On Friday, Brad Underwood was the coach of Oklahoma State, preparing to lead the Cowboys’ men’s basketball team that he’d resurrected into a first-round NCAA tournament matchup against Michigan.
One day later, the coach was sporting a different shade of orange.
On Saturday afternoon, ESPN reported that Underwood will leave Oklahoma State after just one season to become the coach at Illinois, shocking the college basketball world by leaving a prime Big 12 job after less than a full calendar year in charge.
Coaching men’s basketball at Illinois is an opportunity of a lifetime, according to Brad Underwood via a statement. He went on to say that the players, fans and staff at Oklahoma State University have been incredible. He thanked them for their support for him and his family over the last year. However, while he was at Western Illinois, he saw the Illini coaching job as one of the to positions in the country.
That hasn’t been the case for several years in Champaign, Ill., as the Fighting Illini have struggled since their run to the national championship game in 2005. Illinois has missed the NCAA tournament four years in a row and has lost at least 10 games for 11 consecutive seasons.
Those issues made Brad Underwood a very attractive option for the Fighting Illini. In three years at Stephen F. Austin and one at Oklahoma State, Underwood has never failed to reach the NCAA tournament and hadn’t lost more than six games in a season until starting his rebuilding job with the Cowboys. While at Stephen F. Austin, he posted a record of 89-14 and pulled upsets of Virginia Commonwealth and West Virginia in the NCAA tournament.
In Stillwater, Okla., the reaction was one of disappointment and regret. According to the Oklahoman, Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder had planned to meet with Brad Underwood on Thursday to discuss a new contract to reward the coach for guiding the Cowboys back to the NCAA tournament. However, Underwood, who was the lowest-paid coach in the Big 12, never showed for the meeting, which Holder chalked up to preparation to face Michigan.
Two days later, at a meeting that was supposed to be about an extension, Brad Underwood instead informed Holder that he was accepting Illinois’ offer of $3 million a year.
According to Holder, he is not angry. More disappointed than anything else. He fully understood the decisions. Being in his early 50s, and with a family to consider, he understands the opportunity that is in front of him, but he thought they both had shared the same dream of him staying at OSU for the rest of his career. He said that if anything he had done or had not done influenced the decision to leave Oklahoma State for Illinois, he would feel terrible about it.
The move leaves the Cowboys scrambling for a new coach less than a year after they thought they’d found their man for the long term. Regardless of who Oklahoma State picks, the loss of Underwood suggests that they’ll need to open their wallets for their next choice. As for Brad Underwood, he faces the challenge of trying to build Illinois back to prominence in a Big Ten that has already placed two teams in the Sweet 16. However, the hiring of Underwood grants the Illini a major leg up on conference rival Indiana, which fired Tom Crean earlier in the week and has not made a hire.
Readers, how surprised are you by Underwood’s choice? Does he make Illinois a contender? Or will this be the first stop where he meets adversity? Sound off in the comments!
Commentary by Dan Angell