STILLWATER — Mike Holder stepped behind the podium, surveyed a room full of reporters, then launched into a nearly five minute statement about a soon-to-be-released, expected-to-be-scathing Sports Illustrated report on Oklahoma State football.
The OSU athletic director wasn't really talking to those media types Monday afternoon, though.
He was addressing Cowboy fans.
“I'd really like to talk to every season-ticket holder we got,” Holder said, adding that the school is on the verge of selling a record number of football season tickets. “We have a responsibility to those people because they're going to suffer from this as well.”
They're already suffering.
Even though Cowboy fans have yet to read a word of the stories generated by the magazine's 11-month investigation — the first will be released 8 a.m. Tuesday — they are worried and aggravated and scared. Who knows what's to come? Why is this coming out now? What will this do to the football program?
Blake Reichert wanted to see if Holder had any answers to those questions on Monday, so the Cowboy fan watched Holder's press conference live. Reichert wasn't overly worried about the allegations based on what he'd heard.
“But after hearing Holder's thoughts and watching his demeanor,” he said, “I'm now more worried than ever.”
Reichert saw a man who didn't seem confident, who didn't seem content with the way things were going.
The truth is, though, Holder is in a unique position here. He's been at OSU in some capacity since 1966. He's not just an employee of the university. He's an alum and a fan, loyal and true.
The same can be said of the president and the football coach. Burns Hargis is an alum. Ditto for Mike Gundy.
Where else is it the case that the university's president, athletic director and football coach are all alums?
No where else in big-time college football, that's for sure.
“We're all committed to playing by the rules, doing things the right way here,” Holder said. “And for people to say that's not what is happening is very disturbing.”
Jeff Nichols read those words and thought Holder sounded like a man who has a broken heart.
“Truthfully, in all honesty,” Nichols said, “mine is, too.”
Nichols became an OSU fan when his family moved from Michigan to Oklahoma in 1975. He was only 10 years old at the time, and going to school in Perkins, then in Cushing, he was in Cowboy Country. He became an OSU fan.
Even when his family moved back to Michigan in 1980, he continued to bleed orange.
Now, he worries about the allegations that will come from the SI investigation.
“I don't want to believe them,” he said, “but I cannot abandon Oklahoma State.”
Neither can Terry Haws.
He grew up in Stillwater in the 1960s, living just a few blocks from what was then known as Lewis Field. Every fall since he can remember, he's had high hopes for the magic that might happen on that field.
When the Cowboys finally won the Big 12 title a couple years ago, Haws stood in the stands above that same field and had tears in his eyes.
His emotions are running high again these past few days. Who did SI interview during its investigation? Were those sources accurate? Or were they just disgruntled players or personnel with axes to grind?
“Whatever the case may be, I expect OSU to take all measures to see what actually happened and deal with residual issues if they exist,” said Haws, now a longtime season ticket holder. “If there are no issues or if the story proves to be unfounded, I hope the university will defend itself accordingly.
“I feel pretty confident Mike Holder will check it out thoroughly.”
Holder gave every impression Monday that he would do just that. Even though he can't talk to every Cowboy season-ticket holder individually before the SI report is published, he said that he has spoken personally to many fans over the past few days.
His message: “You're not going to like what you hear. It's going to be a rough few days. ... But we hope to make you proud about the way we dealt with it and how we stood up, didn't make any excuses. We're not going to try to cover anything up.”
Holder looked around the room at the reporters and the cameras but spoke one more time to his brothers and sisters in orange.
“Everybody out there,” he said, “it's time to cowboy up.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.