Oklahoma City News, Entertainment & Occasional Humor • Established 2007

An Open Letter to Travis Ford…

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.

Sincerely,

Clark Matthews

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Comments

  1. I went to the Virginia Tech game, and came away with a few impressions:

    1. LeBryan Nash is the most passive player on the team. Looks like he has no idea what to do.
    2. What idiot allowed JPO back in the game after he hurt his knee the first time? Why is no one asking this question?
    3. Page is the Rafael Denson of the basketball program.
    4. With Page out of the game late in the 2nd half with 4 fouls, the team closed the deficit from 10 to 3. Instead of standing around waiting for Page to jack up a 3, the other players made plays.
    5. Guerrero is like a puppy that runs around like crazy in your back yard – but they might as well give him more minutes.
    6. This team has no identity, and is not fun to watch.

  2. Not really a cowpoke fan at all, actually the opposite. But….WTH? That is what I was thinking when they decided to expand the Iba. I had the fortunate opportunity to attend a game at the old Gallagher Iba. That definitely was the toughest place to play, it was so compact, the fans were practically on the court, and it was like madness, pretty impressive to see. Then I attended a new area, there were tons of empty seats, it was spread out and seemed to have lost the life that it once had, it was rather depressing. I was thinking why did they do this? They had something special and unique that no other school had.

  3. So Clark, in your imaginary Oklahoma State basketball career, did get the complete experience by imagining you were doing drugs and imagining you were exposing yourself to children?

    • I bet he spent more time hiding imaginary illegal wire transfers to a player and covering up over 500 impermissable calls. All imaginary of course.

  4. Good comprehensive article. All Poke hoop fans are wondering the same things. I hope against hope that this does not end in disaster.

  5. Ya it sucks. Im in the same boat as Clark, been a fan forever, gone to many games over the years, experienced and participated in the crazy GIA atmosphere and then to see it come to this. There has been zero improvement the last two years. The same mistakes happen again and again. I often wonder if these mistakes arent pointed out in film session but I doubt they have film session because there just insnt enough time to go over that many mistakes. Ford desperately needs an offensive minded asst coach. Well, at least football has been good. But I do miss the rowdiness of GIA circa anytime before 2006.

  6. Tod, you nailed it on the head. I was at the VT game, too. I took my daughter and her friend. Everyone around us commented on how Nash wasn’t even in the game. he scored no points in the first half, and two of his four points for the game were free throws. Poor Page had to throw the team on his back to even stay close. Eddie’s teams started out slow but by mid-season had a rythm going. I haven’t seen any of the “Run and Gun” that was supposed to be the hallmark of a Ford team. More like “jack it up and jog back to the other end.” I attended many games in Gallagher-Iba and it pains me that my kids will probably never get to experience that magic. I hope we can get Brooks Thompson or Scott Sutton to show some interest when the buyout on Ford’s contract becomes manageable.

  7. Clark

    Are you really a Cowboy fan or just a
    “if you’re winning Cowboy fan”?? True this year doesn’t look great but I believe every great basketball coach has had a season or two this way. But according to your letter No…everyseason has to be a winning one. And it sounds as if you are blaming Coach Ford for the injuries that have occured….. oy didn’t realize Coach Ford had that much power!! I am sure you are perfect in your job every day so you do have the right to be critical of all others. I say let’s be positive and get behind a team and Coach that needs our support!

    • Every KU season is a ‘winning one’. Historically, we are the 2nd best basketball team in the Big12 next to KU, They would never tolerate bottom half of the conference, WHY ARE WE…. This is EMBARRASSING.

  8. maybe clark should be the coach? he appears to know what to do more than ford knows what to do………………

  9. I must agree with Clark. I was a student at OSU during the Leonard Hamilton days. Then came Eddie! Oh my…the memories of those days. I worked at OSU then. We followed the teams like a religion. Darwyn, Cory, Sean, Scott, Pittman, Big Country…there are so many. They weren’t the best players in tht country but they were an awesome TEAM! Eddie new how to get the best out of each of them and taught them how to play together. I was actually at the game tonight…for the first time in a long time. It was sad. Not sure I can go back. Seemed like 5 guys who just met and decided to play a round of ball. Where was the team? I also saw zone defense and cringed.

    Ford has shunned all the old players. There’s no sense of family. I had season tickets for the Eddie years and also worked as an usher behind press row. I used to see returning players all the time. They were welcome. I hear that’s not the way it is anymore.

    I wanted Ford to have success. I loved the program. I’m pained by what I see now. He’s not a good fit. How is Holder going to fix this? Would love to see Brooks Thompson on the sideline coaching. We need a coach who can coach the talent out of a not so talented player. One who builds a “team” not a star or 5 stars.

    Thank you Clark for writing this story tonight.

  10. While alot of cowboy fans are unhappy about the way the season has gone its important to remeber all the facts. Coach Ford replaced sean not eddie, ford made the ncaa tourney two straight years and won a game in the n.i.t.. While the suttons are probably the most beloved family in osu history eddie has gone off into the sun set. While his first recruting class turned out to be a clonker give the man a chance. Those kids fight for him and thats what counts

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