Oklahoma State’s basketball program has a big problem. A really big problem if I’m reading between the lines correctly. Berry Tramel got the goods on the Brad Underwood-Mike Holder negotiations, and it was not pretty.
Here’s Tramel for The Oklahoman on how the negotiations between Brad Underwood and Mike Holder went.
If not, the dagger came a few minutes later. When discussing the value of OSU basketball on campus, the source said, Holder told Underwood he was asking for Final Four-type money and that the Cowboys currently are on a level of Iowa State, Texas Tech and Kansas State in the Big 12.
“He was going to Illinois the moment Holder said that to him,” the source said. “What he was looking for, Holder’s vision for the program, ‘I believe you can get us up to KU and Bill Self and blah-blah,’ and that just wasn’t what he heard.”
Kyle Cox wrote about how Holder leveraged Travis Ford’s wins vs. Underwood’s wins against Underwood which is also kind of weak (although not factually incorrect), but I want to talk about the comparison to those other Big 12 schools.
I wrote about this a bit on Saturday, but Mike Holder has backed himself into a corner with this negotiation.
Of course Oklahoma State is on the same level as the Kansas States, Texas Techs and Iowa States of the world (and that’s an insult to Iowa State). But a lot of that is because of what Travis Ford did and not Brad Underwood.
Oklahoma State has one NCAA Tournament win since 2006. That’s egregious. It is not a good program right now. Not even the best basketball program in the state.
The problem here is that it doesn’t even really seem like Holder wants to be great. To be great, you have to pay really well. You have to pay for trajectories, not past performance. If you’re paying on past performance your guy is already gone to a better school (like what happened this week). You’re perpetually Texas Tech or Kansas State.
Holder is clearly still spooked by the Travis Ford contract (the contract that sunk an athletic department!), and I don’t really blame him, but now what? Do you just re-start the process? Let’s say Holder hires the Middle Tennessee or South Alabama coach. There are two paths that coach can take.
Path 1: He stinks and OSU sort of wallows at the bottom of the Big 12 for years and years and years.
Path 2: He’s awesome. The next step is that he asks for a big raise, Holder balks and all of a sudden Mr. South Alabama is coaching real Alabama for $2.5 million a year.
Do you see the pattern here? To become great at anything, you have to invest in the future. This is economics 101. I’ve gone through this with this very site recently. Is it scary to hand over a lot of money each month to writers and photographers when I don’t know how well the site is going to do? Hell yes it is. But to become better I have to invest in the future.
Holder wouldn’t do that with Underwood which makes you wonder who he would do it with. Did Underwood go a little far in how much he asked for? Probably (and I still don’t necessarily blame Holder for not paying it).
Not every coach is going to do that, but this will become the new reality as conferences go separate ways in terms of revenue. Plus the cost of starting over is extremely high.
To me, though, the issue is more with the mentality of, “Here at OSU we’re going to pay for past performance and not future results like we did for Travis Ford. We learned our lesson from him.” That’s never going to get you anywhere.
The way Holder handled this tells me one of three things:
- Holder doesn’t believe Underwood is great (I don’t really believe this)
- Holder doesn’t necessarily care if OSU is elite at hoops — good enough is good enough.
- Holder believes there is a coach out there who can make OSU elite and then ask for a Final Four-worthy contract.
Scenario No. 3 is plausible, but you might be chasing a unicorn (also, in this case Doug Gottlieb would be the hire). If Holder believes this wholeheartedly then I’m good with him turning Underwood down.
Scenario No. 2 is feasible, too. If you think the ceiling is as a top 30ish team then you can probably get there other ways than by paying Underwood $3 million a season. There is a budget to balance after all. I think I’m all right with this. As Travis Ford proved, though, being a consistent top 30 team isn’t as easy as it seems. But Underwood asked for the moon.
I suppose as an OSU fan I’m OK with scenario No. 2, but I’m concerned about how difficult it is to get and stay there. Again, OSU has one NCAA Tournament win since 2006.
I think scenario No. 2 actually aligns with Holder’s goals — be pretty good at hoops, go to some Sweet 16s and keep costs down. I think the economics of college hoops in 2017 is complicated and he’s worried about having a pricey coach. I’m not sure I blame him.
But now OSU is in a weird spot. Finding that unicorn is hard, and OSU is not a good enough job to lure a big boy that Holder might find worthy of paying which means you’re left with enticing lesser coaches who are trying to climb the ladder.
Underwood just proved that the rungs extend far beyond Stillwater for much more money which leaves OSU fans wondering where in the world you go from here.