10 Thoughts On Brad Underwood Leaving Oklahoma State For Illinois

Written by Kyle Porter

What a day.

I’m just sitting there after a fun morning with the kids, watching some golf and booking a flight when boom, Carson drops a message into our Slack chat: Illinois hired Underwood!!!

I thought he was kidding. Like, I legitimately thought he was just messing with us because we hadn’t really been active on Slack all day — a NCAA Tournament hangover, I suppose.

Then I jumped on Twitter … and I haven’t come up for air since.

I was just telling Mrs. Pistols this morning, “We’ve got five months until football. I’m not real sure what we’re going to write about. I don’t even know if the site is going to make any money.”

The #ContentGods always deliver, don’t they?

Five thoughts on a batty day in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

1. Don’t Blame Holder

I wrote about this more extensively here, but Holder sort of got raked over the coals on Saturday for not doing what he did for Travis Ford: Overpaying after a good (not great) first season that ended with a crazy NCAA Tournament game.

Underwood got six years and over $18 million from Illinois (over $3 million a year). That’s ludicrous. These numbers are from 2016, but that would have been top 10 money nationally! It will still probably end up being in the top 20 next season.

Holder made a #businessdecision, and I think it’s one I’m fine with. Brad Underwood is not John Wooden. He was a fun, exciting coach that rocked in Stillwater for a year, but there are others out there. It’s hard to pay that $3 million Underwood said he wanted after Year 1 with Ford still in the rearview looking like this.

Holder’s failure, I suppose, was not locking things down earlier in the year (although I’m not real sure of what that timeline would have looked like). His other failure is overestimating Ford’s ability eight years ago. If you want to blame him for something, it should be that. Underwood, on the other hand, was an amazing fit, and you sometimes have to pay a premium for amazing fits.

Underwood called the Illinois hire perfect timing, and in so many ways (Holder coming off the Ford contract, Underwood coming off a revitalization and Illinois needing a coach badly) it was.

However …

2. What Are You Paying On?

OSU has to decide what parameters it is using to pay head coaches. With Travis Ford, it used his trajectory and gave him 10 years and over $20 million. It was banking on a future it thought it could see.

With Underwood, OSU swung the other way. It paid him based on a performance in the recent past that was all right (20-13 and 9-9 are Ford-like numbers in Year 1) but nothing to call the Basketball Hall of Fame over.

The real interesting part now is that OSU has to figure out what its floor and ceiling are for a head basketball coach’s salary. It’s hard to imagine a coach (that you could reasonably get) coming in next year and besting what Underwood did (especially when it comes to ticket sales) so have you set the standard that you’re only going to pay $1 million to anyone who comes in Year 1 and work from there? If so …

3. Your Big Problem Moving Forward

You’re painting yourself into a corner here cutting two different ways.

First, coaches are going to be more reticent to take OSU up on this offer in the future. Why not just hold out and go somewhere that will pay better money from the start?

Second, this is going to continue to be a stepping-stone job even if you do get guys. If you’re saying that coaches in Stillwater have to earn their pay based on past performance, you’re not going to keep anybody that’s any good for any amount of time.

You sort of have to overpay at least a little in today’s NCAA culture (although you can structure the length and buyout so it’s not Ford-like) unless …

4. Bring Doug Home?

You’ve set the table to make it super easy to hire Gottlieb now.

Three reasons.

  1. You won’t have to pay him much and you don’t have to worry about him leaving for big bucks after Year 1.
  2. Your fan base won’t believe that another mid major coach won’t jump ship after the first year anyway and won’t be fired up about pretty much anyone else you bring in because they will just presume that person is gone after one or two years.
  3. Holder can save face (and money) based on points Nos. 1 and 2.

This is sort of a perfect storm for No. 44. If he doesn’t get hired now, then it will definitively never happen.

5. Don’t Blame Underwood either

Look, I love covering golf for CBS. Love it. But if Golf Channel calls and says, “We’ll triple your salary and tack another year onto it,” then it’s goodbye, friends for me and I’ve got the moving van halfway to Florida before my wife even knows what happened.

I could do without the mad lib of “(new school) is elite and I’ve always loved (town). It’s one of the few jobs in the country that could have taken me away from (former job)” routine, but I don’t fault him.

