And the fit, the ideal fit, always pointed to
"Before he ever came up here, he knew he wanted the job," Holder said. "Before I ever sat down with him, I knew I wanted to hire him.
"It just seemed so obvious, looking back. It was a no-brainer. I can't believe how lucky we were."
The Underwood era of
Midwesterner. Iba roots. Dedication to defense. Comfortable in the community.
In other words, a fit.
Underwood is Kansas born and bred, a product of
"A very friendly community," he said. "A lot of hard-working people that went about their business. It's one of those places when you're 17- or 18-years old, you're ready to get out. Then you get away and realize, 'Hey, this is a pretty good place.'
"And you know how fortunate you were to grow up in
Underwood grew up amid love and support from his parents, along with a decent amount of discipline. He played all the sports he could, and upon orders from his dad was working by the age of 14, busing tables and washing dishes and mowing lawns on the side.
"It was really healthy," Underwood said. "When I fell in love with basketball, that kind of took the place of a job. And I worked at it every day. I was very fortunate, because my father was in the insurance business and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. Yet they were at every event.
"I had a really, really supportive, yet disciplined house. I think back, pretty fortunate to have that type of upbringing."
The work ethic came in handy at
His roots stayed with him, too, as he made coaching stops in
"Growing up in the Midwest, there's no question it taught me my work ethic and the importance of work," Underwood said. "I think when you get out of the Midwest, you understand the different cultures.
"You take for granted helping a neighbor, like on Saturday morning bailing hay, because someone's son is sick. So you jump in and go do it. And you don't even think about it. Because that's our way.
"Being brought up that way was special. It's impacted me throughout my life. I truly enjoy people. I enjoy relationships. I enjoy a wave or a flick of the finger when you're driving down the road when someone says hello."
Despite the work ethic, getting here, to his first major college head coaching job, wasn't easy.
Between gigs running junior college programs at
There were six seasons back at his alma mater,
Finally, at age of 48 and 25 years after getting started in the profession, Underwood landed a head coaching job at a Division I program --
"He just needed a break," said West Virginia coach
Underwood maximized his break, too, inheriting a good team at the little school in
He was there for three years, winning the league during the regular season and tournament titles all three seasons, taking conference Coach of the Year honors all three seasons and advancing to the
And the Lumberjacks didn't just fill an
In his first season, Stephen F. upset VCU. Last March, the Lumberjacks knocked off West Virginia and Huggins, then had Notre Dame down in the final seconds, with a Sweet 16 spot at stake, before a late tip-in lifted the Irish to victory.
Underwood's magic? Nothing tricky at all, just that old work ethic molded back in
"He does a great job of preaching toughness and brotherhood," said
And those are things Underwood continues to stress and preach at
"He loves to win," said
"And also hard work. No days off. He always says he wants everyday guys. And he's an everyday guy."
Holder worked through his list of coaching candidates last March, seeking a man with three major assets. Character. Coaching style.
The first two were obvious, but the third, the fit, that was the kicker.
That comfort in the program and around campus and in the community. A willingness to chat with folks at the gas pump or in line for a bagel. Underwood does it all, and does it well, genuinely, like all the former Cowboys who have succeeded so well in coaching
Underwood may not be an alum, yet he has the look and feel, along with a long-term appreciation for the program and its history, instilled by his coach, former Cowboy
And now that he's here,
On a drive around town the day after he accepted the job, Underwood's wife, Susan, turned to him in the car and confirmed the decision.
"This feels like home," she told him.
Feels like ...
"This fits who I am, who my wife is," Underwood said. "I grew up in a town of 13,000 people, and I'm comfortable and it's friendly. I love to go to the coffee shop and say hello. That's who I am. I don't need a lot of extra stuff; the occasional golf course every now and then, but it fit me. That's what excites me.
"And when you throw in all of the history, pageantry and tradition, this was meant for me."
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