Gary Ward made a fatal mistake when he accepted Oklahoma State's offer in 1978 to coach the Cowboys' baseball team.
"I fell in love with the place," Ward said.
Ward's love affair with OSU has been good for the university in so many ways. But it's been bad for Ward's aspirations to advance into athletic administration.
The Ramona, OK, native quickly injected new life into the baseball program. Then he turned it into a national powerhouse. But Ward's love for the school apparently was a fatal attraction; it killed his chance to become OSU's athletic director.
In a way, Ward blames himself. He didn't follow the plan he mapped out when he first arrived in Stillwater. He figured on staying six or seven years, then he'd hit the road.
Ward's coaching mode was set long before OSU hired him: Never stay in one place long enough to allow your critics to spoil your success.
"I failed to follow my philosophy at Oklahoma State," Ward said.
"I loved it, and now I'm here 17 years. But it's been a wonderful run, and I don't regret it. " It's his affection that has Ward treating his beloved university these days with the approach he's uses with underachieving players - boot them in the backside, then throw an arm around their shoulders and tell them how much he cares.
So it was a caring Ward who criticized OSU officials this week for the way they have handled the search for a new athletic director.
"We've approached it," Ward said, "as if we're looking for a high school administrator who's going to make sure we dot the i's, cross the t's, keep the gym floor swept and have a wonderful flow chart of duties and responsibilities.
'That's old hat. That's 20 years behind the times. " Ward's remarks weren't sour grapes, produced because his name wasn't included among the 10 still under consideration for the job.
Nor did they come in a moment of anguish, although Ward is engulfed in emotional and physical pain. There's the lingering sting of OSU falling one game short of the College World Series.
And the chronic shoulder and back problems, which Ward intends to eliminate with surgery.
But it's the ache Ward has in his heart for the school he couldn't leave that prompted him to say OSU's approach to finding a new AD is one step shy of being the job search from hell.
"It's really in purgatory," Ward said. "What kind of vision or platform are they looking for? A statement of philosophy is lacking here. " To many of us, the selection committee's sin was not hiring Ward. Those who oppose Ward either have no grasp of reality when it comes to the type a person it takes to run an athletic department in these turbulent times. Or they are driven by the petty jealousies and bruised egos Ward expected when he elected to remain at OSU.
"In my profession, one philosophy I've lived with is that friends come and go and enemies accumulate," he said. "And the longer you stay at one place, you deal with a critical public that you can never please. " Ward apparently is Enemy No. 1 on the selection committee's list. How else could the committee explain why it snubbed a man who has brought so much glory to OSU?
"I haven't taken it personally," Ward said. "But I have made a decision to stay involved. " Ward realized four or five years into his OSU career that "the coaches who aspire to build nationally elite programs have to constantly be involved with the decision makers at the university whether they wish us to be or not. " One trait that would serve Ward well as an AD is his honesty.
That honesty has prompted Ward to tell his superiors things they apparently don't want to hear about their search for an athletic director.
"Our vision has been too provincial," Ward said. "It needs to be broadened a great deal. " Some OSU supporters won't like it, but Ward said he respects the tactics Oklahoma athletic director Donnie Duncan used to hire Kelvin Sampson.
"He canvassed the top 10 or 15 people that he knew in college basketball and found out Kelvin Sampson was one of the three or four coaches who might be the answer," Ward said. "Then he went out and actively recruited what he thought was one of the best young coaches in the country. I admire that approach. " That's the tact Ward wants OSU to take in its AD search. Junk the list of the 10 finalists who applied for the job and go after an athletic director who needs to be convinced to move to OSU.
"We need someone who has already done it at the Division I level," Ward said. "Someone who has already built facilities, raised money, galvanized a constituency and dealt with gender equity.
"All I'm trying to do is make everybody who's in love with Oklahoma State University aware that it (job search) needs to stay open and that we need to aggressively recruit the finest talent in the country. Someone who has 10 years to come in here and make this the culminating event in his career.
"There are only seven or eight of them out there; we have to escalate the salary and the perks to get one of them. " Ward said it's imperative OSU seek the right person for the job if the Cowboys expect to remain competitive when the Big Eight expands in 1996 to The Big 12.
"If we're going to compete with Texas, Texas A&M, OU - those schools that are tremendously well funded - this person must change the general image of us as a university," Ward said. "That person is not among this (10 finalists) group. Nor is he among the people favored by Cowboy fans. He's not known to us because we have not make any effort to recruit him. But he is out there. " BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 577146