SAN DIEGO — Travis Ford glanced up at the scoreboard as the final seconds ticked off it Friday afternoon, puffing his cheeks slightly and raising his eyebrows a bit.
A look of exasperation.
Those are common among Oklahoma State types right now. Losing to Gonzaga on Friday ended OSU’s season, Ford’s sixth in Stillwater, and during that stretch, the Cowboys have been to the NCAA Tournament four times but have won just one game. Failing to win even one tournament game in a season that started with so much promise will reignite a big question.
Is the program heading in the right direction?
OSU athletic director Mike Holder must decide whether it’s time to make a coaching change in the coming days. This season could definitely be used as Exhibit 1 against Ford, but ironically, it could also be used in the argument for him.
Yes, this season fell well short of the Big 12 title and Final Four run that was predicted. It was erratic. It was disappointing. It was frustrating. But like it or not, Travis Ford haters, it was also a triumph for this team to simply make the NCAA Tournament after all the unexpected issues that befell this team.
Michael Cobbins’ injury. Stevie Clark’s problems. Marcus Smart’s suspension.
None of those things were Ford’s fault. Oh, some might say Ford recruited Clark or enabled Smart, so those are on him, too. But really, at the start of the season, who would’ve thought Clark would be arrested on a complaint of “outraging public decency” and Smart would shove a fan at Texas Tech? No one saw those things coming. Can’t really pin those on Ford.
Any one of those three issues with Cobbins, Clark and Smart could’ve crippled the Cowboys. Could’ve left the season in the tank. Could’ve kept OSU out of the NCAA Tournament.
“A lot of my mentors and people who I trust in this business kind of said that,” Ford said as he stood against a whitewashed cinderblock wall down the hall from the Cowboy locker room Friday afternoon. “What we went through is not easy. Some teams never recover from it. Ever.”
When the Cowboys went to Texas the game after Smart was suspended and got drilled by the Longhorns, you could see a season on the brink. But after that night, OSU was never blown out again. It was in every game it played the rest of the season, putting together that four-game spurt after Smart’s return and muscling its way into the NCAA Tournament.