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Mike Holder Q&A: Plans for Wrestling Facility, Big Dreams About the Future

Mike Holder has “big dreams” for OSU’s new wrestling facility



The first thing Oklahoma State fans heard about the new wrestling facility plans was at the baseball stadium announcement last year. OSU athletic director Mike Holder notably stated that wrestling had been “ignored” at Oklahoma State since 1938 and that “needs to change.”

On Thursday I sat down with Holder to discuss the planned practice facility upgrades for wrestling.

Seth Duckworth: Thanks for sitting down with me coach. First I just want to see if we could get an overall update on the status of the wrestling facility.

Mike Holder: We need it. I don’t think there’s any question about that. But somebody needs to write a big check. There’s no shortcuts. When you look down the list of people that could give anywhere from 10-25 million dollars for a project, it’s a short list. Then you narrow it even more when it’s for Oklahoma State University. We’ve talked to a lot of people, some could do it. But it’s one thing to be able to and it’s another to actually write the check. It takes time.

Seth Duckworth: We’ve seen programs like Cal and others get themselves in trouble financially with debt to build facilities. Traditionally that’s not the way you’ve done it.

Mike HolderWe’re not going to do that. That compromises your ability to compete in all sports, not just wrestling.

Seth Duckworth: I think most level-headed fans would agree with that and like the way you’ve done it.

Mike Holder: I had a lot of people tell me, with baseball for example, ‘You should borrow the money, interest rates are at an all time low.’ My response was if I could borrow the money at no interest, and someone would give us 30 years to pay it back, we couldn’t afford to do it — $60 million dollars in 30 years is still $2 million a year.

Where are we going to get the $2 million? If you take that out of your revenues for football or basketball or your conference revenues, that goes to fund your operating budget. We’re already only at $85 million and competing against virtually everybody else in the conference at over $100 million. Texas is at $215 [million] or $220 [million] and OU is $165 [million] or $170 [million]. What are you going to do, handicap yourself even more? 

You have to go raise the money. Tell a story that’s compelling. If you need the facility as bad as you think you do, and if the story is as inspiring as you think it is, then tell the story. You’ll find someone that’s going to write you a check. It’s probably not going to happen tomorrow, but you’ll find someone eventually. That’s where we are with wrestling. People will get emotional about wrestling and they’re committed to wrestling. We’ve got several people that could do what we’re talking about, but they think ‘the other guy should do it.’

Seth Duckworth: I would assume you see a lot of individuals that would rather have their money go into football or basketball?

Mike Holder: I think wrestling is kind of unique in that regard. The most successful sport we’ve got is wrestling, one of the most successful programs in the history of college athletics. People want to see that tradition continue and they understand that we need to invest in that program if we want to continue to have that success. But it’s just much more appealing to have someone else pay for it and just go to the matches.

Seth Duckworth: We see some schools that go the crowdfunding route? Is that feasible with something like this?

Mike Holder: You can’t raise the money that way. You’re talking about something that’s going to cost, depending on how big your dreams are, between $20-50 million, somewhere in there. You could probably raise $1 million with crowdfunding, I’d be shocked if you could.

We tried a similar concept with football. At the end of that fundraising campaign we raised just barely enough to pay for that wall recognizing all the donors. You’re not going to get there at $100, 200, or $1,000. Just do the math on $50 million. You could do 50 at $1 million or 100 at $500,000, it quickly becomes apparent that you need to have someone step up and probably pay for half of it. And then the remainder you need to get in big chunks as well.

You’re really not going to get anywhere on a big-time project with gifts under $1 million, I don’t think. We’ve never been able to anyway. So it’s a matter of how many people do you know, how many people have the means, and how many are going to be inspired to give to this particular project. You just need to get the number down as small as possible. That’s why Boone Pickens was critical for football. You would’ve never gotten there without him.

Seth Duckworth: Are there other projects or is this the main one of the athletic department right now?

Mike Holder: That and the indoor track facility. Both are probably in the neighborhood of the same amount of money.

Seth Duckworth: And that is?

Mike Holder: Just take your pick. I’ll ballpark what I have envisioned in my head for wrestling and it’s probably $40 million. I think that’s also what track will cost.

Seth Duckworth: The concept is a standalone practice facility? Not an arena where matches are held right?

Mike Holder: No, we have the best wrestling arena in the world. The concept that makes the most sense, at least to me, is in the basement of Gallagher we have a weight room, and we have a track that goes around it. Also on that level we have the men’s and women’s basketball locker rooms. On the east side there’s a corridor that goes out from the weight room and you can access the women’s basketball locker room, but you could also just tunnel from there. I envision going out on that level to the field east of Gallagher (the old football practice field) level with the weight room.

I look at what we’ve always used for wrestling rooms, they’ve always been too small, the ceilings have been too short, and there have been columns in the way. So I want to build something that’s a clear span, a room with 8 or 10 mats, and you could train not only our team, but a club team, or Olympic team, or World team, and try to draw athletes from all over the world to come to Stillwater to train for wrestling competitions. Whether it be collegiate or international. Maybe you’ll add women’s wrestling someday? That’s growing.

