Oklahoma State megabooster Boone Pickens gave his alma mater $165 million in Dec. 2005, but the gift was much longer in the making. And as Pickens explained Wednesday during the Jim Thorpe Association's October Leadership Luncheon, the donation might never have been made had it not been for what happened in Sept. 2005 — the hiring of Mike Holder as athletic director.
“Mike came to the ranch — we hunted together and got to know each other very well — and (he) kept saying, ‘You want to be competitive and we're not competitive.' He said, ‘Our facilities are horrible.' I said, ‘Well, figure up how much it'll take to be competitive.' I'm doing pretty good about this time. I'm making some money. I'd just gotten out of a bad divorce, so I knew exactly what I had. I had exactly half of what I did have.
“Mike had this spread sheet, and this spread sheet kept getting bigger, but I was not giving him any money. He finally brought the spread sheet over and said, ‘$300 million will make us competitive.' ‘$300 million? I'm not going to give you $300 million.'
“That was wrong.
“We're getting serious in 2005, and I said, ‘I can tell you one thing, I'm not going to give OSU $300 million until I've got somebody over there that I think knows what they're doing and taking care of the money.' Well, I knew he was tighter than hell. He'd raised so much money for OSU golf, built that golf course over there, never borrowed any money and had money in the bank. He could've built another golf course. I said, ‘I've gotta have somebody that looks after the money closely.' He said, ‘Well, what're you thinkin'?' I said, ‘I'm thinkin' you.' He said, ‘Well, I don't want to be athletic director.' I said, ‘Fine, roll up your sheet. I don't want to give $300 million.'
“Then I really hurt his feelings. I said, ‘You know, you've gone through pretty well most of your life with your feet on the handle bars.' He said, ‘Well, what do you mean by that?' I said, ‘You figured out how to win at golf, and you just keep doing it over and over again, and it's gotten so it's easy. So, you don't really ever have to pedal. You just get on and everything goes smooth for you.' He said, ‘I didn't have my feet on the handle bars.' I said, ‘Well, you need to be challenged. You need to get a job where you're really challenged.' He said, ‘Well, what are you thinking about?' I said, ‘I'm thinking about you as athletic director. You love the university. You've raised money. You like all the sports. You go to all the games whether golf, football or anything else. You're over there, you and (wife) Robbie are, at everything. You'd be perfect for the job. Now, I've got to convince Dave Schmidly you're perfect for the job, too.'
“Schmidly, he wasn't sure. He needed to do a world-wide search for an athletic director. I said, ‘You'd better think about doing a world-wide search for $300 million.'
“It went down pretty easy.”