Travis Ford was not out of work long.
The new Saint Louis coach landed on his feet quickly after getting fired at Oklahoma State on March 18, and he’s just as impatient to put the Billikens on the national map.
The 46-year-old Ford recognizes the Cardinals’ pre-eminence in town, but said several times at a Chaifetz Arena news conference Thursday that he wanted Saint Louis to be the “hottest ticket in town.”
Ford doesn’t have a timetable for turning around Saint Louis, 22-42 the last two seasons. He promised an up-tempo game on both ends of the court to begin the comeback for a roster that had just one senior last season.
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“This is one of the nicest basketball facilities I’ve been in, and it’s an unbelievably beautiful campus,” Ford said. “This has unbelievable potential.”
Ford, a former University of Kentucky star, is attending the Final Four this weekend while assembling staff.
“This is going to be fun,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting.”
The school and coach had a mutual connection that facilitated a process that resulted in a multiyear contract and a return to the Atlantic 10 Conference for Ford. He previously coached at UMass.
“We wanted a good recruiter, a proven record of success and a man who could hit the ground running,” said school President Fred Pestello, who headed a three-person search committee. “It was a unanimous decision that Coach Ford was our man.”
Larry Hughes, who starred at Saint Louis and later in the NBA, is among the alumni Ford has already contacted to gain information.
“The sky’s always the limit,” Hughes said after the news conference. “I was encouraged by his words, by his presence, and obviously his style of play is going to be huge for what his recruits will like to see.”
The team sat in the second row, wearing identical polo shirts and hanging on Ford’s every word, and a five-person band and three-person cheerleading unit gave Ford a nice welcome. Women’s coach Lisa Stone, coming off a co-championship in the Atlantic 10, also attended the news conference.
“Travis Ford is a winner,” athletics director Chris May said. “Travis Ford has a vision.”
Ford was let go at Oklahoma State with three years and $7.2 million remaining on his contract after going 155-111 in eight seasons with five NCAA Tournament berths but just one victory.
The Cowboys were just 12-20 last season and 3-15 in the Big 12, pulled down by significant injuries to guards Phil Forte and Jawun Evans and done after a first-round loss in the conference tournament. A highlight was a victory over then-No. 3 Kansas at home.
Ford is a proven recruiter, bringing in high-profile talent such as Marcus Smart, Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and Jawun Evans at Oklahoma State. For now, he’ll have to coach up the present roster because Saint Louis has no available scholarships.
“We’re a relatively young team, which is exciting for me because there’s room to grow,” Ford said. “I understand where our team is at, I understand what needs to be done.”
Before long, he expects top recruits in the city and neighboring states will know that “this is the place you need to be.”
Ford remembers being impressed with the on-campus arena and the general setup when he coached UMass and how the late Rick Majerus “had them rolling.”
“The words can’t describe how excited we are,” Ford said. “Great things are ahead.”
Ford replaces Jim Crews, who was 77-56 in four seasons. Crews won consecutive A-10 titles in 2012-13 and 2013-14, the first as interim coach after Majerus became ill, but last season six of the top 10 scorers were freshmen and sophomores.