Mike McGraw spent his Friday afternoon delivering the disappointing news, calling his current players to let them know that he was now their former coach.
McGraw has been at Oklahoma State for 16 years. Been the men’s golf coach for the last eight. He’s won five Big 12 titles and a national championship in 2006.
But on Friday, in a bit of surprising news, he was fired by athletic director Mike Holder.
“I think they were all a bit taken aback,” McGraw said of the reaction from his players. “I don’t think they were ready for that phone call.”
But McGraw understood the move.
Despite wild success in his first six seasons, which all ended in either a conference or national title, the program slipped a bit the past couple years.
In 2012, after a sixth place finish at the Big 12 tournament, OSU disappointed in the regionals and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 65 years.
This past year was better, with a second place finish in the Big 12 and a 14th place finish in the NCAAs. But this is Oklahoma State, a tradition-rich program. And that wasn’t going to cut it.
“We didn’t play any good,” McGraw admitted. “We didn’t coach any good, either. We had a lot of disappointing tournaments where I thought we underachieved as players and coaches and you must do better than that and we just didn’t.”
Some would categorize the move as harsh. McGraw’s ‘bad’ seasons would be viewed as spectacular at other places.
But the standard is different in a program that flaunts 10 national championships. Especially when the lead decision-maker in the hiring and firing (Mike Holder) delivered eight of those.
“I wouldn’t want to work any place that didn’t have any expectations, where they say whatever you do is fine, we won’t bother you,” McGraw said. “No, I’m thankful I worked at a place the last 16, 17 seasons where excellence was the standard and you had to be better than that or it wasn’t acceptable. I’m thankful that I had that opportunity and I wish I could have done more the last couple years to bring the program back to where it should be.”
From here, Holder and the Cowboys will begin to search for, amazingly, only the fourth coach in the program’s 66-year history.
Labron Harris coached from 1947, the inaugural season, through 1973, winning a national championship and 24 conference titles. Mike Holder took over from there, stringing together 25 Big 12 and eight national titles in his 32 years, before handing over the reigns to McGraw in 2005.
“I respect what Mike Holder has accomplished here and I respect Mike Holder’s decision to take the program another direction,” McGraw said of the move. “If you respect the history and tradition of the program, you must respect that as well."
As for the future, McGraw said he must first get over the disappointment (“I have loved Oklahoma State golf since I was a little boy,” he said.”), but would like to remain in coaching (“It’s what I know, what I love doing and what I’m passionate about. So I hope to have another opportunity,” he said.)
But in departure, McGraw leaves with class and a heavy dose of perspective, understanding that Friday's bad news is relative to that of others.
“Bad luck is being in the path of a tornado,” McGraw explained. “And I don’t say that flippantly, I say that very sincerely. That’s tough times. Losing a coaching job is not anything compared to that. A lot of people have suffered a lot worse than I have. And while it’s disappointing and, yes it is, I will recover and I will be fine.”