The Predicament Mike Holder and OSU Are In

Written by Kyle Porter

Any college football or basketball coaching search is a problem, but the one Oklahoma State athletic director finds himself in at the moment is particularly sticky. After Brad Underwood left OSU for Illinois one year after reinvigorating a basketball program that was on life support, Holder’s issues run deep.

Underwood put Holder in a corner (or he put himself there, however you want to look at it).

Here is what we know (or think we know): OSU low-balled Underwood with an offer for around $2.2 million. Underwood left for $2.75 million at Illinois.

No matter whether you think this was a wise business decision by Holder (I do), the bottom line is that Oklahoma State fans lost a coach they really liked and now a program that had great trajectory is left with a lot of questions. Nobody cares how this happened, only that it happened.

And because Holder would not up the ante with Underwood, he faces the following issue in the short-term. You need to keep the basketball momentum going, if you’re Holder, but if you hire somebody like you just hired with Underwood, the collective OSU fan base will just say, “we’ve been here before … we know where this gets us … we’re not falling for that again.”

This is compounded by the fact that nobody will every buy the “he’s one of us” thing again like Mike Gundy, Josh Holliday and John Smith. That’s the collateral damage left behind by Underwood. He jumps ship and an entire fan base says, “never again.” That’s the part that really stings.

Now, the counter to this might be that fans will always show up for winning, but everybody bought what Underwood was selling and that was part of the reason GIA was full for six games last season. It just was.

Underwood was smart to sell that “Stillwater is the greatest town in Middle America” bit because 1.) it worked and 2.) he knew it would come back to hold Holder hostage if he had any success at all.

What are you going to do now? Let me walk and let this thing I’ve revitalized burn to the ground?

The answer, apparently: A resounding yes.

It was somewhat simple to retrieve fans and fill GIA in 2017 after the Travis Ford era. Now? It’s going to be difficult, and you have three options.

  1. Pay big bucks to a proven name.
  2. Get a more unproven coach and repeat the Underwood formula.
  3. Hire Doug Gottlieb.

I don’t think Holder wants to make the splash (financially) a proven name would offer, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to sell No. 2. Does that leave No. 3 as the most realistic choice? It sells itself and Gottlieb comes cheap. That sounds like a dream scenario for Holder. He needs the first and wants the second.

But at the end of the day, I’m not sure if he’ll really be able to pull that trigger.

  • Saucy Takes

    Makes me wanna puke

  • Kiel Werner

    I get the doug train, but can we get a devil advocate to just throw it out there that he wont be hired?

    Holder is in a spot, and what happens if your small data set of “We want doug” does not resound with the greater alumni base? Then you have popular doug set up for failure, IMO

    • KingGondo

      Even if Holder is pretty sure Doug will be the guy, you should do your due diligence with guys like Buzz Williams and Tom Crean and gauge their interest.

      Maybe Buzz wants to come back to Oklahoma and retire here, and we’re definitely a better program than Virginia Tech. Our basement becomes very high with a guy like him.

      • Michael H

        Buzz Williams also making more money at VT than we seem to be willing to pay, and a few hundred thousand dollars is a pretty big hurdle to overcome when trying to lure a coach with name recognition.

        • forever14

          More than we were willing to pay a coach who was one year removed from making $300k, went 9-9 in conference, 1-8 against the top tier. Underwood rejected the opening offer and no-showed his second meeting. I think we would have less of a problem paying someone who’d had consistent success in a big boy conference. Time will tell, though.

        • KingGondo

          More money than we were willing to pay Underwood, that is.

          It seems unlikely to me too, I just think Holder needs to do an actual coaching search and not just settle for an alum.

          Crean would actually be a nice hire and I’m surprised his name isn’t getting more run with the fanbase.

          • Guess

            Crean or Williams aren’t realistic candidates

      • Vintage97poke

        Maybe it’s me but our ceiling w gottlieb is very high.

