STILLWATER, Okla. — Kurt Budke believed in Oklahoma State when no one else did, and he wasn’t afraid to show it.
Less than two years after his Cowgirls failed to win any of their 16 conference games, Budke led them up against powerhouse Oklahoma and Courtney Paris. He supported his upstart team with quite the fashion statement: the brightest orange blazer he could find.
Behind a 5-point game from Andrea Riley, the Cowgirls upset the sixth-ranked Sooners for the first time in nine years.
Wherever Budke went, he won.
The charismatic coach who turned the Cowgirls into an NCAA Tournament regular was killed along with assistant coach Miranda Serna and two other people in a plane crash in Arkansas late Thursday. The two coaches, who first united as player and coach 16 years ago, were a recruiting trip.
Budke frequently offered his players encouragement from the sidelines, but he also could be firm, raising his deep voice.
“Coach Budke was a ball coach. What he did to turn this program around was unbelievable but that’s not important right now,” said Jim Littell, Budke’s assistant who will replace him on an interim basis.
“What’s important is he was a father figure for these kids. He had a tremendous knack of taking kids that maybe were struggling in some part of their life and making it better for them. That was his strongest trait.”
Serna, 36, was one of his top helpers along the way. She spent the past seven seasons as Budke’s assistant.
The crash is the second major tragedy for the sports program in about a decade. In January 2001, 10 men affiliated with the university’s men’s basketball team died in a Colorado plane crash.
“I’m so sick and sad,” said Carlene Mitchell, one of Budke’s former players from Trinity Valley who’s now the coach at UC Santa Barbara. “… You want to say that Oklahoma State is cursed with those two tragedies.”