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Mike Holder Offers Unique Perspective on Football Recruiting Under Mike Gundy

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Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder joined the Pistols Firing Podcast this week for a hearty discussion on all things OSU sports. It was great, and if you haven’t listened you should race over and give it a download before you finish reading. He was really open and honest about a ton of topics in a way you don’t expect from an AD.

Carson and Kyle hit on innumerable talking points with Holder ranging from golf to hiring Boynton to life in general, but the eye-popping discussion (at least from my standpoint) was Holder’s thoughts on football recruiting under Mike Gundy. Holder recruited some elite athletes during his 32-year tenure as the golf coach, so he’s well-seasoned as a recruiter to Oklahoma State and offered up an interesting perspective both as an OSU fan and as the AD.

It was a long, nuanced answer from Holder on his perspective but here’s a snippet of what he had to say after being asked about the consistency of Gundy winning 10 games year after year. Again, I suggest giving the podcast a listen for full context but here’s the conversation they had about football recruiting, which picks up at about the 30 minute mark of the episode.

“You’ve got to give credit to Mike Gundy. He’s really matured into a difference maker as a coach. I would approach recruiting a little differently than he does. I’d want to finish higher in those recruiting rankings than we consistently do. I think that ultimately puts a ceiling on what you’re able to achieve. We do a great job of overcoming that with Rob Glass down in the weight room, and I think our coaches do a great job of disciplining and motivating and channeling what talent we have in the right direction. I just think we would be better served with a few more James Washington’s coming in the front door – you know, he came in as a two-star, three-star,  left a five-star – we need to take some of those five-stars and turn them into seven-stars, which I think Rob Glass could do, and I think Mike Gundy could as well.

“I’m patting them on the back at the same time I’m challenging them to get out there and do a little bit more recruiting … Recruiting’s the most important thing we do, and you’re only as good as your athletes.”

Holder is no different from myself or Porter or any other OSU fan. Do we love 10-win seasons? Absolutely. Is it awesome to annually be a top-3 team in the conference? Of course. But is recruiting (almost) exclusively three-star athletes the path to winning a national championship? There is compelling evidence that route simply does not work, and seeing a recruiting class come in at roughly 30th in the national rankings year in and year out can be a maddening development to watch unfold as an OSU fan.

There is more to recruiting than meets the eye, as you might expect. As a keyboard warrior, it’s easy for me to type out why OSU needs to recruit better. But actually recruiting at a better clip is an entirely different animal, and overcoming obstacles that come with recruiting athletes to Stillwater is an area I wouldn’t know where to begin. That’s mostly where Holder stands on the topic – wanting more, admiring what Gundy’s achieved with less, and hopeful that it may improve one day.

“At the end of the day, Boone Pickens, Mike Holder and Mike Gundy all want the same thing,” said Holder. “We may not always agree on the best course to get there, but at the end of the day Boone Pickens and I have always deferred to Mike Gundy because he’s the guy in the charge. He’s the one that will have the wins and losses next to his name in the record book, and that deserves autonomy over how you run your football program.

“I would just say, ‘Mike, you’ve got to change your thinking on recruiting a little bit.’ That would be all. I think sometimes we settle when we don’t have to. But I’m not out there recruiting, and I have no idea how to recruit football players. I have a lot of experience recruiting golfers, and some of the things are exactly the same. The one thing they all have in common is that you have to convince youngsters that your dream for them is better than your competitors dream for them. So that’s what it comes down to.”

By my estimation, Holder is probably right: Golf recruiting isn’t football recruiting. But recruiting is still recruiting. Winning over players and wooing them to your university is a part of the gig, and reeling in borderline top-30 classes (OSU’s average recruiting class ranking since 2010 is 33) is good, not great. As we’ve seen in recent years, that’s enough to compete for a conference crown — but not quite good enough to win it.