        • Adam M.

          You never know. Could be a Steve Kerr coaching story, could be a Derek Fisher coaching story. Not sure I want to find out if there’s a safer, albeit more expensive candidate.

  • davids

    I know it is a huge gamble but I’m willing to support Doug.

  • oSuJones

    I still am of the belief that Underwood is just not a good dude. Actually heard from a good source that Underwood had the Illinois contract finalized BEFORE the Michigan game. This situation is eerily similar to Les Miles IMHO. Think about Underwood preaching to the players before/after the game about “family” and “we’ll be back” blah blah blah…meanwhile he’s got a contract sewn up and ready to roll out. I don’t think he ever intended to stick around unless Holder backed up the armored truck.

    • GoPokes

      TOTALLY agree.

    • forever14

      Underwood no-showed the second meeting with Holder. He didn’t bother waiting for the truck. He already had his moving truck packed.

      • Cowboydroid

        He already understood Holder’s commitment to the program. No reason to stick around if you’ve been told we’re just a middling Big 12 team and that’s how we’re going to pay you.

    • SingingCowboy

      If what Berry reported is true, Underwood decided he was leaving after his meeting with Holder last Monday. Something Holder said crossed a line with Underwood, and he started listening to the other callers. BIG mistake on Holder’s behalf, and he didn’t even realize he (Holder) had shut down the negotiations. Holder should have known because Underwood attempted to leave the meeting. Holder got him to stay a little longer, but obviously did not bring him back on board. Whatever Holder said offended Underwood so that he left the meeting and started looking for a new job. So yeah, the contract was probably in the works before Friday’s game, but that’s because Holder made the decision for him. I’ve been involved in hundreds of negotiations and have seen this too many times. Underwood had a walk line and Holder crossed it and was too aloof to realize it. Then it was game-on for Illinois.

      • ryker

        Holder is a big time loyalty fan. He overestimated his charm factor(“zero personable skills”). I like Holder but he’s got to figure out he needs help in this department. And to be honest Burgis should have already kicked his a## in mandating he get help on his team. It’s so mind boggling sometimes how human nature is to believe it can change without help.

      • OKsailor

        Holder told Underwood why he wasn’t worth 3mil, that’s the line that was crossed. I’m sure he could have said it differently but at this level, Underwood needs to be able to hang in there with the big boys and grind one out if he really wanted to stay. His Illinois presser sounding exactly like his OSU presser made me doubt anything he said or claims was said.

  • Doc Holliday

    First off to everyone saying that “Underwood wasn’t even that good of a coach”…you’re an idiot, he took a team that had MITCHELL SOLOMON in its starting lineup and made the NCAA tournament with them. He’s a heck of a coach. With that being said he’s a low life snake who made us all buy in and then left in the middle of the night(or day whatever). Personally I say you talk to Archie Miller and if you can’t get him then I’m ALL IN on the Doug Train. He had me last night when he said “Everything Brad said I actually mean”

    • peteisabadman

      Get off Solomon. He was very serviceable this year. What you said actually makes some sense, save the classless bashing of one of our own.

      • Cowboydroid

        His wording was off, but his point was accurate. Solomon wasn’t worth more than 5 fouls last year. Underwood actually coached him and be became a player that contributed. We haven’t had any coaching of bigs worth a dam since Eddie.

    • David Einstein

      Solomon was a pretty good player this year.

      • Doc Holliday

        He was ok this year..I think Underwood got everything out of him but it’s a joke that Travis Ford couldn’t find anyone better than him. But that’s all beside the point now…Archie Miller or Doug! Bring me back the early 2000s cowboys

      • Big O

        Agreed – His rebounding late in games saved us in many, many games. I did a complete 360 on him this year and am hopeful he is ready to have an even bigger year next season.

