Dear Head Coach Travis Ford,
The length of time I have been an Oklahoma State basketball fan is virtually identical to the amount of time I have been aware of the sport of basketball. After my dad installed a basketball goal on top of our garage, I spent hours of each day pretending to be my favorite Cowboy players. As the players graduated, I even invented an expansion NBA team that played in Oklahoma City (even at that age not believing that would ever actually happen) so I could meld the generations of players.
Ah, the innocence of that young Clark Matthews, firing up bricks and dreaming that he would one day play alongside Royce Jeffries and Bryon Houston; Darwyn Alexander, Corey Williams, and Sean Sutton; Richard Dumas and his drug dealer. What I lacked in ability and understanding of the career shelf life of borderline NBA prospects, I made up for in appreciation of the game and love of Oklahoma State hoops.
Years later, I followed my heart and attended OSU. I did this partially because of my fandom (but to be fair, they had an excellent program in my desired degree field.) I wanted to spend my college years experiencing the atmosphere of Gallagher-Iba Arena (the “rowdiest arena in the nation”.) I wanted to watch the great Eddie Sutton up close. I wanted to attend a basketball school.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all the sports the school fielded. I never missed a football game despite the fact that Texas high school teams played in better stadiums and the team only made one bowl game during my stay in Stillwater (but they beat OU three out of four years). The thing is, I liked football, but a loss never upset me as much as you would expect a sports obsessed adolescent to be upset by his favorite team losing. Basketball was different.
Now as I ride swiftly into middle age, things have changed dramatically. In the 90′s basketball was the school’s pride, and Eddie Sutton was the school’s king. When Doug Gottlieb threw amazing alley oop passes to Desmond Mason, the student body was on Cloud 9 and when he went to the free throw line we all cringed and averted our eyes. It mattered to us all how the team performed, and Gallagher-Iba was so loud that you couldn’t hear the construction crews expanding the arena on the other side of the wall.
Today’s student body has no affection for the basketball program, and the alumni have certainly turned their back. When I graduated, I had season football tickets, but not basketball. Why? Because I couldn’t get tickets for basketball unless I made a donation to get on the waiting list. This was back when no one would play OSU in Stillwater, so the non-conference schedule was stuffed with division II schools and mid-majors. Now, to even hope to fill GIA against an ACC school, the athletic department has to run promotions offering free admission to anyone who will attend. This still didn’t pack the arena.
This is where you come in Coach Ford. Eddie Sutton may have been forced out in disgrace and Sean Sutton was arguably unprepared for being a head man, but the program is in your hands now and rather than rebuilding the ruins, the program appears to be heading down further decline.
After leading Coach Sean’s recruits to two trips to the NCAA tournament in your first two seasons, you were rewarded a ten year contract that even Boone Pickens is now making jokes about. At the time, the expectation was that once you got the players that fit your system installed into the program, even better things would happen.
Here’s the thing, I love your system. Trapping defense and fast paced offense is probably my favorite kind of basketball to watch (even if it is the polar opposite of what Coach Sutton preached) and teams that play those systems are always dangerous during March Madness. Yet, these days, I make no arrangements to watch OSU games. Unfortunately, I don’t think you have bought into the system. Your style of play requires good athletes who can knock down open shots because 1) trapping defense and 2) you demand your players take shots whenever they are open (usually meaning three point shots). Unfortunately, every time I read a scouting report on one of your recruits, without fail the player’s weaknesses contains some derivative of “needs to improve outside shooting.” To this day, the only player on your team who can knock down a shot from more than five feet from the basket is Keiton Page–a 5’9″ shooting guard whose recruitment was a big part of Sean getting fired. He’s now your best player. This is despite your apparent recruiting tactic of signing whichever player’s name Rivals puts the most stars next to.
Recently, the website Cowboys Ride for Free hilariously detailed the offense your team runs. To briefly recap, it sucks. It is as if you have assembled a team to win pick up games at the Colvin. Unfortunately, well coached teams know how to defend against a five man lineup consisting entirely of players who want to dribble to the front of the rim. SPOILER ALERT: They force those players to take jump shots around the perimeter. When those brick, it doesn’t matter how intricate the Cowboys defensive system is in creating turnovers for fast break points because the only way they can set up that intricate defense is for the shot to go in so they can set up while the ball is inbounded.
The results have been as one should expect. You finished 9th in the Big 12 last year and will be lucky to do the same this year even though the league only has ten teams. Meanwhile, the better players on the team are defecting, leaving little hope that they’ll develop into guys who can thrive in your system.
So my question to you Coach Ford is this: What are you going to do to right the ship? What are you going to do so that my sons emulate your players on my drive way? By the time your contract ends my oldest will be in high school, so most importantly, what are you going to do so they want to experience Gallagher-Iba from the student section?
I know I’m not the only Cowboy fan who would be interested in the plan.
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