Payne County.

He had to also know that he had a better team coming back at OSU than he’ll have at Illinois. I haven’t looked at Illinois’ roster. Don’t need to. Once Jawun Evans said he was leaning toward coming back, that automatically gave OSU a talent advantage, and frankly, even if the spectacular point guard leaves, the Cowboys are still better than the Illini, which have been a mostly a mess ever since Bill Self left.

Maybe if Underwood had left for a blue-blood program, you could wrap your head around this decision. Or if he'd gone to Kansas State, his alma mater, you could make sense of it.

But Illinois? 

The whole thing is just unexpected and shocking and unbelievable.


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Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›