Ford discusses being in the driver’s seat at SLU

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Ford discusses being in the driver’s seat at SLU

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A 60-plus-inch flat screen TV and conference room table, scattered with envelopes, are the lone pieces of furniture in a large rectangular office. Basketball court whiteboards line an entire wall length. The other offices in the basketball suite remain dark. Decorating and choosing office furniture have not been at the top of newly-named SLU men’s basketball coach Travis Ford’s to-do list.

“Everybody asks me, ‘What’s step one?’ There’s no way to define it; there’s a lot of step ones. But at the very top of step one is getting to know the players in the program right now, off the court and on the court, and that’s something that’s very important to me before even going out and recruiting and things,” Ford said.

Ford has a decorated resume, as both a player and a coach. In his 19 years as a collegiate coach, he has coached at every level. He played in college for both Rick Pitino at Kentucky and Norm Stewart at Mizzou, and still holds several records at Kentucky. Ford brings experience to an otherwise relatively young program.

“I’ve learned this the hard way at times, not to rush into hiring coaches immediately, unless you’re bringing someone with you, or not to rush into going out and signing players just because you have scholarships. I’ve done that. And a lot of times it doesn’t work. You have to be patient and you’ve got to do your homework on everything and that’s one big thing that I’m doing right now is just taking my time and being patient,” Ford said.

Ford’s easy-going, player-first mentality has shown through so far; the team got together at a local Italian restaurant on April 4, to watch the NCAA National Championship game as a group with their new coach.

“Some people might say I’m a players coach. I don’t want to hold my players back in any way. I want to develop them individually and then put them in a team concept that showcases their skills individually. I think that’s why I’ve had seven players of the year in the league in the last 11 years, whether they be a freshman of the year or freshman of the year nationally or a player of the year in the league,” Ford said.

But it’s not the accolades and awards his players win that keep Ford coaching and looking forward to work each day.

“I find it very rewarding when I see a young man get a degree, when I see a young man down the road become a husband and father. I find it very rewarding to see them improve as basketball players along the way and see the hard work pay off by success on the court. That’s what drives me.”

While Ford is very driven by his self-admitted competitive nature – “I’m one of the most highly competitive people you’ll ever be around,” he remarked – what drove Ford to want the job is likely what drove many students to the University: faith, values, and a positive experience with administration.

“When I was done at Oklahoma State and I decided that I was going to get back into coaching, I had my criteria [for coaching a school], which I’d never really had before because you’re always kind of chasing something,” Ford said. “First, I wanted a place that my family would enjoy living and could put down some roots, because I have kids that I hope will be graduating high school in St. Louis and that was important. My oldest is a sophomore and my youngest is in sixth grade…I wanted a place where they would love living and St. Louis had that. Then, I wanted a place where I could go and could make a difference in a program, where people would appreciate it and fans would appreciate it. Third, [I wanted] a place where I could see myself for a very long time. And a place that very much aligned with my faith, my values and what’s important to me. I’m a man of faith and a family man and I believe in servanthood and I believe we’re all in this together and we’re here to make the University the best that it can be.”

As with any new coach, SLU fans can expect a new feel and aura to the program with the coaching change. Ford brings a faster, more aggressive offense than seen before at SLU. He also has a bigger focus on recruiting than the program has had in the recent past.

“It’s going to be fun, exciting, aggressive basketball. Aggressive offensively as far as pushing the ball at the defense, great ball movement and great spacing. We’ll be a team that probably does shoot a lot of threes and again, I’m getting to know my team first so it’s kind of hard at this point to say, but my base philosophy is being aggressive offensively and defensively. [Fans] are going to enjoy watching it,” Ford said. “[The team is] going to be prepared, they’re going to get in the best shape of their life, we’re going to improve them individually, we’re going to play extremely hard and compete in every game, I’m going to do that. What I need help from is the students, the fans, to pack Chaifetz Arena so we’re building something for the future.”

After last season’s 11-22 record, many fans are hoping that one thing Ford can bring to the program in the future is success.

“We want to try to create a program that’s consistently, hopefully, a top 25 type program. It’s been done here in stages and the goal is to try to do it consistently. The reason I believe and know we can do it is because we have great fan support. They’re hungry for exciting basketball and it’s just a great basketball area. You have enough tradition here that you can promote tradition to recruits. It’s a city that we’ll tell recruits, ‘This is a place you’re going to want to put roots down when you’re done playing eventually. This is an area where you’ll develop a lot of relationships and connections to further your career along, whether it be basketball or in business, whatever it may be,’” Ford said.

Aside from being a top 25 program on the court, Ford hopes to have a sense of community with the students and SLU community that the program hasn’t seen in a while, or perhaps ever. Ford said he hopes to hold open practices, and encourages students and fans to attend to get to know him and the players.

“If [students] see me out, I would love for them to come up to me. It’s a whole lot easier for them to come up to me than me to go up to everybody else, and I’ll try to do that. I would love for them to get to know me as a person and my family and know that I love being a part of this community and this university,” Ford said. “I want to be very visible on campus. I want to be very visible within the community of St. Louis. I want people to get to know me. I’m going to be known as the basketball coach and I do want them to see my passion for the game and my vision of wanting to make this a great basketball program, but I also want them to get to know me as a person and get to know my family. This is true for any coach, but all coaches are defined by wins and losses and defined just as basketball coaches, and that’s not necessarily what defines me.”

Ford and SLU students share several common traits: a commitment to family and faith, a desire to be known further than skin deep and a hunger to make a difference and advance the SLU name. There is no doubt that the buzz around SLU basketball will be far larger this fall than seen in years. It’s a great time to be a Billiken.