STILLWATER — Before being announced as Oklahoma State's new baseball coach, Josh Holliday first had to stop in at a popular Stillwater spirit shop Friday afternoon to pick up a crisp new orange polo for the proceedings.
Once at the press conference, he was presented with a Cowboys jersey that even featured the No. 9 he wore as an OSU senior.
“Might fit,” Holliday said, admiring the old school uniform top.
And with this hire, the fit is the focus.
A fit for winning baseball, for sure, but also a fit in regard to pleasing fans and alums bent on a connection to OSU's rich past.
In Holliday – raised in Stillwater on Cowboys baseball, as a coach's son and an OSU player and later an assistant – the school found a bridge to the glory days of the program. He grew up around the program, with his father Tom first serving as an assistant to Gary Ward for 19 seasons and later leading the Cowboys as head coach. From 1996-99, Josh played for both Ward and his dad, finishing among the career leaders in several offensive categories.
So the new coach, OSU's 15th baseball coach, is steeped in the grand old days of Cowboys history. And in a passionate and sometimes emotional unscripted address Friday, he said he'll reach to it regularly.
“Our history and our players and coaches is really something that sets us apart,” Holliday said. “I embrace all the former players, I appreciate every single one of them, many of which were my heroes, my role models. Many became my friends and later several became my teammates.
“To reach out to them and bring them on board to support our players and our program is what I hope we'll all join forces to do.”
Holliday's own place in that history offers him a special perspective for linking the past to the present and future. He was a boy kicking around the ballpark when Pete Incaviglia and Robin Ventura and Mike Henneman were directing College World Series charges. And he starred on OSU's last team to qualify for Omaha in 1999.
“It's a really unique opportunity to take advantage of those moments growing up and having watched who we were and who we are and who we can be,” he said. “And drawing on the experiences of Pete Incaviglia and Robin Ventura and on through the years and talking to our kids about what those guys did and how they did it and why they did it and what this can be moving ahead.
"Trying to explain and lead young people and push them to greatness is something our history can reveal to us. And it's something we can look at and say, ‘Fellas, it can happen. It's happened here. It can happen again.' Our history is of amazing value to us.”
Holliday's immediate to-do list includes putting together a staff and recruiting players, both current and future.Cowboy center fielder Saulyer Saxon took in the press conference from the back of the room and came away impressed.
“That got me fired up to see how passionate he is about the program,” Saxon said. “I've always been an OSU fan, so it's pretty sweet hearing him talk like that.”
Saxon was one of two players in attendance, along with Trey Whaley, but said teammates were checking in for a report.
“I told them I'd call them back,” Saxon said. “I'm going to tell them I'm pumped up and they need to watch the press conference and hear him talk and hear the things he had to say, because it's good.”
Since leaving OSU when his father's staff was fired in 2003, Holliday has been building a reputation as one of the nation's hot young assistants and top recruiters, working at North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, Arizona State and Vanderbilt, where he spent the past three seasons.OSU insiders said the opening created much interest, with three former Cowboys who are current head coaches involved: Oral Roberts’ Rob Walton, New Mexico State's Rocky Ward and Penn State's Robbie Wine.Still, athletic director Mike Holder went with his own feel, rather than experience.
“You can't see it on a resume,” Holder said. “I think the qualities that it takes to really be a great coach, it's all intangibles. It's not about the Xs and Os and teaching and technique, as much as it is about what kind of person you are, what you stand for, your ability to get young men to buy into a vision and achieve a level they may not think is possible.
“I see those qualities in him. When I talk to him, I get excited, I get fired up. I'm very excited about what kind of head coach he will be. Yeah, it's a big step from being an assistant coach to head coach. But I think he's made of the right stuff.”
Even as Holliday was sent packing from the university in 2003, he said it was always his goal to return.
“I believe it's what I was born to do,” he said. “You can't change who you are. I'm a Cowboy. All I ever knew my whole life was Oklahoma State.
“I learned to hit left-handed because Robin Ventura hit left-handed. I tried to imitate every single batting stance of every single player for 26 years, including when I played. We are who we are.
“In the back of my heart, I thought: ‘You know what, if some day I go out and I better myself and grow and learn and absorb baseball and team building and do all the things that a great coach has to do, some day I can go back there and live out another one of my goals.' Sometimes, things are meant to be.”