McGraw accepts OSU firing philosophically

Former Oklahoma State head coach Mike McGraw

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For Mike McGraw, it’s decompression time as he deals with his recent firing as men’s golf coach at Oklahoma State.

After eight seasons at the Cowboys’ helm and with the 2006 NCAA title on his resume, McGraw was let go Friday by athletic director Mike Holder, the man whom McGraw replaced as coach in the fall of 2005.

“I’m going to take a few days to decompress and then look at what opportunities there might be for me,” McGraw told Golfweek. “For sure, I would love to stay in college coaching. I hope I can get another opportunity some place to do that.”

Oklahoma State has long been a perennial national power in men’s golf, with 10 national championships, including eight during Holder’s 30-plus-year Cowboys coaching career.

This season, Oklahoma State finished No. 12 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and placed 14th at the NCAA Championship.

McGraw, 53, began his college coaching career as an assistant at the Stillwater school in 1997. He headed the women’s golf program in 2004-05 before being named men’s coach after Holder stepped down to become the AD.

While McGraw coached the Cowboys to five consecutive Big 12 Conference titles, was a five-time conference coach of the year and guided the Cowboys to an NCAA runner-up finish in 2010, the program has slipped – by OSU standards, at least – in recent years.

In 2012 the Cowboys finished sixth at the Big 12 and most stunning of all, failed to advance to the NCAA finals for the first time in 65 years.

“From day one, I’ve known what the expectations are here,” McGraw said. “For sure, these last few years we didn’t meet those expectations. Mediocrity is not accepted here, and at best that’s what we’ve been recently. The bottom line is we did not do what the people, the fans, the alumni of Oklahoma State expect from their golf program.”

Holder concedes it was a tough but necessary decision.

“This was not an easy decision,” Holder said in a school news release. “I could go on forever about what a good man Mike McGraw is, but at the end of the day, I had to do what I felt was in the best interest of the program.”

McGraw was only the third coach in the storied program’s history. Labron Harris started the program in 1947 and guided it through 1973, winning an NCAA championship and 24 conference crowns. Holder built one of the most respected and longest-running success stories in college golf, amassing 25 conference titles and eight national championships.

“Am I disappointed? For sure," McGraw said. "Am I shocked? No. I knew what we had to do, what was expected. And these last few years, we just didn’t get the job done.”

McGraw expressed no hard feelings toward Holder.

“I respect Mike’s decision on this,” McGraw said. “I have always had and always will have the utmost respect for Mike Holder. He gave me the opportunity to get into college coaching, and I will always be grateful to him for that.”

Rickie Fowler, 24, a two-time, first-team All-American during his two years in Stillwater, was competing in the PGA Tour's Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., when he and other former Cowboys in the event heard the news.

“I respect him (Holder) and what he’s done with the program," Fowler said. "It’s his baby. I’m going to back him and the decisions he makes and what he thinks is best for the program.

Fowler concedes that results in recent seasons are “definitely not up to par for what OSU normally is. They’ve been playing pretty bad, to say the least.”

“I haven’t talked to McGraw,” Fowler said, “but I’m sure I will in a few days. It was definitely a shock. None of us knew about it or anything.”

Morgan Hoffmann, 23, another OSU product who has graduated to the Tour, disagreed with the move, calling it "harsh."

“It’s kind of ridiculous to have one bad year and you get fired," he said. “I think he’s the best coach I’ve ever seen in college. I was extremely surprised and very upset. He’s great for the program, a really good recruiter, and very organized. Whoever picks up Coach McGraw is going to have one of the best programs, I think.”

Casey Wittenberg called McGraw "a phenomenal coach" and "a dear friend."

“I was disappointed to hear that he was let go," said Wittenberg, 28, the 2012 Web.com Tour player of the year. "Coaching in all aspects of collegiate sports is tough, and I know it’s a tough decision for Mike Holder and those who were involved.”

Regarding McGraw's replacement, Holder said in an email to Golfweek there was “nothing to report."

Many who follow the college game closely think OSU women’s coach Alan Bratton is the likely choice. Bratton was a four-time All-American at OSU and helped lead the Cowboys to the NCAA title in 1995. He became the Cowgirls’ head coach in 2011-12. He had spent seven years as associate head coach for the OSU’s men’s and women’s programs.

A message left with Bratton was not immediately returned.

“I would like to definitely see him considered," Fowler said. "Around the program, he’s a good friend, and I still keep in touch with him quite a bit.”

Golfweek senior writer Jim McCabe contributed to this report.

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