“I thought we had a good young coach,” Holder said of his thinking five years ago.
In March 2009, Ford took his first Cowboy team to the NCAA Tournament, OSU’s first trip to the NCAAs since 2005. The eighth-seeded Cowboys beat Tennessee and then took top-seeded Pittsburgh to the wire before losing 84-76. Ford had taken Sean Sutton’s underachieving players and revived the spark in OSU hoops.
When that season ended, the biggest worry in Stillwater was keeping Ford away from his alma mater. Kentucky was looking for a coach, and Ford appeared to be a prime candidate. On April 1, UK hired John Calipari, but Holder wanted to be proactive. Wanted to make sure the Cowboys kept their man.
“Lock him up for the long-term,” Holder said. He considered Ford a rising star in the profession.
So contract negotiations began, and in September came announcement of the 10-year contract. The deal was stunning in its length.
In January 2012, after having taken OSU football to a 12-1 season, a Big 12 title, a Fiesta Bowl victory and within a whisker of the national championship game, Mike Gundy asked for the same consideration. He wanted a 10-year contract. Hard to blame him. Winning the Fiesta Bowl is no small thing in Stillwater.
But Holder, already realizing Ford’s contract was a mistake, bargained hard. Gundy settled for a seven-year contract and hard feelings.
Holder talks straight. And right now, he’s not talking like a guy who plans to eat that contract any time soon.
“It might still prove to be not such a bad decision,” Holder said. “I’m always optimistic.
“We certainly expected a better season than what we had. There are multiple reasons people are frustrated. I don’t think anyone foresaw it playing out like it did.”
Smart and Brown are gone. The talent level figures to be down in 2014-15, when the Cowboys will not be picked high in the Big 12 and when Ford will make $2.25 million.
“Travis is a highly motivated, dedicated guy,” Holder said. “He wants to win just as bad as anyone.”
That’s the thing to remember. For most coaches, and that certainly includes Ford, the job itself is more important than the contract. The chance to coach at a place like OSU, in a building like Gallagher-Iba, in a league like the Big 12, with players like Phil Forte and Michael Cobbins.
“The position itself is a lot more valuable than the compensation,” Holder said. “What a great opportunity to change people’s lives.
“Everyone wants Travis Ford to succeed. When we look back, my hope is the contract proves to be a good idea that works for everybody.”
But right now, that contract afflicts OSU basketball in many ways.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.