The only odd thing to me is that it didn’t really feel like OSU had a chance to match Illinois’ offer (if you believe Berry Tramel’s sources). Maybe working for Holder is as miserable as everyone makes it sound.

While we’re here — and I know this is totally revisionist history — as Underwood everything we thought he was as a coach? Look, I was in on him. I thought he was going to rock in Stillwater for a long time. But his defense was No. 156 in the country in efficiency. OSU lost 13 games. They were not better or worse (statistically) than Year 1 with Ford.

I guess what I’m saying here is that I understand why a person would not believe Underwood is worth $3 million a year and that him leaving, despite what everyone seems to think, is not really the end of the world.

6. Definitely Blame Travis Ford

Holder will be seeing Ford’s contract in his nightmares the way Mack Brown still sees Justin Gilbert.

Berry Tramel said as much.

Travis Ford, fired a year ago after eight seasons as OSU’s coach, was making $2.4 million a year, the residual of a 10-year contract he signed after his first season, in which the Cowboys made the NCAA Tournament and beat Tennessee in a first-round game.

Underwood’s case: Holder had established the value of an OSU basketball coach, with the contract he gave Ford. [NewsOK]

The lesson here: Always blame Travis Ford (or Bill Young).

6. Mike Gundy’s Thoughts

Two things Gundy must be thinking:

  1. I wonder if we can put Natty Light in our Gatorade coolers for games?
  2. Hmm … maybe we really don’t have any money.
  3. I’m going to make Mike Holder pay me $50 million a year because he knows that I know that if I leave, he’ll be carried out of town on the ROTC push-up board by that blogger boy and his friends.

Gundy has already sent a video text to Holder of him lightning the alleged contract extension sitting on his desk on fire and writing the following on a new one.

7. Impact on Jawun

Somebody said this on Twitter (I’m sorry I have no clue who it was), but I have to think Evans will be more impacted by what he’s told at the NBA Draft Combine (or whatever it’s called) than about who the head coach is at OSU. I never got the feeling that Evans was “an Underwood guy” or a Ford guy (or an anybody guy) more than he was just a baller riding for whoever was sitting in the seat on the far left of OSU’s bench.

For the record: I still think he’s gone and have thought so for a while.

8. Who do you get?

I touched on this earlier, but I’m seeing names like Buzz Williams and that caliber of coach being thrown around. OK. Here is the problem with that.

Buzz Williams makes nearly $3 million a year. So either a.) Holder isn’t stealing a Buzz Williams-y coach because he won’t pay $3 million a year to anyone who isn’t Bill Self or b.) He didn’t actually believe in Brad Underwood as a legit top-tier head coach.

Those are your only two options here. Holder has handcuffed himself to a price range and then said Underwood, a man he thought enough of to hire essentially before the 2016 NCAA Tournament ended, is not actually worthy of making big boy money. And he’s actually not based on his past performance, but at some point you have to bet on the future. And Underwood seemed like a damn good wager.

So is Buzz Williams (or someone like him) really that much more proven than Underwood and thus worth $3+ million a year in Holder’s eyes? Or is OSU just not going to pay anyone who hasn’t achieved a massive amount of success specifically in Stillwater?

I think the reality here is that somebody every year is going to be willing to pony up big money to good, underpaid coaches. So either OSU is going to have to pay that money or it is going to be perpetually stuck with a bad program or a turnstile of coaches.

Gottlieb might be the exception here … he could feasibly grow as the program grows and maintain a salary near the bottom of the Big 12. Then when the time is right, if achieves multiple years of success, Holder could pay him adequately. That works in theory with homegrown guys, but as Holder has been trying to prove with Gundy for the past seven years, it doesn’t always go how you want it to.

9. A Surreal Day

It still doesn’t feel real, does it? I remember writing this last year when Ford got fired (exactly one year ago to today) and Underwood was hired three days later. It was like lightning. It all seemed so crazy and radical, and that was when we were expecting it to happen.

So today was a sandstorm of opinions, numbers and incredible quotes. Usually days like today expand into weeks or even months of sports coverage. Today was like an event put under extreme pressure that resulted in unadulterated fission. It was an absolute explosion of news.

