OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder subscribes to the theory that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
Even if it means your All-America wide receiver is no longer eligible.
The school put Dez Bryant on the sidelines this week for lying to the NCAA, just the latest in a series of hardships that have hit the team since its return to national prominence. As the 15th-ranked Cowboys (3-1) have been selling more season tickets than ever and christening a stadium that's received a $286 million overhaul, the good times have been marked by injuries and discipline issues -- and now a run-in with the NCAA.
"Maybe we're getting stronger through all this," Holder said Friday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Holder said he stands behind Mike Gundy as the program navigates through some choppy waters, complimenting the fifth-year coach on being compassionate but tough.
"I think this will be a good test for our coaches. Mike Gundy, he's going to learn a lot from this adversity," Holder said. "It'll make him a better person and a better coach. ... I think he's been a real stabilizing force for the team."
Oklahoma State ruled Bryant ineligible Wednesday because he "failed to openly disclose to the NCAA the full details of his interaction with a former NFL player" believed to be Deion Sanders, now retired. Sanders told The New York Times he met with Bryant over the summer at a Texas athletics center and had him over to his house for dinner
In addition to Bryant's apparent NCAA rules violation, here's a sampling of what Gundy has had to deal with in recent months:
- He kicked Damian Davis and Jeremy Broadway off the team for breaking team rules, and suspended fellow receiver Bo Bowling indefinitely while he faces charges of possessing marijuana and anabolic steroids;
- Tight end Jamal Mosley, a projected starter, left the team just before the season opener amid a police investigation that hasn't yielded any charges;
- Kendall Hunter, the Big 12's leading rusher last season, has missed the Cowboys last two games with a sprained right ankle and linebacker Orie Lemon, defensive end Jermiah Price and cornerback Perrish Cox were among other starters sidelined with injuries;
- He suspended backup safeties Victor Johnson and Johnny Thomas each for one game for breaking team rules.
"I think it's inevitable when you recruit as many athletes as you do in football that not every athlete to get here is going to be successful or happy or do well in school or be a good citizen," Holder said. "You'd like to think they will and you do the best job you can in evaluating all that when you're recruiting them, in addition to their athletic ability. ... How you deal with it determines how successful you're going to be in the long run."
Holder pointed out that T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire booster who funded most of the stadium renovation, had distanced himself from the program during a rocky period when OSU's football team was found guilty of three major NCAA rules violations in an 11-year period.
"If you want to lose your best supporter, just don't follow the rules," Holder said.
Holder, who guided Oklahoma State's golf team to eight national championships before being named athletic director, said his background is in a sport where players call rules violations on themselves. He wants OSU "to stand for something more important than wins and losses."
"There's just certain principles that you cannot compromise. It's very important for us to go by the NCAA rules," Holder said.
Bryant is scheduled for a follow-up interview with the NCAA on Tuesday in Indianapolis as he seeks reinstatement.
"We've been through so much, and the core guys on the team stayed focused and we have a big goal in mind that none of this has really has affected us," linebacker Andre Sexton said prior to the Bryant announcement. "We have so many mature guys and so much senior leadership that those things you kind of just brush under the rug."
Holder and Sexton both suggested problems get noticed when a team is highly ranked. Holder welcomed the added scrutiny. Not so long ago, he said, only die-hard Oklahoma State fans would have cared about what's going on with the program.
"I look at what's happened and I see a whole lot more good than bad," Holder said. "It's inevitable that you're going to hit a bump in the road."