STILLWATER — A few days after his 18th birthday in 1966, and a few days after the release of the Beatles’ “Revolver” album, Mike Holder was delivered to the front door of Bennett Hall.
He was jarred by a new reality: independence and responsibility.
“My dad left me here and I cried,” Holder remembers. “I just couldn’t believe it. Really? I’m here all by myself?
“I was spoiled. I was an only child. I wasn’t emotionally ready to be on my own. I tried to survive in two places — on the golf course and in the classroom.”
Ultimately, Holder flourished academically and in golf. He was the 1970 Big Eight individual champion and in 1973 became the Cowboys head coach. Thirty-two years and eight national championships later, he grudgingly accepted a move to the athletic director’s office.
In 2005, T. Boone Pickens persuaded him to take the job. Holder flourished in that role, also. He’s been the driving force during the greatest period of fundraising and facilities development in school history.
The numbers don’t lie: Holder has been to OSU’s fundraising campaigns what Barry Sanders was to OSU’s run game.
Two years ago — after basketball coach Brad Underwood’s controversial departure and after OSU graduate Chad Weiberg was hired to become OSU’s deputy athletic director and next athletic director — there was the belief that Holder’s retirement was imminent.
It felt like he was near the finish line of his career.
The expectation today, however, is that for at least two more years, the AD’s office will be occupied by Holder.
In 2018, he signed a three-year contract that extends through June 20, 2021. His current compensation amounts to $950,000. Sources indicate that he has the full support of the regents.
“The people who matter the most” feel good about Holder’s leadership, a source indicated. Those people would be donors and others within OSU’s influence bubble.
While Holder’s approval rating is healthy, there has to be the Weiberg consideration: For how long would a 47-year-old and talented successor be willing to wait in the on-deck circle?
A week before Pickens passed away on Sept. 11, the 71-year-old Holder was asked about the possibility of retirement.
“I just know that I’m the AD today,” Holder replied. “In the coaching profession or any athletic-administration position, you just live day by day. There will come a day. I just don’t know when.”
If Holder eventually decides that he wants a contract extension, the educated guess here is that he would get it.
Recalling how he was targeted for criticism after Underwood quit in 2017, and how the fairly immediate university response was to recruit Weiberg away from Texas Tech, Holder said, “When you have a passionate fan base, it goes with the territory. If people didn’t care, you wouldn’t sell any tickets.”
Without Holder, Boone Pickens Stadium doesn’t look the same. There wouldn’t be 123 football suites that provide big revenue. There wouldn’t the Sherman E. Smith Training Center, the Greenwood Tennis Center, the track-and-field complex or the renovated Patterson Stadium for soccer.
Without Holder having developed a relationship with Kansas donor Cecil O’Brate, there wouldn’t be a new $75 million facility for Cowboys baseball. O’Brate’s gift: $35 million.
O’Brate Stadium’s first-time visitors will be stunned by what should be the best ballpark in college baseball.
Next on Holder’s wish list is a new home for John Smith’s wrestlers.
It wasn’t just that Holder capitalized on his friendship with Pickens, whose overall donations to OSU exceeded a half-billion dollars. From scores of other sources, Holder secured donations that transformed OSU’s facilities profile.
“When he identifies a potential donor,” a source said, “and when he decides that it’s a relationship and a donation that OSU really needs, Mike Holder is like a rat on a Cheeto. He’s relentless because he believes in it.”
Holder also believes in fitness, and that’s why it’s easy to see him working for at least two more years — or for several more years. He has a streak of 991 consecutive days of having walked or jogged at least 10,000 steps. During the streak, his steps total amounts to nearly 15 million.
Some people hang onto jobs long after they’re actually able to do the job. Holder’s ability and work ethic haven’t waned.
On Labor Day Monday, he was in his Gallagher-Iba Arena office all day. Because the building was mostly empty, the air conditioning was adjusted accordingly. It was way too warm in the arena, but Holder didn’t care. He’s the one who sets the temperature.
The Weiberg storyline is compelling. Surely, he presumed in 2017 that he would be Oklahoma State’s athletic director in 2019, but it has become apparent that Holder’s job security is rock solid.
He will retire when he’s good and ready.