Now we have what, two mats? We thought we’d expand that facility, but we figured out if we knocked all the walls out we could only maybe add one mat. That’s not going to give you the presence that really I think speaks to the history of our wrestling program. After kicking around for a few months and talking to an architect and having him come up and look at it, I woke up one morning and thought ‘I’m looking at this wrong,’ we need to think bigger. So that’s why I shifted our attention over to the east of Gallagher and thought about building a structure out there with a presence to it.

The ground floor even though it comes up out of the ground, if you get about 70-80, maybe 100 yards from the arena, that would be the bottom floor and would take care of all the training and locker rooms, and you have your weight room right there in Gallagher-Iba, that’s everything you need to train a wrestler on that level. You could put more stories on that foundation and now it’s just how big do you want to think? What do you you want to put up there?

Someone else may have a better idea. If someone’s got enough money and they have a better idea, then I’m all ears.

Seth Duckworth: Are there any other things you would want to say to fans or donors?

Mike Holder: I think the average fan needs to be realistic and patient and then perhaps someone will read about this and decide maybe they should call me back up? I’ve probably already talked to them. If they keep waiting for someone else to write this check. I think the reality is one of them needs to figure out how they can turn loose of that much money and write us a check and we’ll get started.

Or at least start putting lines on paper and coming up with realistic plans, deciding exactly how much space do you need, how big should the locker rooms be. Maybe I’m thinking too big? I want to build for the next 100 years, not the next 20-30.

If you have a lot of money, or you have a friend with a lot of money, and you’re either interested in wrestling or they’re interested in wrestling or you can convince them to be interested in wrestling, then this is a great opportunity to put your name on a facility that is one of the more successful programs in the whole world.

That doesn’t come along very often.

Ultimately I wish I had more for you, right now it looks like we’re not doing anything. Do I talk to someone every day? No, there’s a short list of people that can do what we’re talking about.

Seth Duckworth: I think most level-headed fans realize Oklahoma State doesn’t necessarily have the finances of some of the bigger college athletic programs and you have to find someone that’s willing to do it.

Mike Holder: This is my opinion. Since 1938 when we built Gallagher Hall, we haven’t done anything for wrestling. We took it for granted, and it’s still been successful. But when you have something that’s that valuable, then you should continue to invest in it and we’ve put it off far too long — 81 years is long enough.

You never saw the workout room in the old Gallagher Hall basement. We should’ve taken pictures of it. You couldn’t imagine all those great wrestlers that came out of there. Finally in 2000 when they re-did Gallagher, we took the old football locker rooms, weight room and training room, and converted it to what is now the wrestling room.

That was really the first time they had anything above ground with some natural light in it. Old Gallagher had the low ceiling in the basement and the ventilation system dropped down and they had to pad that. If you were over 6 foot there were places you couldn’t wrestle in it! They had a shower in the middle of the room!

The current one is the Taj Mahal compared to what they had previously. You need more room though.

Seth Duckworth: Unfortunately other programs have kind of changed the game. I think if you look at Ohio State’s new facility, is what you’re describing?

Mike Holder: It’s not even close to what I’m describing. When we do it, we’re going to do it right. Look at that baseball stadium. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything like that anywhere else. We got big dreams, big goals, big aspirations, we just need big checks and we’ll be in business. Somebody will do it. Can’t tell you who yet, but somebody will, how could you not? We just need to keep signing those wrestlers they’ve been signing.

Seth Duckworth: Things with recruiting definitely seem to be trending in the right direction. I think as you’re acknowledging, some things have been ignored over the past 100 years. But at the end of the day you’ve still got 34 NCAA titles, you’ve got the best wrestler ever in John Smith as your head coach, strong recruiting, even if as a whole some things have been ignored that’s still a lot of momentum going for you. You get the other piece in there with that facility …

Mike Holder: I get it, Penn State’s really great right now and so is Cael Sanderson, but they got a long way to go. And they’re going to have to deal with us in the next few years. I want to help them (OSU Wrestling). That’s what this is about.

Seth Duckworth: With Daton Fix as sort of the face of the program right now and making the senior world team and a lot of things in general moving in the right direction with OSU wrestling, does that stuff sort of help in efforts with something like this?

Mike HolderI think he won the NCAA title last year (referring to Daton’s ‘loss’), but fortunately we’ve had a lot of Daton Fix’s. Yojiro Uetake, nobody ever beat him. He won the Olympic gold while he was wrestling for us as a sophomore. I was reading this the other day, he had to go through six behemoths to get on the Olympic team and represent Japan, and he did it with a dislocated shoulder. Daton Fix is great, but fortunately we’ve been blessed. There’s lots of great wrestlers that have come through here. But sure there’s certainly momentum in the program right now. If you can bottle in a donation with it, it’ll create a lot more.

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