OSU athletic director Mike Holder repeatedly turned failure into opportunity

BY BRANDON CHATMON Staff Writer bchatmon@opubco.com Published: June 25, 2011
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But Smith eventually agreed to the donation of roughly $150,000 to build a golf hole at Karsten Creek.

It was a sign of Holder's ability to build relationships and trust. And his persistent drive to accomplish his dreams for his alma mater.

* * *

In addition to his proven experience in building a top-notch facility through fundraising efforts, Holder already had the contacts needed to ask for immediate donations to make a change in the football program in 2005.

“I knew most of the people who had money and had ties to OSU with an interest in athletics,” Holder said. “And primarily among those is Boone Pickens.”

Knowing how difficult it would be make a real difference in the football program, Holder initially asked Pickens for $300 million. He heard “No” again, several times, but eventually convinced Pickens to donate $165 million in late December 2005 (see sidebar).

The seeds of Pickens' record-setting $165 million donation were planted on the golf course and during quail hunts with the billionaire geologist over a ten-year period from 1995 to 2005. After Walsh, one of Pickens' closest friends, was tragically killed in a car crash in 1995, Holder was there to help fill the void.

“(That) was when we became really good friends and committed to each other,” Holder said. “And committed to making a difference at OSU.”

Having a proven background in taking a gift and turning it into something special made it a lot easier for Holder to ask for Pickens' $165 million gift or Smith's $20 million gift.

Said Holder: “The thing that worked for me: Every time someone gave money to the golf program, it made a difference.

“The difference was more significant than they anticipated, the next time you asked for money they were happy to give what you asked for and usually were willing to give more if you could build a case for why that would make more of a difference.”

* * *

Six years after Pickens' initial gift of $165 million, the Cowboy football program has been transformed.

With Tuesday's announcement that the Sherman Smith Center — OSU's indoor practice facility — is on the way, Holder feels like he's removed all the obstacles to competing for championships in Stillwater.

“You don't raise the amount of money it's taken to transform these athletic facilities,” Holder said. “You don't do that overnight or over a five-year period and raise that kind of money.

“It takes time to build relationships and gain peoples trust. And to show your dream is not a pipe dream, that it actually has a chance of coming through and the benefits will be huge for everyone.”

The benefits have been huge, and they are tangible.

The Cowboys have recorded three-straight nine-win seasons, including their first 11-win season in school history in 2010. OSU enters the 2011 campaign with the expectations that the Pokes will be able to compete with college football's elite, in the midst of the battle for a Big 12 championship.

And it would not have been possible without Mike Holder's fundraising efforts.

“Now as a football coach here you have a realistic chance to be successful,” Holder said. “Does that mean it's going to happen tomorrow? No. I can't tell you when it will happen.

“But I can say, without question, we will win championships here at Oklahoma State University in football.”

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Editor's Note: Our look at Mike Holder's impact on Oklahoma State football is the second in a four-part series on the four key men behind OSU's football program renaissance. Coming up the next two Sundays: alum and booster Boone Pickens; and former player and current head coach Mike Gundy. If you missed the first part, which focuses on former coach Les Miles, visit OSU football program's rise started with Les Miles

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