  • GoPokes

    I don’t know why Holder would hesitate to give Doug a chance, with no head coach experience. What Athletic Director experience did Holder have? They took a chance on him, why won’t he take one on Doug? Full disclosure: I wouldn’t have said this last year. I’ve changed my mind. And I’ve heard Doug talk enough to know that guy lives and breathes OSU. And I’m convinced he can relate to these kids. Put Desmond Mason on the bench to help. Put his brother Gregg Gottlieb on the bench with him, who IS currently an assistant at a Power 5 school. This could work. If Holder chooses ANYBODY but Brad there and it fails, people will get out the pitchforks. With Doug, Holder insulates himself from culpability.

    • Brett Hardy

      Desmond Mason on the bench would be brilliant! Who are you? You is smart! But I still say Fire Holder! Hire Gottlieb

    • Doc Holliday

      This comment was awesome

    • David Einstein

      His brother being on the bench is a really good point.

    • Adam M.

      Holder never had experience as an AD before and it shows. If Brad is the coaching analogy to AD Holder with no experience I’d be fine with someone else.

  • Brett Hardy

    The president needs to Fire Holder. Bad judgement after bad decision after bad judgement. When is someone going to wake up to the fact he’s in over his head?!

    • David Einstein

      If Burns teaches Holder the Dougie then we are good.

    • Big O

      My initial reaction was similar. Now that I’ve had time to digest this, I am glad he didn’t repeat the Ford contract debacle. Holder made a good, experienced decision in not paying Underwood top 10 money when he just finished .500 in conference play and 1-7 against the top four teams in the league. Underwood just hadn’t earned it yet. Someone who has earned big money is Gundy and his staff – it’s high time Holder get’s that contract extension finalized.

      Also, can’t blame Underwood for accepting an offer when it was such a big raise. The guy is nearing retirement age and is only now making big money. I just wish he would have been more genuine when he first arrived and spared us his phony loyal and true speech.

  • David Einstein

    When I look at the season seating price chart for next year…Gottlieb has me paying for those 200 level tickets with no complaints. I highly doubt I’m in the minority.

  • ryker

    Option#1 comes with more risk. You
    either get it right or ends up alienating your fans more than they are already.
    We’ve already heard the “We’re just a stepping stone.” comments. If you attempt this option it’s got to be
    some serious contract language that keeps the HC around for a specified
    # of years before he bolts.

    Option #2 is really the safe bet if you’re Holder. Bring in someone who is young and inexperienced. What’s the worst that can happen? You go back to Travis Ford last few years and you can easily blame the inexperienced coach. Rinse and Repeat.

    Option #3 is a just a huge gamble.

  • Douglas Gottlieb

    Holder has put himself in a corner. And the only way he may be able to get out is to hire ME. If he hires another Unloyalwood and that guy leaves quick again, then it is Holder’s hide. I realize that expectations would be lower at first with me (unless I get to keep Juwan and our core), but I could really grow with my strategy and this program. And it seems Mikey cannot afford a huge name. So, I do not see any other real option than me.

    • forever14

      Odds of keeping “Juwan” go up with spelling Jawun’s name correctly. Place to start anyway.

  • OklaStateU

    Holder’s personality (or lack thereof) is the main reason OSU is in this predicament. The only one Holder can seem to get along with is Boone Pickens, and his personality is equally abrasive. Neither one is exactly a “people person”.

    • Tim

      This is all about money. Underwood got hit with a nice offer from Illinois – an athletic department with a bigger budget that is willing to pay for what might be a good coach at this level. Holder was in no position to match it and Brad hadn’t done anything to earn that kind of money.

  • Pirate Pete

    I think it’s fair to blame both parties involved for how this turned out, but the way that things are developing with Gundy’s contract and the fact that we have to deal with him almost leaving every single offseason really makes me question what is going on in the athletic department. Holder has history with OSU and has done some good things, but it’s clear he has little to no tact and cannot seem to get out of his own way. Give him a nice severance package and hire someone new.

