Chicago Colleges: Geno Ford

Geno Ford faces an uphill battle at Bradley

October, 12, 2011
The minute he sat down for his first coaches meeting in the Missouri Valley, Geno Ford figured out what he was in for.

“You know they say in poker, you try to figure out who the sucker is,’’ the new Bradley coach said. “Well, I looked around and there weren’t any, so I’m just hoping it isn’t me.’’

Ford laughed when he told the story, but the reality is there’s not much to giggle about in the Valley. The league has branded itself into the public consciousness, carving out its own special niche as a well-respected league that is neither BCS nor true mid-major. Winners are rewarded well thanks to the league’s reputation, but winning among schools that have capitalized on the Valley’s success isn’t exactly easy.

Geno Ford
Kim Klement/US PresswireGeno Ford arrived in Peoria after three successful seasons in the MAC at Kent State.
Especially this season. By its own high standards, the conference has been down in recent years, earning just its automatic bid in each of the last four seasons. But all signs point to a return to the glory years, back when the Valley was sending as many as four teams to the NCAA tournament and a Sweet 16 berth was commonplace.

Not exactly an easy time for Ford to bluff at the table.

Bradley has never finished higher than fourth in the league and hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2006. That’s why Ford is here and ex-coach Jim Les is now at UC Davis.

Ford had a good thing at Kent State -- he led the Golden Flashes to back-to-back Mid-American Conference championships. But he found the ceiling in the MAC hard to penetrate. Though he won those two regular-season titles and 20-plus games in each season, he had to settle for an NIT bid both times, done in both seasons by upset losses in the MAC tournament.

“We all play for the postseason,’’ Ford said. “The hope is here, in this league, if you win the regular season, you’re either in the tournament or in the major discussion. That’s a big attraction, that if you have a special regular season you’re rewarded.’’

That’s what pushed Ford to leave Kent after three years, but it wasn’t an amicable parting. The former coach and his ex-employer are locked in a lawsuit that likely won’t reach a court date until the summer.

Kent State contends Ford broke his contract -- a deal with four years left at $300,000 per year -- and consequently owes the school $1.2 million. Ford and his lawyers at Bradley contend that KSU granted Ford permission to interview, thereby prohibiting the school from seeking damages.

Ford said he has attempted to settle but has had no luck.

“Hopefully this will get resolved in a short amount of time,’’ he said. “It’s certainly unfortunate, but it will run its course and I’m looking forward to the conclusion.’’

Fortunately lawyers have handled the brunt of the work on the lawsuit, allowing Ford to concentrate on basketball. He has a lot of work to do. Though the Braves have players back -- including Dyricus Simms-Edwards, who averaged 16 points in his final 10 games and Taylor Brown, who missed last year with a heart problem -- they also have no big man with experience (Will Egolf is out with an ACL tear) and five freshmen who will be put to work immediately.

It’s not exactly the loaded cupboard needed to contend in a league top heavy with upperclassmen, but Ford believes it is a recipe he can work with.

“No transition period is a pleasure cruise and there will be bumps and bruises along the way, but if you have guys willing to take a shot, you can make it,’’ he said. “We don’t have a championship from last year to say, ‘Here, if you buy in, this is the result.’ So we have to ask them to trust us and trust our system.’’

In other words, it’s time for the Braves to go all in.

Ford ready to get to work at Bradley

March, 28, 2011
What Butler, Richmond and VCU have done as mid-majors in this year’s NCAA tournament is the talk of college basketball.

Five years ago, Bradley was being discussed in a similar fashion. Back in 2006, Bradley made its own run to the Sweet 16 and was considered one of the country’s top mid-major programs. Since then, Bradley has dropped off the national map.

On Monday, the Braves are hopeful they took the first step toward getting back on it by introducing Geno Ford as their new coach.

“Bradley has a rich history of success at the top, and coach Ford has all the qualities to lead us to the next level,” Bradley athletic director Michael Cross said.

Geno Ford
Kim Klement/US PresswireBradley hopes newly-hired Geno Ford will get the program back into national prominence.
Ford, 36, comes to Bradley after three seasons as Kent State’s head coach. His teams went 68-37 overall and 35-13 in the MAC in his three years. The Golden Flashes were 25-12 overall and 12-4 in the MAC this past season. They won two NIT games before falling to Colorado in the quarterfinals.

Ford also has experience recruiting the state of Illinois, especially the Chicago area. Carlton Guyton, who played at Rich South High School, and Eric Gaines, who played at Hillcrest, were on his Kent State roster this past season.

Ford believes with Bradley’s tradition and fan support, which is normally around the nation’s top 50 in attendance, he will have no trouble bringing in talented players.

“We’ve got to get into Chicago and get good players,” Ford said. “Why wouldn’t they want to be here? We just have to get them on campus. It’s going to be difficult for me to get a good player on campus and for them not to want to be here.

“Recruiting is the lifeblood of college basketball, and we’ll be able to recruit here.”

Ford said his teams will be fast-paced and put points on the board. He also doesn’t mind his opponent scoring plenty of points as long its field-goal percentage is lower.

Kent State averaged 71 points a game and shot 44% from the field, and its opponents averaged 66.8 points and 42% last season.

“I’ll talk about attack all the time,” Ford said. “I want to play fast. I want to be at the top of the league in scoring. Players like playing fast. I want us get up and down floor. The other key stat is opponent field-goal percentage.

“We’ll be a blue-collar team, tough-minded, never be outdone in effort. I promised there won’t be a loose ball that we won’t dive on. I promised there won’t a charge we won’t take. From there as you know, we have work to do.”

Ford has not compiled his staff, but said Kent State associate head coach Rob Senderoff is a top candidate.

Ford replaces Jim Les, who was fired on March 6 after going 154-140 in nine seasons. Bradley went 12-20 and 4-14 last season. The Braves are expected to return nine players, including five of their top seven scorers, from last season’s team.