We haven’t really had time to properly digest it all, but hopefully coherent thoughts were formed, well-reasoned opinions were written and tweets were nuanced. I have no idea if any of these things happened, but I am glad for the day to finally come to an end.

10. Hire Doug

Just do it.

“I know that coach (Eddie) Sutton wanted me on that sideline, and I know that former teammates wanted me on that sideline,” Gottlieb told the Tulsa World on Saturday. “… Brad said he was loyal but has not shown to be loyal. I don’t want the job sheerly out of loyalty, but that’s a destination job.

“And, oh, by the way, I ain’t leaving. What people saw this year is only a fraction of what that place can be.”

Hold me.

  • Vintage97poke

    Holder is in a real jam. He can’t go hire anyone for 3 mill (even if we had $) bc they would never live up to underwood, who we keep for that price. The 1-2mill mid major hire won’t move the needle and thus he loses all momentum from this past year. Doug at 1mill is his only option. If he fails after 3 years, it’s enough time since underwood he can get back in that 2.5 mill range. This hire will need to be a populist pick (Doug) bc this time Holder is replacing a popular coach rather than a disaster. I’m all in on Doug and I get not paying a guy 3mill a year bc he signicantely outperformed Travis Ford….not exactly high set bar!!

    • Philo Farnsworth

      HE DIDN’T out perform T Ford is the problem!!!

      • BCubs

        he had 1 year

        • Philo Farnsworth

          T ford won a Tourney game his first year and DAMN near won 2… Do you REALLY think Illinois is a “once in a life time” job for Underwood…? I think you should go check out the things he said a year ago here… This will tell you more about the guy U of I is paying 3.5 mil to… A $ grubbing con man!!!

        • David Einstein

          Ford walked into a worse situation in my opinion…

      • Vintage97poke

        I agree!! But the PERCEPTION is that he outperformed HCTF bc there was renewed excitement. Underwood came into a captivated audience.

    • TK_1

      Well said my man. The way this whole thing has set up Doug now makes a lot of sense to my mind. Much more so than he did last year. We’re in a weak position and we’ve got to roll the dice that Doug could be the Gundy of the basketball program.

      I have no faith Holder will actually hire him however. 🙁

      • willham

        I don’t see the weak position. We actually just picked up $3 million in strength to hire the next guy. Not super hard to see adding that into the bucket and actually pay the next guy more than Brad asked for. Not likely, but not impossible. It would also be hilarious for Brad to get his $3 million have a mediocre year at Illiinois and miss the tournament while we pay someone what we offered him or a little more, and us make the tournament.

        • Vintage97poke

          Ok. Name a coach we can get for 2.5-3 mill a year that will appease the fan base as better than underwood. Holder can’t win w any hire in that range. And trust me, that 3 mill buyout isn’t going into increasing pay for next coach. Only option from financial and fan base standpoint is Doug.

  • Philo Farnsworth

    Covering golf and selling out kids who played their hearts out for you to be offered such a contract is hardly the same thing… What kind of POS must Underwood be? He would’ve got his $ here,,,maybe not this year, but he signed a F’n contract that Holder was not obligated to renegotiate in year 1!!! MAYBE if he’d won a tournament game… WOW just F’n WOW!!! What a F’n con man!!! Leaves a returning team with a hell of a shot at being good next year, which thank god, because that should be enough to lure a good coach… You guys on this Gottlieb sh#t,,,really? NO EXPERIENCE at coaching,,,sure throw him a million dollars and a good team, maybe something good could come of it, but is this really where we’re at as a program…?

    • Vintage97poke

      Dude we have won ONE tourney game in last 10 years. So yeah…that’s where we r at as program!

    • Trigiddy

      When your coach leaves you for Illinois after a year, that tells you your basketball program is a joke. I’m personally hoping for something better than Gottlieb, but unfortunately, I don’t see anything better happening at this point. As much as it pains me to write this, I think, as of yesterday, we are now fighting with Tech for the worst basketball job in the conference. OSU basketball has always had a special magic with me and most of our fan base, but that magic doesn’t seem to resonate with those outside our little circle anymore.

