Exactly five years ago today, Mike Holder climbed into the athletic director's saddle at Oklahoma State.
The ride hasn't always been smooth.
He hasn't made every Cowboy fan happy — heck, he has made some of them livid and irate — but OSU athletics is in a better place than it was five years ago.
A much better place.
The reason is Holder. He has made several tough decisions, choices that he knew would be unpopular, changes that he suspected would ruffle some feathers. But he always did what he thought best for the entire athletic department, even if it meant facing the wrath of the orange-clad masses.
At the top of the list: increasing ticket prices.
"I learned very quick if you're trying to win a popularity poll, you're not going to raise ticket prices," Holder said.
He raised an eyebrow.
"And I did that."
Holder hadn't even been on the job a full day when he first mentioned the notion. The topic came up during his introductory press conference and sent OSU fans into a frenzy.
When he formally announced the increases the next spring — the brochure sent to season ticket holders was titled, "Cowboy Up" — there was a serious outcry.
"Maybe that's why we didn't raise them for two or three decades," Holder said of ticket prices.
He admits it was a tough decision.
"But I know what inexpensive tickets will get you," he said. "All I have to do is look in the rearview mirror."
When he does, he sees subpar football teams, unsold tickets and a stadium in serious need of updating.
Holder took a build-it-and-they-will-come approach with football. Some teams get good, then build a fancy stadium. But with the help of Boone Pickens' gifts and the other donations the billionaire spurred, OSU spruced up the stadium in hopes of one day having a program worthy of the digs.
The gamble paid off.
"We're having much bigger crowds now than when the tickets were much less expensive," Holder said of an average attendance that has increased from less than 45,000 when he took over to nearly 54,000 a season ago. "It all has to do with the product on the field."
Still, there are frustrated fans.
News earlier this week that Tulsa was returning 3,000 unsold tickets for Saturday's game prompted a message-board discussion about ticket prices on OrangePower.com, a popular OSU fan website.
"I really believe it's time for Holder to start thinking about the fans," one comment read.
Another called him "Mike WithHolder," another "Lord Holder."
Hey, it's not easy being the boss.
"I think we've always had the mentality here that we're proud of the fact that we've done more with less, we do things on a shoestring, squeeze every dollar," Holder said. "But if you really want to compete for championships, especially in football, that mindset won't work."
Feeding the football beast requires tens of millions of dollars a year — schools do it because the sport's revenue funds the rest of their sports — and OSU is satiating it now better than ever.
Still, many programs have several decades' head start on OSU.
"If we're going to close that gap ... it's not going to be a quick fix," Holder said. "And it's going to take a serious financial commitment across the board."
That's why he raised ticket prices and donation minimums. That's why he added the premium game, a marquee contest each season that requires a season ticket. That's why he decided to bear the brunt of the outrage.
He saw an opportunity to do something that's never been done at OSU — build a winning football program.
"I'm like Boone Pickens and all of our other grads who have longed for winning football for decades and have never seen it happen," said Holder, an OSU alum himself. "I want to see it happen."
Cowboy fans haven't always agreed with his methods, but it's difficult to argue the results.
OSU athletics is in a better place because of the man riding lead.