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Forget the Iba Connection, Brad Underwood’s Connection With Stillwater Is Undeniable



I mentioned this in my live chat on Wednesday night, but the Iba connection thing with Brad Underwood is wildly overstated.

“The way Brad was raised and the way Jack Hartman coached and talked about Mr. Iba and Oklahoma State, don’t kid yourself, that’s the main reason we’re here today,” said Mike Holder. “That had a profound effect on Brad.”

OK. Look, those two guys were great coaches and their efforts reverberate throughout the hoops world, but neither has even been alive this century. Basketball has changed so much in the last five and even 10 years that they probably wouldn’t even recognize it.

So maybe the Iba connection is important to an older generation of Oklahoma State fans, but people younger than me likely don’t know anything about him outside of the fact that his name makes up half of that historic building they travel to one night a week in the winter.

The connection both old and young share is not to Mr. Iba. It’s to Stillwater.

Stillwater has endured since Iba coached and will endure long after the rest of us have passed on. The town, more than anything, is the tie that binds all of us.

I spoke at a men’s group at a church the other day. The man who brought me in went to Oklahoma State in the early 80s. When we got together, we didn’t reminisce about Coach Iba or Coach Sutton or Gary Ward or any one person. We talked about Stillwater. We talked about how it has changed and grown since he was there and where we both lived and what we both loved.

That is the organism in this whole thing. And Stillwater is one of the reasons Travis Ford never succeeded. Jenni Carlson pointed this out today (and I forgot about this). Ford’s wife apparently wanted to live in Edmond when they moved to Oklahoma. Edmond! 

As Holder and Underwood both pointed out, if you don’t have everybody all in then you’re not going to be able to get the job done. With Ford, part of that was our fault for not being able to get over the Suttons.[1. As an aside: Nolan sent me a hilarious text last Friday that said, “part of me thinks we could find a long-lost Sutton brother in Uzbekistan and some faction of OSU fans would want to make him the coach.] But part of it was Ford’s fault for not falling as hard for Stillwater as we wanted him to. Who could blame him? He wasn’t from around here. Underwood is and seems to understand its importance.

“I look forward to traveling this state, traveling into Texas and meeting all of you because ultimately life is about relationships,” said Underwood. “The more you get to know our players and our family, you’ll find out we’re very social. But as I said, it takes everybody.”

On Wednesday, OSU captured eight instances in which Underwood opened statements with the word, “I.” In Ford’s opening presser, he did it 18 times. One example: “I was looking for an opportunity to go where I could win a national championship.”

I’m not saying Underwood is going to work or that Ford wasn’t all in on Stillwater. I think he grew into that role, but I also think it took time. What I’m saying that if Underwood does work, part of it will be because he understands how to galvanize a community. It really felt like his ideals and his mindset are more “us” than “me.”

That’s an important foot to get started on.

And a lot of this is timing, right? The ground is fertile for someone to come in and say all the right things. Ford, bless his heart, could never marry his passion for life with Stillwater’s old, soulful tranquility.

Underwood, on the other hand, feels more Stillwater-y in two days than Ford did in eight years. Like it or not, that matters. It matters that if you don’t get one of your own, you at least get someone who can do a great imitation. Stillwater is gritty and kind but also largely overlooked. Kind of like a 25-year-long assistant who finally got a shot and won in March with a team from a terrible conference? Yeah, kind of like that.

So the most important thing Brad Underwood said on Wednesday was not about man-to-man defense or filling up GIA or his ties to any single coach. It wasn’t about Jawun Evans or what coaches he is or isn’t going to bring in or being an “Everyday Guy.” All of those things are important, sure, but the most important thing he said on Wednesday was a story he relayed about him and his wife driving around Stillwater this week.

“After we lost a heart-breaker, my phone blew up,” said Underwood. “I didn’t field any other calls or have interest in anything else. I knew this was where I wanted to be. My wife confirmed that yesterday after being here for only 12 hours.

“We’re driving around and she looks over and says, ‘This feels like home.'”

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