      • Philo Farnsworth

        I’m sorry but this is nonsense,,, he left for $, and a lot of it… OSU has great facilities, great fans(most years), great tradition, and a really good team, that save fn Michigan shooting 150% from 3 would still be playing, and have a good shot at winning tomorrow…

  • BCubs

    as an illinois student, im sorry and also extremely happy for this outcome

    • TK_1

      Good luck to you. The guy is a solid basketball coach. Just know if he has a lot of success he’ll use you like he used us and be gone ASAP. Enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts.

      • Wtc

        I’m an Osu fan but I don’t think Underwood will find anywhere better than Illinois. I think he’ll stay at Illinois 5-10 years have some success and go to the tournament and if he ultimately doesn’t win national championships they’ll look for someone who can and Underwood will go back to KState.

        • forever 14

          Brad will be the Wes Lunt of basketball coaches.

  • ryno1613

    It’s possible to blame Holder and not be on the #FireHolder bandwagon just as it is possible to not repeat your mistakes by doing the exact opposite, as Holder did. We’ve literally spent hundreds of millions (if not a billion) on facilities and let a guy go over a few hundred thousand a year. Underwood asking for $2.9 million is fair. Adjusting for natural coaching salary inflation, that would have put him as a top 15 coach and 6th in the Big 12 behind Self, Huggins, Dixon, Kruger, and Smart. Seems about right for both OSU and Underwood. As someone else noted, Holder treated him like an alum and got burned when Underwood wasn’t loyal and true.

    • BCubs

      so illinois didnt overpay?

      • lpscout

        Actually, YES they did. He is NOT a proven coach like those on the list. He had a solid team coming back.

        • BCubs

          eh, im fine with it, Whitman said he wasn’t going to settle for anything less than a 3-4 million dollar coach

      • Vintage97poke

        With the buyout, you are paying him 3.5 mill a year for 6 years. That puts him in top six and 4 of the 5 above him have won a national title. U b the judge

        • BCubs

          Whitman was ready to pay 3-4 million for a coach, the money isnt a problem at U of I.

  • oSuJones

    Look….we can be down on Holder for some of this, but in reality, Underwood used OSU and completely backstabbed the program and our student-athletes. For a contract to be finalized the day after losing the tourney means he was already talking to Illinois long ago. He is a true piece of s*** and hopefully will get what’s coming to him. He’s leached off of others recruits at every stop and will play the same tune next year with a good class coming in for U of I. Let’s move on to bigger and better things. F him.

    • Vintage97poke

      He feels like the bobby petrino of bball

      • David Einstein

        Petrino is a great comparison.

      • G-Block

        I was reminded of Todd Graham when I read the news.

  • Joseph Drew

    I just looked over Illinois BBall roster and they are losing a lot of seniors. Did not see any difference makers in any their underclassmen and not too sure about the incoming Freshmen class they have coming in. Looks like a total rebuild for Underwood. Hope all his 3+ million a year is guaranteed.

    • David Einstein

      They have a decent class coming in.

      • forever 14

        A decent class for whose coach’s system?

        • David Einstein

          Groce. They’ll all stay is what I’ve read.

  • StillOriginal

    Mind Blown…Brad Underwood took the same exit as KD, I had mad respect for this man…I don’t think I can or even want to call myself a fan of Oklahoma State Basketball as long as Mike Holder is AD…By the way, my respect for Mike Gundy is soaring…

    Boy do I want to play Illinois in non-conference now.

  • Phil A.

    Don’t hire Doug Gottlieb. As a fan of a rival school, professional coaches (or assistants with heavy school ties) only. Doug Gottlieb is not a coach; don’t do it. I’d rather y’all hire Scott Cross at Arlington or even Kermit Davis (who’s 58 and has nowhere better to go) than Doug Gottlieb.

    Don’t do it.

    • DubCeeSwag

      Would the Cowboys consider/go after Tom Crean? Clean rep, strong recruiter, would be a good landing spot for him. You can compete there.

  • Pokefan81

    Kyle you’re talking out both sides of your mouth. First you say don’t blame Holder and he should still have his job. Then you provide an entire list of issues with this that are all Holder’s doing. Have you ever met the guy? He’s an a$$ and unless you are putting a check in his hand he won’t give you the time of day. I couldn’t imagine having to work for him.

