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Travis Ford’s Problem



Photo Attribution: @eknielsen

Sam Bryant over at CRFF wrote today about how Travis Ford is recruiting backwards but not able to move forward once he gets his guys. It was a really thoughtful post and one I thoroughly agreed with.

I wanted to add something though, it’s something that’s been bugging me all year, and I think it’s the bigger issue that his recruiting-developing juxtaposition shines a light on.

And to be clear, if Sam is gathering the firewood in Travis Ford’s camp then I’m heating up the baked beans and putting coat hangers through the weenies and marshmallows. I’m firmly in it, always have been, and probably will be for quite a while.

It gets pretty tiring to get on Twitter during games and see these instant reactions from people over a bad game or a short losing streak. And yes, I know, it’s been building up and your vitriol is the spillover from three years of regression. But the way everyone reacts you’d think they want Holder to walk across the court at Gallagher-Iba during a live game and hand Ford his pink slip. Heck, maybe they do.

Anyway Travis Ford’s problem, and this comes from me having watched mostly every game for the last decade, is that he doesn’t have a plan.

I don’t expect coaches to go to the tournament in their first year on the job at a fledgling program (though he did). I don’t really expect them to go to the tournament at all in their first two to three years (though he did twice).

I do however expect to have some concept of what that coach is building towards. And right now I have no freaking clue what Travis Ford is building or what he’s building towards. Worse than that, I don’t know if he even knows.

When Ford was at UMass (from 2005-2008) two things were true: he had a much smaller contract ($200,000 a year) and his teams had an identity. In 2008 Ford’s UMass team led the nation in possessions per game and was 5th in points per possession. Whatever else may or may not have been true about that squad, you could bank on the fact that that squad was going to get the ball and run and score. That’s who they were.

Now I couldn’t really care less what the identity of a given team is. They can lead the country in shooting, play twenty-five 38-37 games, or roll five 8-footers out there and lead the planet in blocked shots every year. But they need something to hang their collective hats on and it’s felt like Ford has been grasping at straws since he got here.

OSU was 3rd in the nation in three-pointers made his first year here but Ford recruited exactly zero guys on that team that played significant minutes. The year after that he lost Eaton but retained his shooters (Obi, James, and Keiton) and squeaked in the tourney despite only winning one road game in the last two months and that shooting identity slipping significantly.

Last year and this year though have been completely soulless, as if players are playing and coaches are yelling and fans are attending and yet nobody is feeling things or accomplishing goals. It’s as if the ghosts Gallagher-Iba are the ones playing the games.

And this is where Sam’s post from earlier fits in. You know how many 3+ star guys Ford landed at UMass over his three years there? Exactly three. And he almost led the country in scoring his last year there.

Part of me thinks Ford freaked out after getting his $20M deal and tried to go win it all in with his first big recruiting class (all three or four stars by the way). Now they’re all gone – Dowell, Penn, Shaw, Franklin, Gulley, and Walker, every single one of them. Then when that didn’t work he scrapped everything and went and tried to win it all the next year with another big recruiting class (Darrell, JPO, Cobbins, Markel, and Brian Williams).

Then at the end of last year he said he was really scrapping things and the team this year was going to run and be exciting and fun.

Does this look like fun to you?

He’s trying to build a car and all he has are tires and doors.

The most frustrating part is that recruiting hasn’t been the problem. He absolutely could have gone and grabbed a piece here or a piece there to build something beautiful, to bring some magic back to Gallagher-Iba. But he’s been content with, or hell bent on, trying to use, as Sam put it “the Calipari method” of aggregating athletes and hoping it all works out.

He needs to come to terms with the fact that you have to strip everything away and implement some sort of overarching system that stabilizes the program, something that you can build around. I don’t really blame him for trying to duct-tape his way through the last few years (see Twitter mentality from fans above), but think about how Gundy has handled the last seven years…

OSU’s soon-to-be-very-wealthy head football coached torched the program in his first season because he knew he had Boone and Holder in for the long haul and he knew that only a long-term plan was going to keep him afloat with Boone’s wily eyes staring Big-12 trophy-shaped daggers into the back of his head from that big ‘ol 50-yard line suite.

But that’s the part that gets me. Ford had an even longer commitment from the administration and he still hasn’t implemented a sustainable system!

Side note: when I say “system” I mean program-wide attitude and goals, not triangle offense or full-court trap defense specifically. Gundy’s adapts his offense, not his program.

Why didn’t Ford just go to Holder and say “hey, I know Sean had these guys and they were good and we did some cool things with them, but I need two or three years of sucking to clean everything out and rebuild. When I’m done though, you’re going to have your cathedral back”? Holder’s been too preoccupied with appeasing Boone and watching golf to care anyway.

This is all really easy for me to say because I’m not trying to justify a $2M contract to my boss every day by the way a bunch of 20-year olds perform (or don’t perform) on a basketball court. But I’m writing it because I think Oklahoma State fans are knowledgeable enough and patient enough to recognize when a coach is constructing something that, when fully running, is going to be fantastic.

News flash though: this ain’t it.

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