Mike Holder deserves criticism -- just not all of it
Mike Holder is taking a beating.
Some criticism is deserved.
But not all.
The Oklahoma State athletic director botched Brad Underwood’s contract renegotiation. Of that, there can be no doubt. A source close to the situation told our Berry Tramel that Holder said and did things along the way that didn’t just anger Underwood but plum drove him out of Stillwater.
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At one point, the source said the athletic director told the coach that he didn’t do as well in his first season as his predecessor, Travis Ford, had done in his.
That is actually true – the Cowboys finished 23-12, tied for fourth in the Big 12 and won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament in Ford’s first season while in Underwood’s first they went 20-13, finished fifth in the Big 12 and lost a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament – but that isn’t something you say. Underwood has pride. Underwood has ego. Every major-college coach does. Holder’s words wounded both severely, and Underwood moved on.
Criticize Holder all you want for his lacking bedside manner. Part of his job is to have relationships with his head coaches, and right now, he is struggling severely in that area.
(See also, Mike Gundy’s ongoing contract-extension talks.)
But with all that being said, Holder is getting beat up for other things that aren’t founded or frankly all that fair. People tend to pile on when something bad happens, but that doesn’t make it right.
First of all, some are asserting Holder botched Underwood’s initial contract. Didn’t pay him enough. Didn’t do things right.
Thing is, no one was saying that a year ago.
When Underwood came to OSU, Holder more than tripled his salary. Underwood went from making $300,000 a year at Stephen F. Austin to making $1 million a year. Yes, that salary was low for a Big 12 coach, but for a coach taking over a major-college program for the first time, it was appropriate. And for an athletic director who’d errored in giving a young coach too much too soon with Ford’s 10-year contract, it was even more appropriate.
Think of it this way – if Holder had given Underwood $2 million or $2.5 million a year, everyone would’ve screamed bloody murder.
What’s Holder doing giving Underwood so much money?
Didn’t Holder learn anything from the Ford debacle?
Even though Holder made grave mistakes in the contract renegotiation, don’t lose site of the fact that the initial contract he gave Underwood was spot on.
Still, those missteps in the renegotiation have a lot of people assuming Holder won’t pay the next basketball coach.
I don’t get that leap in logic.
For starters, Holder offered Underwood $2.2 million in their renegotiations, and while we’ll never know for sure, there’s every reason to believe Holder would’ve gone up from there. That would’ve meant Underwood would’ve gone from more than tripling his salary in 2016-17 to more than doubling his salary in 2017-18.
A couple pretty decent bumps.
And Holder would’ve been paying $2.2 million plus for a coach who started conference play on a six-game losing streak, finished .500 in the Big 12, and didn’t win a single post-season game. If anything, $2.2 million might’ve been generous.
So, why exactly are a ton of folks saying that Holder won’t pay for a coach?
That thinking doesn’t add up.
But for all the people walloping Holder over the contract and the money, nothing is probably as painful to him as the question that some folks are asking – does Mike Holder care about Cowboy basketball?
Without hesitation, I say yes.
Now, Cowboy football is his priority. As it should be. Football is the straw that stirs the drink, and frankly, if OSU was still a basketball school like it was back in the day, you’d worry about it in this era of conference realignment.
Just think about some of the sentiments that Bill Self has stated over the years. The Kansas basketball coach oversees one of the sport’s powerhouses, and yet, when the league sands were shifting a few years ago, he made it known that he was worried about Kansas being left out because it wasn’t good enough in football.
Schools have to be good in football nowadays, and OSU is.
But that doesn’t mean Mike Holder doesn’t care about basketball.
I was in a group of reporters that talked with Holder the day that Underwood’s hiring was announced. Holder talked about a ton of issues related to basketball, and as he talked, it became obvious how distraught he had become over the state of the program in the latter years of the Ford era. He saw the empty seats. He heard the public outcry. He felt the pain of Cowboy fans everywhere.
What’s more, he felt personally responsible.
Holder reminisced about how much fun it had been to be in Gallagher-Iba Arena during the Cowboys’ Sutton era heyday. He loved being there for games. He relished it. You could see on Holder’s face just how grand it had been, how much pride he took in what was happening for his alma mater.
To see that pride disappear and to know that he had a big hand in it took a toll on Holder.
He told us that he’d even made a trip to Tulsa to meet with Eddie Sutton and all three of his sons. His goal for the meeting was simple.
Holder wanted the Suttons to know that he was sorry for what had become of the program. Their program.
His program, too.
I know it’s easy to question Holder these days. He isn’t infallible. He isn’t above reproach. Frankly, he needs someone in a higher position of power at OSU – Boone Pickens, Burns Hargis, the regents – to give him a do-better talk in how he deals with his employees.
But despite what’s transpired in the past week, he doesn’t deserve all of the criticism coming at him.
A good chunk of it? Absolutely.
All of it? No way.