    Yes it stinks what Underwood did but let’s not pretend we didn’t have this coming. Brad did everything he needed to do to be successful and when it came time to talk money we haggled with him like we were at a flea market. When you want to retain talent you come strong with your first offer to show your commitment. If they want more it’s not meant to be. This really boils down to Holder wasn’t willing to spend the $700k necessary to ensure our program is successful long term.

    OSU got burned on this and it falls squarely on Holder.

  • MolonLabe#tryme

    Don’t blame Holder, blame Ford?
    Who hired both? Who’s signature was on the offers?
    Here’s a thought, let’s blame Holder, Ford, Underwood, AND the brain trust that keeps Holder on board…all under achievers.

  • Chris Saxon

    TRamel has no sources at OSU. DOesnt need em. He makes up whatever he wants. At least now we can get a coach that can coach D.

  • Bizzaro Porter

    Holder had 2 coaches in hand that sold out their respected arenas while coaching well enough to play on national tv.
    Yet holder and the osu athletic department is too poor to:
    1. Buy out ford earlier
    2. Give gundy better deal.
    3. Give gundy the resources to hire top shelf assistants
    4. Extend a coach with a ton of potential to league average
    5. Get gundy a better deal (AGAIN!!!)
    We have a ton of revenue and donors I refuse to believe that holder is down to pennies and can’t finance his coaches.

  • Richard Eggerman

    Let’s learn from the past (tongue planted firmly in cheek). We hired a proven OSU alum in Eddie Sutton because he had little choice but to return to his alma mater if he wanted to stay in basketball. Fast forward to the present. Bill Self is a proven OSU alum. The only problem is that to all appearances Kansas basketball is a clean program. But with a little ingenuity we could change that perception overnight, as events in Washington continually demonstrate.

    • David Einstein

      Self for 8M per…ticket prices are high enough to warrant that.

    • Vintage97poke

      U lost me a lil at the end?
      Self coming back to OSU will be co-headlines w capture of Bigfoot

      • Richard Eggerman

        Self will come back to OSU if, like Eddie, his only alternative is to leave the game. My tongue-in-cheek proposal is to send a dirty tricks squad to Lawrence to engineer a scandal. They do it every day in Washington.

        • DataAddict

          So Trump isn’t corrupt? Democrats, Republican governors, and an increasing amount of GOP Congressmen are just “deep state” plants aspiring to keep the rich old Orange Man down via smears & political deceit?

  • David Einstein

    Here’s my list:
    Doug Gottlieb
    Desmond Mason
    Scott Sutton
    Bill Self
    Ryan Humphrey

    All alums besides Humphrey.

    Hope Jawun stays. He’s brilliant to watch play.

    • Tyler

      You putting Mase on this list (not to mention the ridiculousness of a couple more on your list) should ban you from this site. There’s a Billy Madison quote for your comment, but I’ll spare you the details.

      • David Einstein

        It’s cool to pee your pants?

        Doug/Desmond would be awesome.

  • matt

    Great points kyle. A lot of people weren’t looking at the fact that this was basically the reverse of the ford contract. I agree on getting Doug as well

  • OSU Student

    If the story about Brad meeting with Holder at 2:30 is true, then he knew before we ever played Friday that he was gone. The story is that he flew back to Stillwater with OSU after the game, and then met with holder the next day at 2:30. Illinois posted a picture with him at 3. He couldn’t have flown out and taken that pic in 30 minutes, which means he took that pic before any of this happened. Either that, or the picture was taken in Stillwater.

  • Scott

    I’m cool with Gottlieb as long as he’s got someone else to coach shooting and defense.

  • BornCowboy

    You covered the business part but what about human relations aspect? I understand the business, but I’m most interested in how underwood handled this with his players. I don’t know how factual the rumors are, but it doesn’t sound good. That makes him seem counterfeit and disingenuous and that we were sold a bill of goods. Leaving is fine, but handle it properly.

  • Christian Baker

    3 Reasons to question PF logic.

    1) Yes, blame Holder. Blame Holder for allowing the relationship to fracture, blame Holder for not getting a contract done, blame Holder for continuing to have a similarly poor relationship with Gundy as well. At some point people have to open their eyes and see the problem in these “fractured” relationships have one common theme; Holder.

