I had the strangest case of déjà vu Saturday afternoon.
I was getting ready to go to an Oklahoma State baseball game, the spring break weather was beautiful and once again, OSU was looking for a new men’s basketball coach.
Unlike last year, though, this coaching change came out of nowhere. A little more than 24 hours after the Cowboys lost to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and a little less than a year from the day he got hired, Brad Underwood left OSU to go to Illinois.
Everyone aside from the Illini and Underwood were blindsided by the news, most everyone, including OSU officials, finding out via Twitter. Friday afternoon, I wrote a column talking about the bright future the Cowboys had after what I thought would be Year One of the Underwood regime. Instead, OSU basketball got a one night only revival and now, it’s left to wonder, what’s next?
Many on social media are blaming Underwood and though to me, there’s more to blame than just him. I understand the pain most of the OSU faithful are feeling is akin to 13 years ago when Les Miles packed up and left in the middle of the night.
I also understand the other side, though. The pitchfork-carrying mob out for athletic director Mike Holder’s head after this deal went down. It appears the gigantic Travis Ford contract still won in the end. I don’t know if that was the main reason Holder low balled Underwood when the coach overachieved in his first year with the Big 12’s lowest-paid salary. It might have not been as big as a factor as I assume but I think it was.
Another reason people are going after Holder is that this could be one of the last straws in what has been an arduous tenure for him. With the overpaying of Ford and the penny-pinching with Underwood, coupled with rumors that he and Mike Gundy don’t get along, continue to make his seat ever hotter.
All of the details are yet to come out, so we will see what really went down but it appears to just be money. Underwood was offered three times the amount at Illinois than OSU. Although he said OSU was his “dream job,” every man has a price.
What will be interesting to see is if Underwood has a ripple effect that could bring a larger impact on not only the basketball program but also OSU athletics as a whole.
With him leaving, does sophomore point guard Jawun Evans declare for the NBA? The draft class is still stuffed and he probably wouldn’t be a lottery pick but if OSU gets an underwhelming hire and continues to mishandle the situation, he might look for greener pastures.
For Underwood’s recruiting class, full of guards and much-needed big men, what will they do? How many will remain committed to OSU? Will anyone transfer to Illinois with him? What about Underwood’s staff? Will the new hire bring in his own staff like Underwood did or will some of them stay?
So many questions are coming from this move that will be unknown. Unlike last year, OSU has no answer for them. Last season, Ford was fired and Underwood was hired within 72 hours. It will be a process this time around. Fan favorite media personality Doug Gottlieb’s name is being brought up again.
Of course there will be other names as well, but the main question people will have to think now because of this Underwood move is if any of them, aside from Gottlieb, will want to stay in Stillwater. The Underwood move could create a precedent. All the trust and gaining the fans back this season is all gone. Honestly, OSU basketball might be in a worse place now than it was right before Ford got fired.
There was a hope on the horizon when Underwood got hired and he sated the OSU fan base's thirst. Now that they feel betrayed, any coach who comes in will have to earn trust. How he (or she) goes about that, I don’t know. Underwood said and did all the right things, won games and still left. How can someone one up that other than not leaving after a year?
OSU fans of many sports have dealt with setbacks time and time again with Saturday proving to be just another one of those. Is OSU still a prime Division I destination? Maybe not. We will have to see how the administration handles the coming weeks and maybe months to see if they still think it is.
Or else, next spring break, I will be doing this all over again.