Pitino, Ford's former coach, vouching for ex-player

Updated: March 30, 2005, 1:59 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

UMass is expected to name Eastern Kentucky coach Travis Ford as the new Minutemen basketball coach, ESPN.com's Andy Katz reported Wednesday.

 Travis Ford

A university source speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to The Associated Press Thursday that UMass officials had reached an agreement with Ford, and planned to announce his hiring on Friday.

Ford and his wife arrived on the Amherst campus Tuesday and spent the past several days meeting with administrators, a faculty advisory committee and basketball boosters.

The 35-year-old former University of Kentucky guard guided the Colonels to a 22-9 record this season -- the most wins in school history -- and an NCAA Tournament bid, the school's first in 26 years. The Colonels lost in the first round to Kentucky, but not before giving his alma mater a scare.

The Massachusetts job opened when Steve Lappas was fired last week after going 50-65 over four seasons.

Ford did not return messages left at his home seeking comment. Jason Yellin, a spokesman for UMass athletic director John McCutcheon, confirmed that a news conference would be held Friday to announce the new coach, but would not confirm if Ford was the pick.

Through a spokesman, Eastern Kentucky President Joanne Glasser declined to comment. However, she spoke with the team Wednesday night.

"I told them that I hope coach Ford stays with us, but if he does choose to accept another position, then we will begin a nationwide search immediately to find the best coach to lead our program to even greater heights of excellence," she said in a statement.

Ford played for Rick Pitino at Kentucky. Pitino, now the coach at Louisville and a UMass alumnus, has been pushing for Ford to get the job, praising his former player's recruiting ability and calling him a "great fit" at Massachusetts.

At Eastern Kentucky, Ford took over a team that had seven straight losing seasons. He won seven games each of his first two seasons. Then each year, the team improved -- first to 11 wins, then 14 and 22 this season.

Eastern Kentucky finished second in the Ohio Valley Conference and defeated Austin Peay in the conference tournament final to get the NCAA bid.

The Kentucky native began his coaching career at Campbellsville, Ky., where he went 67-31 in three seasons at the NAIA school.

Last August, Ford signed a multiyear contract extension with Eastern Kentucky, the terms of which were not disclosed. When he took the job in April 2000, his four-year contract included a base salary of $80,000 a year.

After his first season with the Colonels, Ford received a new four-year contract, which would have extended the original agreement through the end of this season.

Ford tried out some other career paths before getting into coaching.

He took his stockbroker's exam after being released by the Golden State Warriors in 1995, then he got a part in a basketball movie, "The 6th Man," playing a hotshot, point guard.

The experience revived his interest in basketball and after spending a season observing Pitino, he got the job at Campbellsville.

Information from ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.