Secure in success: Travis Ford quiets fan doubts with a return to the NCAA Tournament.
BY KELLY HINES World Sports Writer
Thursday, March 21, 2013
3/21/13 at 2:46 PM
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SAN JOSE, Calif. - If Travis Ford was ever on the hot seat, he certainly doesn't seem to be now.
On Thursday, Ford takes his Oklahoma State team to a third NCAA Tournament in five years, already more appearances than the combined tally of other coaches in program history not named Henry Iba or Eddie Sutton.
"I never thought he was on the hot seat," said Markel Brown, one of three team captains. "Coach Ford is a great coach and we knew eventually we would have to win to keep him off the seat.
"We did it this year and it just shows how much of a great coach he is and how much dedication he put in and work he does with us."
A vocal portion of the Cowboy fanbase became impatient after Ford's tenure began with much promise. The NCAA Tournament is often a barometer for success, and Ford's first team advanced to the second round.
Since then, OSU's postseason participation has experienced a downturn: a defeat in the first round of the tournament to the NIT to no invites.
Athletic director Mike Holder, who doesn't comment on coaches' performances until after the season, said in September: "Our fans expect to contend for conference championships.
"They expect to go to the NCAA Tournament. I don't disagree with them. Travis Ford wouldn't, either."
That's what Ford has accomplished this season - contending for a Big 12 title and making the NCAA Tournament, where the fifth-seeded Cowboys open against No. 12 seed Oregon at the HP Pavilion.
More than anything, this season has boosted the buzz surrounding the program, as evidenced by three sellout crowds.
"This (playing in the tournament) gives us an opportunity to validate that and build some enthusiasm for next year," Holder said Wednesday while watching OSU's practice. "Everything that happens in this tournament is critical."
With the addition of potential one-and-done point guard Marcus Smart, Ford got the program back on track, going from 15-16 a year ago to 24-8.
The Cowboys also were a mainstay in the Associated Press Top 25 while ranked for the first time under Ford, who last month surpassed 100 wins at OSU.
"A lot of people from last year had us down, (saying) OSU is gone and will never be back," Smart said. "We came in this season and brought the rowdy back to Gallagher-Iba and we sparked some noise around the nation.
"Everybody kind of knows who we are and we're back on the map. We're slowly but surely getting there."
Ford, who pulled off major turnarounds at each of his previous stops, has said he doesn't feel pressure at OSU, despite a 10-year contract that runs through 2019. This season has helped silence most of his critics, starting with a monumental win at No. 2 Kansas last month that was part of a seven-game win streak.
"You see what he's done with a young team, leading us to 24 wins," sophomore Le'Bryan Nash said. "I don't know why he gets bashed like he does. He's a great coach and a player's coach.
"He listens to us and tells us what to do and what not to do. I thank God I have a coach like that who will listen to me."
Less than a decade removed from a Final Four trip under Sutton, the Cowboys had to have faith in Ford to get the program on solid ground.
"I knew it would happen eventually," redshirt sophomore Brian Williams said. "We just didn't know when.
"We thought we'd just step in right away and do what (past teams) were doing. It took a while, but we're finally where we want to be."
Where they want to be is not simply in the 68-team field; it's making a run and establishing OSU as a legitimate title contender.
"Obviously, we don't want it to end in the first round," Brown said. "We want to keep moving on. But it's great to be here."
(16) James Madison 68
(16) LIU-Brooklyn 55
(13) Boise State 71
(13) La Salle 80
11:15 a.m. | KOTV-6
(3) Michigan St. vs. (14) Valparaiso
11:40 a.m. | trutv-51
(6) Butler vs. (11) Bucknell
12:40 p.m. | TBS-47
(8) Pittsburgh vs. (9) Wichita State
1:10 p.m. | TNT-29
(4) Saint Louis vs. (13) New Mexico St.
1:45 p.m. | KOTV-6
(6) Memphis vs. (11) St. Mary's
2:10 p.m. | trutv-51
(3) Marquette vs. (14) Davidson
3:10 p.m. | TBS-47
(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Southern
3:40 p.m. | TNT-29
(5) Oklahoma State vs. (12) Oregon
5:50 p.m. | TBS-47
(1) Louisville vs. (16) N.C. A&T
6:15 p.m. | KOTV-6
(4) Michigan vs. (13) South Dakota St.
6:20 p.m. | TNT-29
(6) Arizona vs. (11) Belmont
6:27 p.m. | trutv-51
(5) UNLV vs. (12) California
8:20 p.m. | TBS-47
(8) Colorado State vs. (9) Missouri
8:45 p.m. | KOTV-6
(5) VCU vs. (12) Akron
8:50 p.m. | TNT-29
(3) New Mexico vs. (14) Harvard
8:57 p.m. | trutv-51
(4) Syracuse vs. (13) Montana
NCAA TOURNAMENT: NO. 5 OSU VS. NO. 12 OREGON
3:40 p.m. Thursday • At San Jose, Calif. • TV: TNT-29 • Radio: KFAQ am1170
Original Print Headline: Secure in success
Kelly Hines 918-581-8452
Oklahoma State players cheer on Mason Cox as he shoots free throws at the end of practice Wednesday during NCAA Tournament preparations in San Jose, Calif. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Oklahoma State's Phil Forte takes a shot at practice Wednesday in San Jose, Calif. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World