Mike Holder hit the ground running when he was named Vice President for Athletic Programs and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics at Oklahoma State University on Sept. 16, 2005.
In his 32 years of leading his alma mater’s golf program, Holder’s name became synonymous with success not only on the golf course, but in fundraising, facility development and the academic performance of his student-athletes. In fact, a case could be made that Holder took Oklahoma State’s already strong golf program and transformed it into America’s best.
Those same leadership skills have served him well in his time guiding OSU’s athletic department. His plan and vision for the betterment of Cowboy and Cowgirl athletics have already taken shape, most notably with the completion of Boone Pickens Stadium. The stadium, now a horseshoe with more than 60,000 seats, features more than 100 suites.
Under Holder’s direction, the Oklahoma State University Department of Athletics has continued to move forward while maintaining its traditional strengths. A total of 12 OSU sports programs have reached the national top 10 over the last two years. At the same time, the Cowboy football team has appeared in five straight bowl games for the first time in school history. OSU has won four more national team championships under Holder’s watch, raising the school’s championship count to 50 – the fourth best total in the country and tops in the Big 12 Conference.
Holder’s tenure has also featured landmark fundraising by the athletic department, including the $165 million gift from T. Boone Pickens that pushed OSU’s facility drive into high gear. The legendary OSU alum also helped complete the west end zone project with another $63 million gift in 2008. At Holder’s urging, OSU Athletics has placed a new emphasis on scholarship endowments. That endowment drive has seen Oklahoma State climb from dead last in the Big 12 to second with gifts and commitments of approximately $35 million. Just four years ago, OSU’s endowment stood at $2.1 million.
Perhaps Holder’s adept fundraising stems from his “fund-giving”. He and his wife, Robbie, illustrated their commitment to Oklahoma State when they donated $500,000 for the first fully endowed scholarship for Cowboy football. The scholarship is named for former OSU player, the late Vernon Grant. The Holders’ lifetime giving to OSU surpasses $2.5 million, including $1 million for an entrepreneurship super chair at OSU in the Spears School of Business.
“Robbie and I made the gift to the college of business because of (OSU donors) Malone and Amy Mitchell,” Holder said at the announcement. “Having two degrees in business was the icing on the cake. I would like to see the new program nationally recognized and make a difference in the lives of young people.”
Malone and Amy Mitchell had made a $57.2 million gift to OSU, split evenly between athletics and academics, on the day the Holders announced their $1 million gift.
Things are on the upswing at the turnstiles as well. Oklahoma State set new school records in 2008 and 2009 in football season ticket sales reaching nearly 46,000 in 2009. The six largest crowds in OSU football history visited Boone Pickens Stadium in 2009 and 2010.
Holder smoothly administered his first high-profile job search when Oklahoma State went looking for a men’s basketball coach. The pressure was on to fill a position that had been occupied by two of the winningest coaches in college basketball history in Henry Iba and Eddie Sutton. Holder tabbed Travis Ford for the job and the first-year coach immediately validated the decision by taking OSU to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005 as the Cowboys advanced to the second round with a thin roster that battled to the very end. Ford’s second year in Stillwater also resulted in an NCAA Tournament trip.
Another Holder hire, softball coach Rich Wieligman, took the Cowgirls to the Women’s College World Series in his fifth season at the helm. And women’s soccer coach Colin Carmichael, who took over the Cowgirl soccer program during Holder’s tenure, guided Oklahoma State to within a game of the final four in 2010. OSU has won the Big 12 regular season or postseason soccer title in each of the last three years.
During his tenure as the men’s golf coach, Holder’s successes included not only his team’s results on the course, but his players’ performances in the classroom and beyond. His vision and fundraising abilities resulted in the creation of Karsten Creek, a magnificent golf course in Stillwater, selected as the Best New Public Course in 1994 by Golf Digest magazine. That publication listed Karsten Creek as the nation’s 12th “greatest public course” in 2011.
In 2000, Holder’s Cowboy golf team claimed the national championship, marking the eighth time his squad carried home the NCAA trophy. And while high national finishes are the norm at Oklahoma State, the accomplishments of his teams never stopped at the 18th hole.
Holder took over his OSU coaching post on July 1, 1973, and during his tenure, his teams set student-athlete standards that were unequaled. While he coached more than 110 All-America selections, including 38 first-team choices, and has numerous former players competing on the PGA Tour, overseas and on mini-tours, Holder saw to it that his players also excelled in the classroom. During his tenure, OSU produced three Ben Hogan Award winners, which is based on academic and athletic excellence nationwide. Kevin Wentworth earned the honor in 1990, Trip Kuehne claimed the prestigious award in 1995 and Hunter Mahan was named the 2003 recipient. Kuehne was OSU’s outstanding male graduate in 1995 as well.
Only 14 times since 1984 has a golfer been named first-team athletic All-America and academic All-America in the same season, and nine of those student-athletes were from Oklahoma State. Holder had 21 academic All-America selections from the inception of that honor in 1984 until he vacated the head coaching position for the AD’s chair, as well as countless academic all-Big Eight and all-Big 12 selections.
Holder is one of five coaches in NCAA history, regardless of sport, to win a national championship in four different decades. Three times Holder coached the Cowboys to the national team title the same year an OSU individual also claimed medalist honors (1978, 1987 and 2000). Along the way, he claimed 25 conference championships. His 21 Big Eight championships were the second most by a head coach in any sport, trailing only Kansas basketball coach Phog Allen.
As a student-athlete, Holder was the 1970 Big Eight medalist and led OSU to the conference team title. He was a third-team All-American as a junior and a senior and an honorable mention All-American as a sophomore.
Holder, a graduate of Ardmore High School, earned his degree in marketing from Oklahoma State in 1970 and completed work on his MBA at OSU in 1973.