Any college football or basketball coaching search is a problem, but the one Oklahoma State athletic director finds himself in at the moment is particularly sticky. After Brad Underwood left OSU for Illinois one year after reinvigorating a basketball program that was on life support, Holder’s issues run deep.
Underwood put Holder in a corner (or he put himself there, however you want to look at it).
Here is what we know (or think we know): OSU low-balled Underwood with an offer for around $2.2 million. Underwood left for $2.75 million at Illinois.
No matter whether you think this was a wise business decision by Holder (I do), the bottom line is that Oklahoma State fans lost a coach they really liked and now a program that had great trajectory is left with a lot of questions. Nobody cares how this happened, only that it happened.
And because Holder would not up the ante with Underwood, he faces the following issue in the short-term. You need to keep the basketball momentum going, if you’re Holder, but if you hire somebody like you just hired with Underwood, the collective OSU fan base will just say, “we’ve been here before … we know where this gets us … we’re not falling for that again.”
This is compounded by the fact that nobody will every buy the “he’s one of us” thing again like Mike Gundy, Josh Holliday and John Smith. That’s the collateral damage left behind by Underwood. He jumps ship and an entire fan base says, “never again.” That’s the part that really stings.
Now, the counter to this might be that fans will always show up for winning, but everybody bought what Underwood was selling and that was part of the reason GIA was full for six games last season. It just was.
Underwood was smart to sell that “Stillwater is the greatest town in Middle America” bit because 1.) it worked and 2.) he knew it would come back to hold Holder hostage if he had any success at all.
What are you going to do now? Let me walk and let this thing I’ve revitalized burn to the ground?
The answer, apparently: A resounding yes.
It was somewhat simple to retrieve fans and fill GIA in 2017 after the Travis Ford era. Now? It’s going to be difficult, and you have three options.
- Pay big bucks to a proven name.
- Get a more unproven coach and repeat the Underwood formula.
- Hire Doug Gottlieb.
I don’t think Holder wants to make the splash (financially) a proven name would offer, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to sell No. 2. Does that leave No. 3 as the most realistic choice? It sells itself and Gottlieb comes cheap. That sounds like a dream scenario for Holder. He needs the first and wants the second.
But at the end of the day, I’m not sure if he’ll really be able to pull that trigger.