Big-name pickings slim for Oklahoma St

Dan Wetzel

He's the kind of coaching candidate whom T. Boone Pickens would trade a few oil wells for – impeccable résumé, big name and a national championship ring on his finger.

He's at the career crossroads where maybe a change of scenery would do him good. Oklahoma State, with its wealth of facilities, history and, assuredly, contract, might be just enough to draw him in.

There is only one thing that stops the coach dead in his tracks and dismisses the entire idea instantly – the wealth of that one booster, T. Boone Pickens.

"I don't want to be owned by him," the coach said.

This is the conundrum for Oklahoma State. It's got a sports-crazed alumnus in Pickens, who has billions to burn. But rather than just buy a pro team, like his buddy Jerry Jones, he would rather pour it all into his alma mater.

He has donated a reported $290 million to the school, $265 million of which went to athletics. And that's before his money grew through investments. They've named everything from the football stadium to the geology department after Pickens in Stillwater, and he promises he isn't done until OSU is a big winner in sports.

"Whatever it takes," Pickens told HBO's "Real Sports" program last year.

Right now OSU needs a prime-time basketball coach. After Thursday's predictable news that Pickens got used as leverage by Bill Self to wrangle a raise out of Kansas, T. Boone is on the hunt again.

But what's he going to find?

Whoever takes the job likely will become the highest-paid college coach in the country and get to do it at a traditional power that was in the Final Four as recently as 2004.

You wouldn't think the Cowboys will lack for candidates. This is a big-time job, especially because of the money Pickens has showered on the place.

However, for all he has given to make this job attractive, he also may taketh away.

Just as that national title coach said, whoever takes the job is all but owned by an impatient 79-year-old who wants an immediate return on his investment and is more than capable of changing course at the slightest disappointment.

Pickens is the George Steinbrenner of college athletics, capable of overriding whatever remaining rationality there is in the hiring and firing game. While all schools increasingly make rash decisions – somewhat justifiable considering the salaries today's coaches make – they almost always need boosters, the athletic director and perhaps the school president to sign off on it.

At OSU who is crossing Pickens? The school president who has watched Pickens' original donation of $165 turn into $300 million in a fund managed by no less than Pickens? The athletic director, Mike Holder, who just happens to be an old quail hunting buddy of you know who? How about the other boosters who would have to get into a money burning contest with Pickens just as oil soars past $110 per barrel?

This is T. Boone Pickens University right now and everyone knows it, including every prospective coach.

They just watched Oklahoma State broom Sean Sutton in two short years (and it was touch and go that he made it all the way through this season). Sutton is only a former player and alumnus, who served as the right-hand man for his father, Eddie, another alum, to resurrect the program after decades of futility.

No one thought Sutton was setting the world on fire, but if he didn't deserve an extra day of loyalty, what's an outsider getting?

This wouldn't be a concern if Pickens wanted to hire a young up-and-comer and hope to ride him to the top. That kind of coach would jump at the chance to take over Henry Iba's old place.

But Pickens has said that at his age and with his investment, he wants to win yesterday. Even the best upstarts take years to get over the hump and build a champion.

Pickens' flirtations with Self shows he is willing to spend for more than dormitories and luxury boxes. He wants the best of the best, and he wants it now.

"At my age, I don't buy small trees, Pickens told HBO. "I buy big trees.

But those guys already have good jobs and big bank accounts. Are they willing to take a little more to be under the thumb of a man capable of buying them out after a bad loss?

If Davidson's Jason Richards doesn't miss a three-pointer in the Elite Eight two weeks ago, Bill Self was facing unrest, not a raise, in Lawrence. KU had a sensible, stable athletic director to protect from knee-jerk reactions. There may be no such buffer in Stillwater.

"Florida was in the NIT this year," said one prominent coach. "Kentucky struggled this year. Arizona. No one can sustain things. Where (is) he at when that happens?"

The only thing comparable to working for Pickens is to head to the NBA, where the money is big and the trigger finger quick.

But college coaches can go to the NBA, fail miserably and return to get an even better college job. It wouldn't work the same way here. You go to Oklahoma State and it doesn't work out, you're tracking down.

So as Oklahoma State searches for a coach to take over its historic basketball program, it deals with a most unusual of situations. The best candidates in the land are willing to give the job a thought, mostly because of T. Boone Pickens.

But when that thought turns to working for T. Boone Pickens, does it scare them away?