  • Big D

    Business is business. Both parties did what was best for them. Underwood went and got a massive pay raise. Holder resisted the temptation to be a prisoner of the moment. He correctly chose to wait and see as opposed to betting on the potential of an unproven coach. I say unproven because we finished what, 5th or 6th in conference, amd got bounced out the tourney in game one. That doesnt warrant a 2mil dollar raise. Now, I feel like he rrally seemed like he was gonna be great. But the reality is our results this year were just decent. So he deserved a decent contract. He didn’t want that. He wanted a reactionary overpay amd he got it. Im not mad at him or Holder. I was never sold on the dudes loyalty in the first place. Bottom line though, its time to give Gottlieb a shot or risk ticking the fan base off. Gundy is the ultimate OSU guy. Gottlieb wants to be that guy. Let him try. If he’s any good he may be there 20 years. Heck of a lot better than grabbing some dude who may leave after any good year

  • Cowboydroid

    Something else to think about: Underwood was worth more than his record this year. His PR was excellent and he sold out the arena. That’s what recruits like to see.

    What do recruits not enjoy seeing? A coaching carousel.

    Holder has potentially done some long term damage to this program. It’s going to take a titan effort getting this ship right. And he may have to pay up to do it.

    Unfortunately, I have a feeling Holder doesn’t much care whether we have another decade of mediocrity.

  • Catcher19

    Why is nobody discussing the Desmond Mason angle. He could be the solution as well, or part of it.

    • charles

      He would be a solid. Would like to see him team up with Joe Adkins and Adrian Peterson.

  • Brandon Lasley

    Travis Ford had a better record than you his first year… Ya that will end all talks of renegotiating right there.

  • Paul S

    I honestly don’t understand why so many think Gottlieb is the answer. He has not one shred of indication that he can coach, much less have any success therein. What if he is hired and loses 8 of his first 10 games, which is a distinct possibility. How many seats will be filled then? Holder will have more angry emails in his inbox than seats filled at GIA.

    • swaggypaw

      well….Mark Jackson went from analyst to coach of Golden State and did pretty well…

  • I never trusted underwood. But I don’t trust anyone that isn’t a cowboy. I was on the Doug train last year and was disappointed. I am not sad to see underwood go, I feel bad for the kids that thought they had a real coach. He left sfa just like he did us in the middle of the night after there loss. We should have known he was listening to other people. He was a little old to become a head coach in this day and age. So he is trying to make up for money lost.

  • OrangeTuono

    AD Holder is a Supertanker Captain trying to weave OSU’s Money sports through the Straights of Magellan during a hurricane, FROM BELOW DECK with feet up on desk chewing on a wheat straw. Great smile, oh so smooth golf swing, apparently irritated when someone has the audacity to knock on the mighty Captain’s cabin door and once again OSU Basketball is taking on water.

    Thank heavens Coach Gundy has enough fire in the belly to put up with AD Holder’s cost accountant mentality, or OSU athletics would be competing with Taco Tech for the bedroom in the basement.

  • Tj Smith-johnson

    Everyone is missing the point.. Tell me you can’t see his bags were packed before any of this? Tell me Illinois had one day to hire him? If everything blew up when everyone was saying, that gave Illinois, even if Illinois had super speed, no time to contact and serenade him, this was already done.. It would had to take a miracle for Holder..This isn’t like Miles, it’s like Dirk koetter, he never wanted to be here. And be careful what you wish for, Doug has passion ,want, desire..But also has insecurities, doesn’t like to be questioned, takes aimlessly small things very personal.. Imagine that in a loosing streak? Good points, he is tough, tough guys get tough players..But I’m divided, I just remember him telling callers”where’d you lace em up at” When he felt questioned? Will he put a premium on shooters, ? If it wasn’t important as a player will it be as a coach? Travis thought so hence all the shooters you see before you..Jeff caple played exactly how he coached too, .. That’s why it’s hard to pull the trigger on a unknown, but , you got to love a tough guy….