No basketball coach in NCAA history has more wins in their first three seasons than Brad Underwood, the new coach at Oklahoma State.
Underwood’s career win percentage is a sizzling 86 percent, which is tied with Adolph Rupp of Kentucky for the fourth best three-year start in NCAA history.
Underwood replaces Travis Ford and will try to bring the success he enjoyed during the last three year at Stephen F. Austin University to OSU.
Underwood is a 1986 graduate of Kansas State, where he played for former Oklahoma A&M football and basketball standout Jack Hartman. Hartman learned his craft under legendary Cowboy Coach Henry Iba.
Underwood was a member of Hartman’s final teams at K-State, and helped Hartman become the winningest coach in Wildcat history.
“Coach Iba stood for everything and his tree was so wide,” Underwood said. “He stood for discipline, he stood for everything that was about winning and Coach Hartman taught us all of those things. Then as a younger coach, watching Coach Sutton’s team and how hard they guarded and how disciplined; the tenacity they played with. Watching them in practice, that was always a treat unto itself.”
In 2014, Underwood’s team upset VCU in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
This year, the Lumberjacks defeated No. 3 seeded West Virginia in the first round and came within two seconds of beating Notre Dame in the second round.
With his most recent NCAA run, Underwood improved his career record to 89-14, tied with Brad Stevens (Butler, 2008-10) for the most wins by a head coach in his first three seasons at an NCAA school.
“In 2006, I’m with Bob Huggins at Kansas State and a coach on our staff was Frank Martin,” Underwood said. “I can remember telling Frank Martin, ‘wait until you go to Gallagher-Iba. You’ve never seen anything like it. It’s one of the loudest and most intimidating places.’ Sitting over on that visiting bench, it was unbelievable. He left saying, ‘Wow’, and when you got Frank to say wow, it was pretty impressive.”
Underwood got a flurry of calls about job openings after the Notre Dame game but he knew he wanted to go to OSU.
” I didn’t field any other calls or have interest in anything else,” Underwood said. “I knew this was where I wanted to be. My wife confirmed that yesterday after being here for only 12 hours. We’re driving around and she looks over and says, ‘This feels like home.’”
Underwood is the first coach to ever win three straight Southland Conference Coach of the Year awards.
Underwood led SFA to the two longest winning streaks in league history. He and the Lumberjacks won 29 straight games in 2013-14, and his team rode a 21-game win streak into the NCAA Tournament second-round showdown against Notre Dame.
“We’re coming here to win,” Underwood said. “I told the players yesterday in a team meeting, losing is not an option. We’re going to work. I have no greater appreciation for the fans who have to get in their vehicles on a Wednesday night and drive to come support us and the work that these guys have put in.
“The one thing I can promise you is that we’re going to play for the name on the front of the uniform. I can promise you this: You’re not going to find a group of guys who are going to take that court every single day and work any harder. We’re going to guard, we’re going to rebound and we’re going to make life tough as (expletive) for everyone we play.”
Underwood’s SFA teams were known for their defense, but also for their assist-oriented offenses. This season, the Lumberjacks led the nation in scoring margin (plus 16.9), turnover margin (plus 6.5) and turnovers forced (plus 18.6), and also ranked second in assists per game (18.7) and seventh in steals per game (9.1).
Under his guidance, SFA produced eight All-Southland Conference selections, as well as three conference MVPs. Thomas Walkup won each of the last two SLC Player of the Year awards, and helped the Lumberjacks finish the 2015-16 season with a 28-6 mark.
“This is not about me, this is not about the athletes, this is about filling this arena because of the tradition and the culture,” Underwood in his first press conference. “Those are the two hardest things there is to find. It takes years and years to develop tradition; and the Ibas and the Suttons – that’s as big as it gets.
“We’ve got to have the students. The rowdiest arena in America, we have to get back to that.
“We have to make this miserable for opponents, and we’ll do that. I look forward to traveling this state, traveling into Texas and meeting all of you because ultimately life is about relationships.”
OSU Athletic Director said Underwood was on the top of his list of possible replacements.
“I had a good plan in place, but Mike Tyson said ‘You know everybody has got a plan until you get hit in the mouth,’” Holder said. “I promise you, it’s competitive out there for hiring coaches, either football or basketball.
“You don’t sit back and interview on campus to entertain people. You might do that in the corporate world. You might do that in some of our sports, but that’s not going to work in football and basketball. I knew exactly who we wanted at the top of our list, but I was afraid someone might beat us to the starting point.”
Holder called Robert Hill at SFA and told him he was interested in Underwood and agreed to not contact him until they lost in the tournament.