Ford pushes work ethic in introduction at Oklahoma State

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma State's search for a new basketball coach began with rumors of a big paycheck aimed at the leader of the national champions.

It ended with an up-and-coming coach casting his eyes toward the same prize.

Travis Ford was introduced as the Cowboys' coach Thursday, taking over a program that was in the Final Four as recently as four years ago and in the top 10 in the past 16 months.

"My goals are to take this Oklahoma State basketball program to a national championship," Ford said. "That's why I'm here and that's what I look forward to doing."

Ford leaves a Massachusetts program that he'd taken to the NIT the last two seasons, losing in the tournament's championship game earlier this month. He takes over for Sean Sutton, who resigned after coaching Oklahoma State to three straight first-round losses in the NIT.

"I'm not a guy that before the season sets out goals that we want to do this, we want to do that," Ford said. "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 embraced the expectations that were created during the 16-year tenure of Eddie Sutton, Sean's father, that included 13 NCAA tournament appearances and Final Four berths in 1995 and 2004.

"I'm a big believer in tradition and I've studied the game tremendously. Obviously, it's special for me to be part of a program that coach [Henry] Iba started," Ford said. "The foundation that the Sutton family has put on this program, I want to build on that."

Sean Sutton resigned under pressure on April 1 after two full seasons as head coach and a tenure as an assistant coach that included the two Final Fours.

"I think everybody on the team was fairly mad. I was one of the main guys mad," point guard Byron Eaton said. "My first impression was, 'I'm a senior and now I've got to get a good understanding with a new coach going into my senior year.' "

Ford's positive attitude soothed some of the lingering heartache.

"I think he can do a good job of getting it to where he wants it to be. Like he said, he wants to win a national championship and that's everybody's dream," Eaton said. "His effort, the way he came in, he's really focused on doing that."

Ford, who grew up in Kentucky, left the state to start his playing career when Eddie Sutton was coaching the Wildcats and Sean was his point guard. After the Suttons were transplanted to Oklahoma State, Ford transferred to Kentucky and played in the Final Four under Rick Pitino.

Ford said he's closer to Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton -- Sean's brother -- than the other Suttons because he played high school basketball against him.

Ford interviewed with Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder for about two hours in Cincinnati on Monday, and visited Gallagher-Iba Arena and took a driving tour of Stillwater on Tuesday. He decided Wednesday afternoon to accept Holder's offer and met with his UMass players to inform them of his decision.

"This was too good of an opportunity to pass by," Ford said. "My goal is to win a national championship, and I looked at my team and I said, 'I think I can do it at Oklahoma State.' "

Holder said Ford's contract was not yet finalized but could be available at a Friday meeting of the university's governing board.

Holder's search began with the pursuit of Kansas coach Bill Self, and reports surfaced that Self would be offered a contract with a $6 million signing bonus and a multimillion dollar annual salary.

"I can tell you this: All those numbers that are out there in the media, I know they were all fiction," Holder said. "I'm not sure who made them up."

The high-dollar rumors were spurred by the presence of billionaire booster Boone Pickens, who counts a $165 million donation among his many gifts to Oklahoma State.

"I didn't want anybody to come here for the money. I wanted them to come here for the job," Holder said. "You're going to pay your basketball coach well, but come here for the job, because this is where you want to be."

Ford said he had not met with Pickens during the hiring process.

"I haven't talked to him, but obviously I know the impact that he's made on this athletic department and absolutely that's important," Ford said. "He seems to be, from everybody I talk to, a very, very special person who really, truly cares about this university."

Ford said he wanted to be "surrounded by people who love the game" and hoped to form the nation's best home court advantage at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

"I was looking for an opportunity where I could go and win a national championship," Ford said. "I wanted my next move to be a place where I could raise my family and be there for a while and not a place where I wanted to go and move somewhere else and make another stop."