In the more than three decades he worked as men's golf coach at Oklahoma State, results were the unflinching measure of the world according to Mike Holder. If you played for Coach Holder, you could put in all the time and effort you wanted to in practice. Ultimately, though, if it didn't translate to the course and improved results, it only meant you needed to put in more time and effort in practice.
Not surprisingly, such a mindset is among the central tenets in how Holder has done business as the athletic director at Oklahoma State since leaving coaching to take that job in 2005. And thus the news out of Stillwater, Okla., today—that Holder's handpicked successor, Mike McGraw, just the third man to oversee the program in its history, has been let go as men's coach—came down to a cold, calculated, unflinching bottom line.
The results lately from the OSU men's golf team haven't been what's expected in Stillwater.
The 2011-12 season for the Cowboys was arguably the worst in the program's history as for the first time in 66 years OSU failed to reach the NCAA Championship. The 2012-13 campaign was better—a win in the fall ended an almost 17-month victory drought and the team was ranked in the top 25 of the Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll most of the year—but a T-14 showing at NCAAs and questions of when the program might return to its typical success, likely caused Holder to decide to move in another direction.
"This was not an easy decision," Holder said in a press release, which stated that McGraw will not return as head coach but mentioned nothing of a replacement or a search process/time table for picking a successor. "I could go on forever about what a good man Mike McGraw is, but at the end of the day, I had to do what I felt was in the best interest of the program."
McGraw is a good man. A very good man. And a very good coach too. In his first season as the men's coach (after one year overseeing the OSU women's program) his team won the NCAA Championship at Sunriver (Ore.) Resort. Some might say that was a roster of Holder recruits, but McGraw got them to perform at crunch time. He deserves credit for that.
Moreover, McGraw stockpiled his squads with some of college golf's brightest talent in subsequent years, with the likes of Rickie Fowler, Peter Uihlein, Kevin Tway and Morgan Hoffmann all thriving in Stillwater. His teams were favorites to win NCAA titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011 upon arriving at the site of the national championship (in 2011 playing on their home course, Karsten Creek GC).
Those years, however, were the first three in which match play was used to crown a team champion, a format that (cue the irony) Holder pushed to be adopted and helped get passed while serving on the NCAA men's golf committee in the mid-2000s. And while the Cowboys earned the No. 1 seed after 54 holes of stroke-play qualifying each time, they were never able to overcome the vagaries of match play, failing to win the title every time.
McGraw, to his credit, never made excuses. Each time his team painfully lost, he didn't hide behind the "change in format" as an explanation for not winning. He just said his team needed to play better than it had and that it didn't get the job done.
It's the same response Holder would have given if he were still the coach. Save for the fire and brimstone, McGraw was much like Holder, who first hired him as an assistant in 1997. Results mattered to McGraw, and he knew that of late they weren't what he—or his boss—were expecting.
So who might become McGraw's success? I've done no reporting on this, so this is purely speculation. However, Alan Bratton, an All-American for Holder in the 1990s who has been the coach of the women's program at OSU the last two seasons, would seem to be a likely contender, if not the leading candidate. (Interestingly, though, he has a top-recruiting class coming in this fall and reason to believe his squad might be a contender for a NCAA women's title in 2014.)
There are other possibilities. Since I've done no reporting, I don't feel right speculating but smart followers of college golf will know that some men at successful programs around the country have ties to the state of Oklahoma and thus might have reason to explore the possibility.
The person who ultimately gets the job will have all the resources necessary to win national championships. That's the privilege of getting to coach at Oklahoma State, a bona fide "golf school." But they also will be measured by how many national championships they actually do win, since they serve at the pleasure of the most successful college golf coach of the last quarter century who can claim eight on his own resume.
Make no mistake: Mike Holder expects results. If you didn't believe that before today, you certainly should now.