We sat in Travis Ford’s office this week, a group of eight or so reporters, and talked to the beleaguered OSU basketball coach. Ford didn’t sound like a guy wanting to get out of Stillwater or resigned to the fact that he’s on the chopping block. I wrote about Ford’s contract for the Sunday Oklahoman, and athletic director Mike Holder had some pointed comments about the contract. You can read that column here.
Ford talked optimistically about OSU’s hoops future. Says he’s excited about the prospects for the 2014-15 team, which will be better inside (provided Le’Bryan Nash returns) and have better outside shooting. Of course, the Cowboys overall won’t be as talented; lose NBA-level talents in Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, and there’s going to be a drop off of some kind.
Can OSU get back to the NCAA Tournament? I don’t know. That will be tough. But can OSU be at least as successful in the Big 12 as it was in 2013-14? Absolutely. The Cowboys went 8-10 and finished eighth this season. It’s not easy to go 9-9 in the league, but it’s relatively easy to finish at least seventh.
So we’ll see what awaits Ford, who has five years left on a contract that guarantees him $2.25 million next season and $2.4 million each of the next four years.
This we know. The heat is on Ford. And Ford knows the heat is on.
“I’ve been around sports my whole entire life,” Ford said. “I get it. It’s not like I don’t get it.”
Ford channeled his inner Bob Stoops and recited some of the program’s accomplishments in the face of criticism. OSU has been to four NCAA Tournaments in Ford’s six years, after not going at all in the three seasons before Ford.
“We always want to do more,” Ford said. “You want to win games. You want to go further in the NCAA Tournament. There is no doubt about that. There is no question. And that’s what makes fans great. You want passionate fans.
“With that said, our kids are working hard every single day. They played hard every single game. They fought through a lot of adversity this year to do some good things. We won 21 games after going through a tough stretch. We’ve gone to the NCAA Tournament four out of six years. Those are good things. We’ve won a lot of big games. There are some things that are very positive.
“Do we want more? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s the goal. I promise you, I live and breathe it and eat and sleep it. That’s my plan. That’s what I’m focused on. You always need a couple breaks here and there, I don’t care who you are or where it’s at. Nothing’s guaranteed in this game, I don’t care how much talent you’ve got. You always have the human element.
“We’ve done a lot of good things here. Do we want more? Absolutely. I understand the negative is going to be brought up more. Do we want to win? Absolutely. I get that end of it. I get it.”
The contract protection Ford has will remain after next season. This time next year, Ford still will be guaranteed $11.2 million over four years, which would remain a barrier for the school to make a change, even if it desired.
But firing Ford would not solve whatever problems are perceived by OSU administration. Fan attendance? That’s a problem nationwide, good times and bad. A new coach might ignite a temporary spike in fan attendance but wouldn’t guarantee that to be sustained through even one year. On-court success? As Ford pointed out, the Cowboys have made four NCAA trips in six years. Can a new coach make the NCAAs automatic every year, as in days of old? Maybe, maybe not. No guarantees.
If Bill Self was ready to return to his alma mater, then OK, maybe you make a change. But to run off Ford only to roll the dice with someone else? Doesn’t seem to be a good financial decision, with no assurance that the basketball will improve.
Better to let that contract slowly run out and survey the landscape later.