Why OSU shouldn’t fire Mike Boynton despite the Cowboys’ struggles

Why OSU shouldn’t fire Mike Boynton despite the Cowboys’ struggles

Retaining Mike Boynton might not be a good basketball decision but is a good business one for OSU.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Jan 16, 2024, 12:30pm CST

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Jan 16, 2024, 12:30pm CST

Mike Boynton didn’t mince words after his team scored only 16 second-half points and suffered a 24-point loss at Iowa State.

“We played sh—y,” the Oklahoma State men’s basketball coach said, “and when that happens in this league, not a whole lot you can expect in terms of having an opportunity to win.”

He’s not wrong.

Only problem is, the Cowboys are playing, shall we say, poorly more often than not this season. There have been good outings, even in losses — the Big 12 opener against Baylor comes to mind — but the clunkers are way more numerous and the trend doesn’t seem to be getting better.

It seems to be getting worse.

The same could be said for the program, which has appeared in only one NCAA Tournament in six seasons and is four games over .500 over the past two-and-half seasons combined.

With OSU currently sitting at the bottom of the Big 12 standings, the only winless team in conference play, and the toughest part of the schedule still to come, starting Tuesday night with Kansas, things may soon be much, much worse.

All of which begs the question: why is Boynton still the coach at OSU?

Before we go further, let me assure you that unless a coach has done something egregious — illegal, immoral or unethical — I’m not one to call for coaches to be fired. 

And I’m not going to call for it here.

But it’s not because of how Boynton is coaching and the Cowboys are playing. Those two things are abysmal, bad enough for OSU athletic director Chad Weiberg to find plenty of reasons to let go of Boynton.

Weiberg shouldn’t do that, though, and it’s not because of how good a guy Boynton seems. Mind you, he seems as top-shelf as any major college coach I’ve been around. He is personable, sharp and caring. Over his six-plus seasons at OSU, his players have regularly talked about how much trust they have in him.

Additionally, he is a connector and an encourager. Talk to other head coaches at OSU, and they’ll tell you how great Boynton has been to them, their teams and the university. He isn’t territorial. He pulls for everyone.

But his program is stuck in neutral.

Some might say it’s going backward. I’m not ready to go that far, but it’s a long way from where it was even three seasons ago. The Cowboys went 21-9, advancing to the Big 12 Tournament title game and playing in the NCAA Tournament. They even won a first-round game, something they hadn’t done since 2015.

But even in the NCAA Tournament, there were questions about OSU’s coaching. 

In a second-round loss to Oregon State, Cade Cunningham brought OSU back from being run out of the gym to being within one possession with less than four minutes remaining. He had caught fire. He had given the Cowboys a chance. But over the next two minutes, the eventual No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft didn’t get a single shot.

Worse, he didn’t even touch the ball during that stretch.

By the time Cunningham got it again, momentum was gone. You could blame teammates or unselfishness or whatever, but in a situation like that, Boynton needed to tell everyone that Cunningham needed the ball.

Still, Boynton got a contract extension after that season and is under contract through the 2027-28 season, making $2.5 million annually.

His current buyout: 75% of the remainder of his contract, roughly $8 million.

That buyout percentage drops to 66.67% on April 1, and the buyout will drop to $6.67 million.

Even then, that is a lot of money for OSU. 

I’m not suggesting OSU couldn’t pay the buyout. It absolutely could. 

But I don’t think it should.

OSU athletics had revenues of just over $104 million when USA Today last produced its list of major college finances. That ranked 46th nationally, well behind the likes of Ohio State, Texas, Alabama, Michigan and Georgia, which all had revenues north of $200 million.

Of course, OSU has to compete with lots of schools that rank ahead of them, and in the all-important sport of football, the Cowboys have acquitted themselves quite well. They have outperformed their revenue ranking. They have punched above their weight. 

But now comes another front on which the Cowboys have to compete: name, image and likeness. Spending money on a Boynton buyout means less money in the NIL coffers. Boosters have a finite amount of money, and if they’re asked to give more to help offset the buyout, they’re less likely to give to NIL efforts.

Think of what $8 million in NIL funds could do for OSU. 

Or $6.67 million.

Listen, the willingness to fund a buyout would be higher if we were talking about a struggling football coach. Some of you would argue that Mike Gundy has been struggling for years, but on the totality of his tenure, you’d be wrong. But when it comes to men’s basketball at OSU, success isn’t anywhere close as important as it is in football.

I know that hurts many Henry-Iba and Eddie-Sutton loving hearts, but this is 2024, not 1944 or 1994.

Times have changed.

Frankly, football being king in Stillwater has made OSU much more stable during the recent upheaval of conference realignment. If basketball still ruled, there would’ve been a lot of sleepless nights in recent years.

I’m not saying basketball doesn’t matter at OSU. It just doesn’t matter nearly as much as football.

Keeping Mike Boynton is a business decision, not a basketball one.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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