STILLWATER — Mike Holder watched the scene under that basket at Texas Tech unfold like the rest of us.
The difference is that as soon as Marcus Smart pushed a fan on Saturday night, Holder immediately knew that he'd be the one who'd have to deal with the whole mess.
“I didn't sleep very much,” the Oklahoma State athletic director said.
While he had a checklist of to-dos running through his head — talk to the Big 12, meet with Smart, call a press conference — his restlessness was also a product of lament. An athlete wearing an OSU jersey had behaved badly. Very badly.
It was a black mark on America's brightest orange.
The brand took another hit Saturday night, but Sunday afternoon, OSU took the first steps down the road to recovery.
There are plenty of Cowboy faithful who will criticize Holder if given the chance. Season tickets are too expensive. Ticket policies are too prohibitive. OSU athletics used to feel like a family; now, it feels like a business. But anyone who has any of those beefs with Holder has to be thrilled to have him in OSU's corner right now.
During Sunday's press conference, Holder was masterful.
He was direct.
“Playing competitive athletics is a privilege. It's not a right; it's a privilege. That privilege can be taken away from you. ... I value nothing more than playing by the rules and being a good sport.”
He was honest.
“I'd say for the most part, in the 47 years that I've been here, I've been very proud of the way our athletes and coaches have represented our institution. Last night wasn't our finest hour. It wasn't Marcus Smart's finest hour.”
He was poignant.
“As bad as it was, I'm still proud that (Smart) is a Cowboy. I know we are blessed that he chose to come here. We've got a lot more years of association together, and there is going to be a lot more pride, rather than regret, that we came together.”
He was heartfelt.
“I'm honored to stand up here by (Smart). He's got a big valentine beating in his chest. He stands for a lot of the great things about college athletics. He made a mistake, but let's not crucify him for it.”
All of it was exactly what OSU needed.
Frankly, there have been several incidents where the Cowboy brand has been scarred, and Holder has been front and center with the healing. Think about all the difficulties that have faced the athletic program in the past decade. Eddie Sutton's relapse. Sean Sutton's addiction. The women's basketball plane crash, which came a little over a decade after the men's basketball plane crash. The Sports Illustrated investigation.
In those situations, Holder handled the fallout about as well as could be expected.
Did everyone agree with how he handled everything?
There's still a faction of Cowboy fans, for example, who won't be happy until a Sutton is coaching the basketball team.
But the OSU faithful can be rest assured that Holder's heart is in the right place. He has an intense passion for OSU. You don't stay at one place for nearly five decades if you don't have a deep love for it and the people who also want to be there — at one point Sunday, it looked like Holder might break down in tears as he talked about how proud he was to have Smart as a Cowboy — and Holder clearly wants what's best for the department.
And this past weekend, what was best was admitting a big mistake and apologizing profusely. Obviously, Smart and Ford were part of that process Sunday, too, and by my estimation, each did well. But they were definitely following the leader in handling the shove seen round the world.
“How we deal with that is a whole lot more important, in my opinion, than what happened,” Holder said, and I don't think he was trying to downplay the incident but rather focus on what can be done now.
“I think what happened ... will not define Marcus and will not define us. It's what's going to happen going forward that is really the crucial piece of the puzzle.”
The brightest orange has a bit of tarnish right now, but Holder has already started to buff it and work to make it shine again.
Jenni Carlson can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.