When Mike Boynton took over for his former mentor, the recently-departed Brad Underwood, the reaction across Oklahoma State’s fanbase ranged from meh to some mélange of anger and angst.
There was criticism of the hire and criticism of the hiring process. There was even dissension over those who weren’t hired. The #BringDougHome campaign was starting to get that annual vibe, and despite which side of that OSU fan chasm you resided on, the whole thing seemed rushed and a bit head-scratching for a school that at least used to identify itself as having a tradition-rich men’s basketball program.
Oklahoma State fans were less than thrilled to have Mike Boyton as their head coach, and the man at the helm for that entire adventure gets it.
Mike Holder, Oklahoma State’s current and arguably most successful athletic director, joined PFB’s podcast for an all-timer. I’ve heard the full interview at least twice all the way through and I’ve got a hankering for thirds.
Inevitably, the subject of Boynton, Underwood and coaching hires came up and Holder was as plainspoken as ever.
“You should have been critical of me when Brad Underwood left,” Holder said, “and you should have been critical of the hiring process. You should have been critical of Mike Boynton because, outside looking in, there was nothing there to justify anything that happened.”
There’s a calm matter-of-factness that Holder speaks with that broadcasts the same self-confidence he’s used to sell himself (and Oklahoma State) to recruits and donors alike over the last 40-plus years. First as its head golf coach and now as its AD.
But that confidence is juxtaposed with an admitted introversion to which Holder attributes his somewhat rough-edged persona. As a coach he says he was never worried about being popular, and he’s carried that with him to into his administrative role.
It was a mixture of all three of those attributes that led to the decision to hire Mike Boynton, a short-term staffer with no head coaching experience. Holder trusted his gut, and the fact that he knows coaches and what makes a good one.
“I didn’t think that we were taking a chance on Mike Boynton at all,” said Holder. “I think probably the interview was good for the other members of the committee that we put together. For them to hear how well-spoken he is, how eloquent he is. Very intelligent guy. I think that really helped him with them, but I didn’t need that.
“I had my mind made up who the best candidate was out there as soon as I kind of caught my breath after the surprise at what Brad Underwood pulled. I think at the end of the day, Illinois is happy with Brad Underwood. I have a lot of respect for him as a coach. I think he’s very good. But quite frankly, I prefer where we are today and I prefer the coach that we have.”
Holder says Boynton’s real interview started a year earlier, when he stepped on campus as a member of Underwood’s staff. And his list of references spanned from the locker room to the trainer’s table to every corner of OSU’s athletic department.
“You just couldn’t find anybody in this building to say a bad word about him,” Holder said. “His players loved him.”
Holder also emphasized the lack of attrition that promoting from within would provide a program that had seen more turnover in a two-year span than he probably wanted to see in a decade.
But that consistency wasn’t Boynton’s only draw for Holder and his inexperience didn’t limit Boynton’s ceiling in the AD’s mind.
Over a year later, both Boynton and Holder come out looking pretty good after the rookie head coach captained a limited roster to 21 wins including some marquee victories over the likes of Kansas (twice), West Virginia and the then-No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners.
The biggest thing I took away from what Holder said about Boynton is his confidence in the future of Oklahoma State’s basketball program. In his own blunt way, Holder qualified what we saw last season — some very high highs lumped in with some low lows — with the obvious roster limitations that Boynton was facing in Year 1.
Holder, who seems as obsessed with recruiting as Mike Boynton says he is, sees someone else who can sell himself and a program to 17- and 18-year old youngsters, as he calls them.
“I think that we’ve got a really, really, really bright future because Mike Boynton understands recruiting,” Holder said. “He works it 365 days a year and I’m very confident that over time he’ll transform our roster, and once he gets some real talent. No disrespect to the players we had last year, but we were a little limited in some areas.”
I’m excited to see what Mike Boynton can do with the roster he builds in the next two or three years, but I think Holder might be more so. And isn’t that what you want in an AD?
We always talk about the physical things Mike Holder has built for OSU — stadiums and complexes — but when we look back on his tenure, the sustained success (or renaissance) across all sports will be his real legacy. And it looks like basketball might just be getting back on track, as well.
“I think every OSU fan should be excited about the future,” said Holder. “And lucky for them we’ve got a few empty seats in the arena. I’d say what Eddie Sutton said when he was hired back in, what was it 1991? ‘Better get your seats. Better get your tickets. Cause it won’t be very long, you won’t be able to get one.’ And boy, was that guy right.”