    2) Blame Travis Ford? No, Ford just signed the contract that HOLDER offered him. Blaming Travis Ford but not Holder is nothing short of idiotic. Holder is responsible for the contract he gave Ford, Holder is responsible for the fact we’re still paying Ford, and as a result we couldn’t offer Underwood more, and won’t be able to offer his replacement more. If you are blaming Ford and not Holder, you don’t have a strong grasp on reality.

    3) Bring home Doug? No, Doug works in media, Doug has worked in media since he stopped playing, Doug isn’t a coach, Doug hasn’t coached. Doug might be a great guy (I went to school with him and met him numerous times, he’s an arrogant jerk, he’s Colin Cowherd), but he’s not a coach. If coaching were really what Doug wanted to do he’d be doing it, he would have been doing it since he stopped playing. I’m not suggesting OSU can get Self from KU, but we’re above hiring someone with absolutely ZERO coaching experience. The idea that he’s a good pick because we could pay him less is just as stupid as blaming Ford and not Holder. We can pay him less because, we’d be paying for what we’re getting, a sports journalist who’s taking a shot at coaching.

    • forever 14

      Mostly agree regarding Doug. Talking coaching and doing coaching aren’t the same thing. The argument that he’s cheap and desperate isn’t compelling.

  • Enid poke

    From a coaching standpoint it seems so odd I leave.. osu has a chance to accomplish so much next year obviously contingent in Evans comin the back. But we will probably Be a top 15 team and a year down wit her underwoods system

  • Wtc

    To me Gottlieb has always seemed a bit of a shyster, because of his legal problems at Notre Dame (theft) and because of a few other incidents I’ve heard from reliable people. That doesn’t disqualify him from coaching but that added with the fact that he’s shown no desire to earn his stripes coaching bothers me. I want someone humble, someone with integrity, someone with principles.

    • Wtc

      That being said, Underwood didn’t appear to have any shyster in him yet here we are.

  • FreeDrop

    It occurs to me the one person getting screwed most by all of this is Brad Underwood’s kid. Starts his college career at SFA; comes to OSU; leaves now for Illinois.

    Probably making, and leaving, friends along the way. So much for the college experience and the most impactful four years of a young man’s life…

    • Erick

      Ya that’s really sorry on underwoods part unless his son is guaranteed a coaching gig after he graduates

    • lpscout

      So, he will stink at Illinois and see his dad being totally mercenary. Life is hard.

  • FreeDrop

    Go raid an Ilinois program for our next head coach:


    • Guest

      Yeah, let’s hire a guy that has been a head coach on and off since 1997 and never made an NCAA Tournament. That will really fire up the fanbase.

      • FreeDrop

        Have you researched Hinson at all? Firing up the fan base would not be his problem.

        Dude was a student worker for Henry Iba in the early 1980s!

    • Vintage97poke


  • CowPoke

    Tramel said it best, Underwood is not the man we thought he was.

    He’s not a “bad” person but he certainly is as shallow as all the other guys.

  • OKsailor

    I guess the part that bothers me is when BU arrived all the talk about driving around Stillwater and saying it felt like home. All the talk about GIA, Iba, the Big 8 and tradition. But all that turned out to be a speech, an act. In reality, it was all about money. It feels like a big lie. I don’t know what to think about Doug, if he turned out to be great, it’s a home run. But the chances of that seem very slim to me.

  • Cowboydroid

    Maybe working for Holder is as miserable as everyone makes it sound.

    This is our problem, and hiring Doug isn’t going to fix it.

  • forever 14

    Can Doug Gottlieb recruit and coach big men? Ford recruited guards, and to some degree, he seemed to be able to coach guards. But under Ford, big men weren’t recruited and didn’t seem to improve much, although it could be argued the guards didn’t really improve much, either.

  • forever 14

    Brad Underwood wanted Gregg Marshall money. Nope. Brad wanted to use TFord’s $2.4 million as his baseline, but was given an initial offer of $2.2 million, so he walked without further negotiation over a $200k difference. What I think is that Brad has Huggins envy, and he wants a contract bigger than Huggins. I think that’s his only goal.

  • Alum in AZ

    The simple equation… if not Bill, then Doug. That’s it.

  • Mike Gundy :)

    Hold me.

  • Tommy

    Go get Greg Marshall !!!!!!! Period.