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Mike Boynton: The man behind the head coach group chat

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Boynton observing

Mike Boynton observes during Oklahoma State's game against Texas Tech in Gallagher-Iba Arena on Feb. 22, 2021. Photo courtesy: Courtney Bay/OSU Athletics

There is only one person who thinks Mike Boynton lacks clarity when communicating.

“One of the things that I like to do is I like to be clear in communication, and my wife says sometimes I don’t communicate well enough for her,” Boynton said. “She’s the only one who shares that opinion, somehow, because most people think I over communicate.”

Boynton, the Oklahoma State men’s basketball coach, signed a seven-year $21 million contract extension on Monday afternoon. Just a few short months ago, after OSU lost three of its first four Big 12 basketball games, many wondered if maybe Boynton wasn’t the answer the Cowboys were looking for. After the Cowboys strong close to the season, where they earned a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament, people turned their energy to wondering when Boynton would get a long-term extension.

OSU signed more than simply a basketball coach; Boynton is the leader of the tight-knight group of OSU head coaches. Boynton, the master-communicator, started to lead and bring the coaches together through a simple method, a group text.

Over the summer, when the COVID-19 pandemic clouded what the future of college athletics would look like, Boynton sent out a group text that included every single OSU head coach.

“There was a lot of stuff going on this summer, and the truth is we needed each other,” Boynton said. “One of the things I wanted to do was let those (coaches) know I would be there to support them and their teams however I could.”

Other coaches agreed.

“We were all going through something really similar and not really sure what the future was going to look like in the summer of last year, so we spent some time kind of talking through it,” said OSU women’s tennis coach Chris Young.

The group text isn’t flashy. It doesn’t have a name or even a profile icon and there are rarely GIFs or videos shared, aside from when Young decides to spice things up a bit. It is simply meant to bring the OSU head coaches together and provide support in athletics and in life.

Most often, the messages in the chat will be congratulating a coach for his team’s win, or an encouraging message after a loss.

“I think a lot of us are social media inept in some things, but we can text,” said OSU women’s basketball coach Jim Littell. “We just text and congratulate each other, ‘Hey Kenny G congrats on the 13-1 start, coach Holliday congrats on 6-0 and a sweep of Illinois State.’”

The coaches are also equally as encouraging about things that don’t have a score attached to them. OSU men’s tennis coach Jay Udwadia recently took a leave of absence to attend to a situation in his family life.

“It’s been good for everyone to support (Udwadia) as he’s dealing with this family issue right now, so I think we kind of left him there and allowed him to have that support. I know everybody reached out to him through the group but also individually,” Young said.

There aren’t any assistant coaches included in the chat.

“That’s something they can aspire to do, to join the chat. It’s not exclusive in a negative way but it's exclusive because maybe people feel comfortable sharing certain things within a small group, and you build trust that way,” Young said.

Just as Boynton initiated the text, he again was the one to take the first step, this time inviting all the head coaches to his home for an informal meeting. Socially distanced on the back porch, they shared some food and talked for hours. They discussed budget cuts and salary reductions while also picking one another’s brain.

“One of the reasons I felt more convicted (recruiting Cade Cunningham) was after sitting and listening to (OSU golf coach) Alan Bratton talk about the recruiting class he had three years ago that included (Matthew Wolff),” Boynton said. “That gave me more motivation and confidence that if I kept doing the work, we had a lot that would be able to convince this kid (to attend OSU).”

Aside from learning things other coaches did well, the group bonded. Normally, head coaches are some of the busiest people on campus, but the pandemic forced them to slow down, and invest in one another’s lives.

Coaches are naturally competitive, and at times, it becomes a contest to see who will invest most heavily in each other’s programs.

“Some of these guys, they’re quick in (the chat), especially if they’re at the game,” Young said. “When (OSU hit a home run trailing) 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, I think the ball was still in flight when coach Littell started texting that we had tied the game up.”

The competitive nature coaches have when it comes to congratulating others on their success also manifests itself in knowing other coaches are paying attention.

“You kind of want to win to make sure you’re getting a little bit of praise instead of if you’re the team that’s losing all the time, you don’t want to be that guy either,” said OSU soccer coach Collin Carmichael.

As with any active group chat, it can often be a chore to scroll back through a missed conversation. It is even more time consuming to purposely invest in the people behind the phone icons.

Last summer, Boynton committed to pouring into the lives of others with the group chat and informal meetings that have continued beyond the initial months of the pandemic.

“I think (Boynton) goes out of his way to support each sport because I think that matters to him. I think that’s something he feels, can be a strong statement because our basketball team is visible. It’s very real…it’s something that goes on every day,” said OSU baseball coach Josh Holliday.

It is not a one-way street. Each head coach has benefited from the tightening of their relationships.

“I’m just thankful to coach (Mike) Holder for assembling such a good staff of coaches here and that the coaches are all really good people,” Boynton said. “We do get along well; we do support each other and I’m thankful to be a part of it. Those guys have helped me much more than I could ever help them.”

The Cowboy basketball team got its guy. Boynton, one of the hottest young names on the coaching carousel, is a Cowboy for the foreseeable future. But more importantly, Oklahoma State Athletics got its guy, a guy willing to invest in the lives of his peers for the betterment of everyone involved.

“We’re blessed to have a rising star as our leader and his team will make games in Gallagher-Iba Arena can’t-miss events. Get your tickets, this will be a lot of fun,” OSU athletic director Mike Holder said.