John E. Hoover: OSU could learn a lesson from OU's leadership model
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Saturday, December 08, 2012
12/08/12 at 3:57 AM
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OKLAHOMA STATE fans aren't going to want to hear this.
But if the OSU football program is ever going to achieve sustained excellence, the Cowboys should follow the model established 80 miles south in Norman.
With favorite son Mike Gundy as its coach, fundraising savant Mike Holder as its athletic director, lawyer Burns Hargis as its president and billionaire Boone Pickens as its benefactor, O-State reached unprecedented success in 2010 and 2011.
With those four proud OSU alums calling the shots, the Cowboys earned their first outright conference championship in 64 years, won 12 games for the first time in school history, scored an historic beat-down of rival Oklahoma and came within a couple votes of playing for the national championship.
And the very next season, not long after Gundy's contract renegotiation dragged out too long, the coach became disenchanted enough with his "New York Yankees job" that he interviewed for major rebuilding tasks at Arkansas and Tennessee.
Gundy deserved that raise last year. He probably deserves another one for this year, when he had to cycle through three quarterbacks and still had a strong season (two plays from being 9-3).
Holder and Hargis deserve credit for their patience as Gundy developed from a mercurial young play-caller into a mature CEO. And Pickens deserves credit for risking so much to help the school he loves.
But now Gundy, Holder, Hargis and yes, even Pickens need to recognize that what they've accomplished, they accomplished together.
Gundy isn't going to go coach at another school and lead that football program to new heights.
Holder and Hargis aren't going to hire just anybody to maintain what Gundy has built in Stillwater.
And Pickens isn't going to enjoy a winning program just by adding zeroes to his checks.
Strong and fair leadership leads to harmony and success for all. Weak, unjust or selfish leadership crumbles nations.
Maybe there are too many egos in play in Stillwater. But to hang onto what they've built, OSU leaders need look no further than OU to see how it's done.
The Sooners' long, consistent run of success hasn't happened by accident. Just look at the 1990s, when everyone thought just having that "OU" paperclip on the helmet meant winning was inevitable. Obviously, it wasn't.
Oklahoma's current era of success happened because of strong and fair leadership from president David Boren, athletic director Joe Castiglione and football coach Bob Stoops.
No Division I-A school has had in place its football coach, its athletic director and its president longer than Oklahoma.
Boren signed up in 1994, Castiglione in 1998 and Stoops in 1999.
Virginia Tech comes close, with coach Frank Beamer (1987), AD Jim Weaver (1997) and president Charles Steger (2000) together a year after Stoops arrived in Norman.
Two other schools - Troy and Texas - have had their coach and one of the chief administrators in place longer than OU, but not all three.
Sustained excellence requires leadership. Everyone must embrace their role.
Gundy tells us he doesn't have any say in scheduling, but if he did, he'd play a Savannah State every week. (Good thing for everyone, then, that Gundy doesn't make out the schedule.)
Holder knows the value of playing a marquee opponent once in a while. That's why he's signed up to play Mississippi State next year in Houston and, reportedly, wants to face Florida State in 2014 in Dallas.
It goes beyond dollars. If you are who you think you are, then you shouldn't have any problem playing the UCLAs and Oregons and Florida States of the world.
If you're not, then go run and hide and play East Popcorn State. Being a great football program isn't just about building wins. It's about building a national brand.
You think Stoops really, truly wants to play an Alabama or a Miami or a Notre Dame or an LSU every year? You think he really wanted to play the 2009 season opener against BYU at Cowboys Stadium?
Of course not.
"They're fine if you win them and you don't get your quarterback hurt," Stoops says.
Well, guess what? Doesn't always work out that way, does it Sam Bradford?
But Stoops knows his role, and he does what his athletic director says.
The college football fan in Stoops enjoys attractive interregional matchups. And the dirt-tough kid who grew up fistfighting buddies for fun in garages around Youngstown, Ohio, wants those games on the schedule.
But the football coach in Stoops would like to tell Castiglione to take his scheduling philosophy and stick it in Lee Corso's headgear.
Winning football games makes coaches rich. Losing football games makes them unemployed. Thirteen of Stoops' 36 career losses - more than one-third - have come against out-of-conference opponents. That does include six bowl games. But still, why risk losing a non-conference game? Wouldn't it make sense for the football coach in Stoops to want to replace some of those classic regular-season showdowns with some hapless punching bags?
Think about it. That's seven more wins Stoops would have today, which would tie him with Barry Switzer as OU's winningest coach.
But Stoops is way too smart to publicly dissent from Castiglione's philosophy. And besides, Stoops knows there is little to gain from beating somebody 84-0. Playing well and being the best, not compiling hollow victories, is what's important to Stoops.
Despite what so many think, Stoops is not the most powerful man on the OU campus. And he knows it. Not only does he know it, he's fine with it because it's a model that works brilliantly. Stoops answers to Castiglione. Likewise, Castiglione knows he answers to Boren.
The OU trinity has been outrageously successful. When it comes to consistent winning, playing for championships, avoiding NCAA trouble and making everyone a whole bunch of money, nobody has done it better than Oklahoma.
It's a paradigm for Oklahoma State to follow.
GUNDY-HOLDER, A TIMELINE
A look at the relationship between OSU football coach Mike Gundy and athletic director Mike Holder over the past seven years, in their own words.
