Is Bill Self Right For OSU?

The Bill Self Watch has officially begun. Now that Self has led the Kansas Jayhawks to their third national title in school history with Monday night's thrilling overtime victory over Memphis, we'll find out in the next few days how serious Mike Holder is in attempting to get the former Cowboy back to Oklahoma State.

There are many Oklahoma State fans who know Bill Self personally (from either attending OSU with him in the early 1980s, growing up with him in Edmond, Okla., or through his previous head coaching opportunities at Oral Roberts and Tulsa), and could share their insights on the type of person he is much better than I am able to do.

As the search for Sean Sutton's replacement enters the critical stage, and negotiations with Self and his lawyers begin, I thought I'd share a few of my personal dealings with the Jayhawk head coach.

I first met Self when he was an assistant coach to Leonard Hamilton at Oklahoma State in the late 1980s. I was the Oklahoma State beat writer for The Tulsa Tribune, and covered the Cowboy football and basketball teams during the 1987, 1988 and 1989 seasons.

I had previously covered high school basketball for The Tribune, and had many opportunities to interview Tulsa Edison High School basketball coach John Phillips, who eventually was hired by Hamilton as a Cowboy assistant coach. It was through my friendship with Phillips that I became acquainted with Self.

But I was hired to do a job, and that meant covering the Cowboys – both the good (watching Barry Sanders win the Heisman Trophy) and bad. That meant having to write the story when Hamilton decided to kick standout Richard Dumas off the team, after giving him numerous chances after breaking team rules. The story about Dumas being removed from the OSU team came out the next afternoon (The Tribune was an afternoon newspaper), and I soon received a telephone call from Phillips, who was angry with the story. He let me know in no uncertain terms that he wasn't happy with what I had written (and, now looking back on it nearly 20 years later, I probably deserved the tongue-lashing that Phillips gave me). The phone call from Phillips lasted just a few minutes before he slammed the phone down on me while I was attempting to give my point of view (again, probably deserved).

About five minutes later, the telephone again rang in The Tribune's sports department. I looked around to see if anyone else was around to answer it but there wasn't. I debated even answering the telephone, wondering if it was Phillips calling back to add just a few more (unprintable) thoughts to what he'd already shared with me.

I don't know why I did it but I decided to answer the telephone. On the other end of the line was Bill Self. My immediate thought was, "Oh no! Now Self's calling to get in his two cents worth." But I was wrong. Self had heard the conversation between Phillips and myself, and was calling to tell me not to worry about it. He told me that the OSU coaching staff knew that I had a job to do, and was just trying to do what my sports editor expected. Self told me that he would talk to Phillips and everything would be OK (and it eventually was).

Bill Self probably doesn't remember that three-minute telephone conversation, but I do. Why? Because Self didn't have to make that phone call. He didn't have to make sure the situation was resolved, and the next time I saw and spoke with Phillips it wouldn't be quite as awkward.

Self, who was 27 at the time, made quite an impression on me that day. I had no idea that he would lead the KU Jayhawks to a national title nearly 20 years later... but I did realize that he would be a successful coach one day because of his people skills.

But that's not the only story I want to share about Self. I had probably seen and spoken to Self maybe three or four times from the end of the 1989-90 basketball season until about three years ago. I was working on a story for Go Pokes Magazine about former Cowboy standout Byron Houston, and how he was trying to get his life on track after numerous setbacks. Several of Houston's former coaches, including Self, and teammates reached out to provide financial assistance to Houston, his wife and children as he re-enrolled at OSU in an attempt to earn his college degree.

When I attempted to contact Self through the Kansas sports information office in early February of 2005 to visit with him about Houston, I was assured that the message would be relayed to Self but with it being the middle of the basketball season there was no guarantee he would have time to visit with me. I understood completely that a story about a former OSU player probably wasn't one of his priorities in the middle of the Big 12 Conference schedule.

Guess what? Self called me within 24 hours, and acted like he was my long lost brother when I answered the telephone. We talked for about 15 to 20 minutes, about Houston, his second season as head coach at Kansas, John Phillips, and several other topics. Self made me believe that I was the most important telephone call he had to make that day, even though I knew it wasn't true (because the Jayhawks were preparing to face in-state rival Kansas State the next day).

That brings us back to the question that is asked in the headline of this story: Is Bill Self right for OSU? Only if Mike Holder wants the best college coach in the nation. But as good as Self is as a basketball coach, he's even a better person.

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