The very good Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City has today delivered the cold stark reality of the situation, which is that 53-year-old basketball coach Brad Underwood is chasing the money as hard and as fast as he can and anybody who thinks otherwise only has himself to blame.
Underwood had been an assistant coach for most of his career, until he was hired at Stephen F. Austin in 2013. A year ago he replaced Travis Ford at Oklahoma State, and in that time there has been a great deal of talk about what a good fit Underwood was in Stillwater.
Then he left for Illinois.
What happened? How did the Cowboys go from a “dream come true” coach – athletic director Mike Holder’s words – to virtual despair, knowing that a fit like Underwood, third generation from the House of Iba, will be impossible to find? How did Underwood go from talking emotionally about coaching in Gallagher-Iba Arena to suddenly wearing a slighter shade of orange?
With some good reporting and a conversation with Oklahoma State AD Mike Holder, Tramel answers those questions. But what it comes down to is, Brad Underwood wanted $3 million per year, Illinois offered him that, and Oklahoma State didn’t.
Last Monday, the day after the Cowboys were assigned to Indianapolis for a first-round NCAA Tournament game against Michigan, Holder and Underwood met. The OSU source said Holder offered $2.2 million per year and would get Underwood to $3 million after five seasons. The Big 12 average is $2.9 million for a head coach. But Underwood said he wanted $2.9 million now and would prefer $3 million.
Saturday, Underwood resigned to take the job at Illinois for a reported $3 million (or so) per year.
Illinois doesn’t have a stronger basketball program than Oklahoma State does, and Cowboys fans and players are justifiably upset. But I can’t cast a moral judgment against Underwood for this. Everybody knows he could be fired just as quickly as he left, and let’s not pretend there isn’t a big difference between $2.2 million and $3 million. The average salary for a Big 12 basketball coach this year was $2.9 million. Underwood was better than average, and if Oklahoma State can’t afford that, well, these are the breaks.