Mike Gundy was named Oklahoma State's head football coach after spending the previous four years as a Cowboy assistant. In his introductory news conference, he said the position at his alma mater is his "New York Yankees job."
Gundy was given a five-year contract worth $700,000 annually, making him the lowest-paid Big 12 head coach.
Mike Holder was promoted to athletic director at his alma mater after 32 years as golf coach, and he spearheaded fundraising for the athletic department and in particular for renovation of the football facilities. His friendship with oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens resulted in gifts of $165 million and $63 million.
Gundy's salary was bumped to $953,000 a year. While Gundy compiled an 11-13 record in his first two seasons, Holder expressed strong support.
"I understand that he came into this with no head-coaching experience," Holder said. "... He's made mistakes, no question about it. But I'm proud of the fact that Mike Gundy is our football coach.
"There are a few people who are naysayers when you have adversity, but I think everybody will like what transpires down the road. I think five years from now, we'll sit down here and we'll have a pretty good idea of exactly what kind of football coach we've got."
Although the Cowboys finished the regular season 6-6, Holder recommended to OSU's regents that Gundy's contract be extended one year, through 2013. At that time, Gundy was making $953,000 annually.
In 2007, the Cowboys were 4-4 in the Big 12, an improvement from 3-5 the previous year and 1-7 in Gundy's first season.
"I do see progress with our football program," Holder said. "Mike is an OSU graduate and he wants what is best for the school long term. He wants to see this football program become better than it's ever been."
After a 9-4 season and a brief dialogue with Tennessee about its head-coaching vacancy, Gundy negotiated with Holder a seven-year, $15.7 million contract without the assistance of an agent.
Of the seven-year commitment, Holder said, "I just felt like we were headed in the right direction, and he needed more time to get to the promised land."
Travis Ford was given a 10-year contract after his first season as men's basketball coach at OSU. His salary was bumped to $1.8 million, the same amount Gundy was paid in 2009.
OSU made its fourth straight bowl appearance for the first time in school history, and for a consecutive season reached nine wins. In his first five seasons, Gundy had a record of 36-27.
"We've made progress toward our ultimate goal - to compete for championships," Holder said. "But nobody gets an A until we win championships. Make no mistake about it - Oklahoma State is about winning championships."
The Cowboys won a share of the Big 12 South title, closed the season in the top 10 for the first time since 1984 and became the first OSU team since 1945 to go undefeated on the road.
During the breakthrough season, Gundy was asked about his relationship with Holder.
"Coach Holder and I have had discussions for a long time about the direction and the vision of where we see Oklahoma State football," Gundy said. "And a lot of people may not agree with him in some of the things he does - and I don't agree with everything he does. He doesn't agree with a lot of the things I do.
"But he and I have always been able to sit down and at some point talk about what's important and what direction we need to go."
OSU's best season in the modern era was capped with a Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford. The Cowboys finished 12-1 and won their first Big 12 championship, and Gundy was named the Eddie Robinson national coach of the year.
Less than a week after the season concluded, Gundy was rewarded with an eight-year contract worth nearly $30 million. The agreement was reached after a month of sometimes-heated negotiations involving Gundy, his agent Jimmy Sexton and Holder. During that time, Gundy was contacted by Texas A&M but declined to interview for the Aggies' opening.
"Mike Gundy has done an exceptional job of leading our football program to unprecedented success," Holder said. "... This agreement recognizes the value of his leadership and rewards him for establishing himself as one of the bright young coaches in college football."
Before negotiations began, Gundy, in the midst of building a house in Stillwater, was asked about his future at OSU. "I would prefer to coach here for a long time, and I would prefer to retire here," he said.
Coming off the championship season, the Cowboys opened 2012 at home against lowly Savannah State (left) as the result of a scramble to fill the nonconference slate amid conference realignment. The result was an 84-0 shellacking.
While OSU was criticized, Gundy was not in opposition to scheduling the game. "When (administrators) ask me, I say I want to play the three easiest teams we can play, and then play conference," Gundy said. "That's what I tell them every time."
Before the game, Pickens voiced a desire for a tougher nonconference schedule. Five weeks later, OSU announced it will open the 2013 schedule against Mississippi State in Houston.
"We will be playing a high-profile season opener in a great stadium," Holder said. "I think our fans will be eager for this matchup all summer."
A meeting with Florida State in Dallas for 2014 also is in the works.
After a 7-5 regular season that propelled Gundy past Pat Jones as the winningest coach in program history, other schools came knocking. Gundy reportedly interviewed with Arkansas and Tennessee this week before ultimately turning both down; differences of opinion with Holder were speculated as a reason Gundy was talking to other schools.
On Thursday night in Dallas, Gundy told media at a Heart of Dallas Bowl function he was staying in Stillwater and downplayed reports of a strained relationship with Holder.
"He and I don't agree on everything, but it's a lot better than what people say," Gundy said. "They gave me an eight-year contract worth a hell of a lot more money than what I'm worth, and he had to play a role in that."
- KELLY HINES, World Sports Writer
Original Print Headline: Fractured relationship
HEART OF DALLAS BOWL: OSU (7-5) VS. PURDUE (6-6)
11 a.m. Jan. 1 • At Cotton Bowl, Dallas • TV: ESPNU-253 • Radio: KFAQ am1170
Photos by STEPHEN PINGRY(Gundy) and MICHAEL WYKE (Holder)/Tulsa World
MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World