Oklahoma State AD Reveals Misgivings About Extending Travis FordPosted by Brian Goodman on April 1st, 2014
With a dearth of live games this week, the biggest stories around college basketball from the teams not prepping for a trip to Dallas this weekend have involved the annual rite of spring known as the coaching carousel. “One Shining Moment” won’t air for another six nights, but we’ve already seen switches at the top of several programs including Auburn, Virginia Tech, South Florida, Washington State and a handful of mid-majors, while leadership at other programs like Boston College, Wake Forest and California are in the midst of finding their next coaches. Meanwhile, in Stillwater, Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder has resigned himself to the fact that he’s bound to his current head coach Travis Ford because of an extension agreed to in 2009. Things have gone about as poorly as could be since then, and in an article by Berry Tramel posted Saturday for The Oklahoman, Holder was surprisingly candid about the struggles and shortcomings that have become all too pervasive for the Cowboys over the last five years.
Oklahoma State fans may want to look away for this next part, even though they’re probably already familiar with what has happened since Holder locked up Ford following the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Despite the intervening gift of two years from Marcus Smart and solid seasons from the complementary core of Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, Oklahoma State has suffered a pair of NCAA Tournament misses followed by three straight losses in the Big Dance. This season in particular brought further indignities: Smart’s suspension for shoving a fan; a season-ending injury to Michael Cobbins; promising freshman Stevie Clark’s run-ins with the law resulting in dismissal. This season, anything that seemingly could have gone wrong went wrong, whether it was due to bad luck or other reasons, but a quick turnaround doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
“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.”
Next season, the Cowboys should be expected to regress with Smart and Brown’s departures, leaving Nash, Cobbins and Forte to pick up the pieces. Bryan Williams and Kamari Murphy will be around as well, and Jared Terrell, Mitch Solomon and Joe Burton highlight a recruiting class that can help move things forward. While all eight are perfectly fine players, the ceiling for that kind of rotation is likely to be a spot in the Big 12′s second tier, and that simply isn’t good enough for a coach owed nearly $12 million in salary over the next five seasons.
The particulars of Ford’s contract, when coupled with the downward trend, raises the topic of a potential buyout, and whenever financial considerations are mentioned in the same breath as Oklahoma State athletics, one name always comes to mind: T. Boone Pickens. But while even casual fans are familiar with the close relationship between the program and the billionaire businessman, history has shown him to be much more adamant about using his massive financial clout to turn Oklahoma State into a football school rather than offering a life raft to the basketball program. That could always change — perhaps once the figures become more manageable — but that time doesn’t appear to be coming soon.
“It might still prove to be not such a bad decision… I’m always optimistic… 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.”
While it was refreshing to hear Holder speak so honestly about a struggling high-profile employee who is still under contract, it doesn’t mean that a change in the direction of the program is imminent. Ever since Eddie Sutton retired in 2006, Cowboys fans have been hungry for both a consistent Big 12 winner and NCAA Tournament success. Even though things are clearly better than they were during the brief Sean Sutton period in the mid-2000s, that isn’t where the bar should be set for a program with such history. Oklahoma State fans just have to hold out hope that Ford can align results with the reasonable expectations drawn from his prowess on the recruiting trail, if for no other reason that the only other choice is to completely abandon ship and start over.