STILLWATER — From the transformation of a rusty Lewis Field into Boone Pickens Stadium to the creation of the West End Zone football palace to the completion of the mammoth Sherman Smith Indoor Training Center, Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder has been right in the middle of the school's facilities renaissance.
Of course, Holder and the rest of Cowboy nation can thank Boone Pickens and other donors for their significant role in turning those extravagant facilities plans into reality. Still, Holder plays a major role in facilitating and developing these projects.
Holder talked with The Oklahoman about what that process is like, how much he specifically pays attention to the SEC's upgrades and the next step for the Cowboy football facilities.
What is it like to be in the middle of the facilities arms race in college football?
It's challenging. But at least at Oklahoma State, we're blessed with some of the most generous alumni in all of college athletics. Your first responsibility is to take care of what you've already built and then plan for the future. My objective is to give every athlete and every coach in every sport state-of-the-art facilities so they have a chance to compete for conference and national championships. And then once you reach that standard, then what you do is reexamine everything and see if you can do even better.
How much do you specifically pay attention to what the SEC is doing? There has been plenty of buzz this summer about Alabama's new facilities.
It's kind of interesting, because two of the newest facilities that everybody's talking about are at Oregon and Alabama, and before they built those, they came to visit our campus and to check and see what we had done. Just think, a decade ago, who would be coming to Stillwater, Okla., to look at anything? It's nice to know that we've done some things to get people's attention. But certainly, you have to be aware of the competition and what they're doing.
What do you do when you start planning an upgrade or new facility? Did you visit other schools?
Everything that happened in the West End zone was a product of Gary Sparks, the architect. He and a team of designers made trips all around the country visiting other campuses to see what their football facilities looked like and he took a lot of the ideas he got from those places and came up with the concepts for the West End Zone.
How much do you think the indoor facility will impact the program?
I think it's going to be a huge positive. I've really got to give our architect a lot of credit, Jim Hasenbeck of Studio Architecture in Oklahoma City, and Rick Cooper, who owns W&W Steel Company. Because Jim had some experience building aircraft hangars, he came up with the idea to do those aircraft hangar doors. I think a lot of our coaches were skeptical initially, but I think since they've been over there, I think they really see how unique that design is and what kind of a groundbreaking facility (it is). Having the walls that disappear, not only does it kind of normalize the climate in there — it gets you a lot of air circulation, so on really hot days, it's still very cool in there — but also it allows you to be inside or just outside the building running practice on two different fields and see what's going on. If you had walls there, you couldn't do that.
Why were coaches originally wary about the design of the indoor facility? Because it didn't have air conditioning or heat?
Because no one had ever done it before. And you hate to be first. What if it's a bad idea? Then you have to live with it. It's much easier to follow someone else's lead than to break new ground.
Other than your own, what are some of the best facilities you've seen around the country?
I'd say it's hard to find a place that doesn't have something that's nice, especially in the Big 12 conference. I think all of our universities are responding to the competitive landscape and have stepped up and really done some things to modernize what they have. Oklahoma, definitely on the cutting edge. Same thing with the University of Texas. Texas Tech, you've got to marvel at what they've done to their football stadium. I'm going to be interested to see when we go to West Virginia this year, what they have. And then I'm really looking forward to playing at TCU, not this year but next year, and see what they've done with their stadium.
What about OSU's facility upgrades makes you the most proud?
There's two things that stand out. One, when Boone Pickens comes to town, he doesn't want to go three blocks out of the way so he doesn't have to drive by Rustoleum Stadium. He's proud of what he sees there. And the second thing is what it's done for our football program. It's transformed the attitude within the program and also externally. People look at us as a serious contender for championships in football now. In the past, we were just an afterthought.
What's next for the football facilities?
I think the main thing is just to make sure we take care of what we've got. You just don't ever want to turn your back on it, because when it stops looking new and if it starts to deteriorate a little bit, then your players, coaches and fans and everybody won't have the same respect for the facility, and that just accelerates the aging process. They're constantly updating the wall graphics (inside the West End Zone) and trying to do a better job of telling the OSU football story. I think that's important.