It was April, 2008. The Sutton era was over, ending dramatically with the pressured resignation of second-year head coach Sean Sutton. The Cowboys had finished 17-16 that season, losing to Southern Illinois in the first round of the NIT.
Still, OSU wasn’t far removed from a Final Four appearance and had a solid core returning in Byron Eaton, Terrel Harris, Obi Muonelo and freshmen James Anderson, Marshall Moses and Ibrahima Thomas.
“I think everybody on the team was fairly mad,” Eaton said after Sean’s resignation. “I was one of the main guys mad. My first impression was, ‘I’m a senior now and I’ve got to get a good understanding with a new coach going into my senior year.’”
Sixteen days after Sutton’s resignation, Mike Holder and the Oklahoma State search committee had settled on Ford as the successor.
Ford had coached at Campbellsville, Eastern Kentucky and UMass. Not exactly the big-name hire that makes the fan base happy. But, he played for Rick Pitino at Kentucky so at least he had blue-blood connections.
"My goals are to take this Oklahoma State basketball program to a national championship," Ford said in his introductory press conference. "That's why I'm here and that's what I look forward to doing."
"I'm not a guy that before the season sets out goals that we want to do this, we want to do that. Every single year, we're trying to make the national championship. Every year, that's my goal. Are you going to do that every single year? Probably not every single year, but that's our goal every year."
Ford led the Cowboys to a 23-12 record in his first season, beat Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and took top-seed Pitt down to the wire before succumbing in the second round. The initial success coupled with a good first recruiting class convinced the ‘powers that be’ in Stillwater to offer Ford a substantial raise and massive contract extension.
“Coach Ford did a tremendous job rejuvenating our basketball program in his first season,” Mike Holder, OSU vice-president for athletics, said. “He is committed to success for our student-athletes in the classroom and on the court, and he is committed to Oklahoma State University. This contract rewards him for the job he has done and demonstrates OSU's commitment to him. We consider Travis a rising star in the coaching profession and look forward to his leadership for many years to come.”
The contract extension would run through the 2018-19 season and pays out $2.8 million a year the last four years.
And thus began the Travis Ford tenure at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys haven’t won a game in the Big Dance since.