Kent State promotes assistant Ford to head coach job

KENT, Ohio -- Geno Ford slid over and into Kent State's top chair.

Ford, an assistant coach during a chunk of the school's 10-year run of 20-win seasons, was named the Golden Flashes' new coach Tuesday. He takes over for Jim Christian, who resigned last week after six seasons and is heading to TCU.

The 33-year-old Ford signed a four-year contract with the school holding an option on a fifth year. He'll make approximately $200,000 per season.

A scrappy star guard at Ohio, Ford was an assistant for four seasons on Christian's staff. He inherits a program that has become the standard of excellence in the highly competitive Mid-American Conference. This season, Kent State went 28-7 and won the MAC East's regular-season title and the conference tournament to earn its fifth NCAA bid in 10 years.

Christian went 138-58 at Kent State, becoming the only MAC coach to win 20 games in his first six seasons. Like Ford, he was as assistant with the Golden Flashes before getting the job when Stan Heath left for Arkansas following Kent State's memorable run to the final eight in the 2002 NCAA tournament.

"A lot of times when you get a job, you take a job that is rebuilding or someone has been relieved of their duties and you have to clean up the mess," Ford said. "I'm following someone who cast the biggest shadow over the conference in history. Coach Christian taught me a lot. I certainly tried to learn. I'm honored to get the chance to follow him."

When it appeared Christian was leaving, athletic director Laing Kennedy immediately turned to Ford, who had head coaching experience at NAIA Shawnee State and Division III Muskingum.

"I called him at 2 a.m.," Kennedy recalled. "I said, 'If I can't sleep, you can't either. I want to talk to you before you do anything. We need to talk about this program A through Z and what we need to do to move forward.'"

Kennedy said Ford, who had been scheduled to interview with Western Illinois, was unanimously endorsed by Kent State's players, who said Christian often turned to his top assistant for advice during crucial moments in games.

"They said several times Coach Christian would look to Coach Ford and say, 'We've got to stop them,' and Coach Ford's system would be put in place and we would stop them," Kennedy said. "Our young men have tremendous confidence in Coach Ford."

On Tuesday, Ford formally interviewed with Kennedy, school president Lester A. Lefton and others. During the meeting, Ford, AP's "Mr. Basketball" at Cambridge High School in 1993, formally laid out his immediate and future plans for the Golden Flashes program.

"It was the best presentation I've ever experienced," Kennedy said. "President Lefton said, 'Let's move forward.' Geno came through like a champion."

Ford, who complied a 51-32 record as a head coach, conceded feeling some pressure before being given the job.

"It felt the same as winning a game -- utter relief," he said. "I'm excited today. Yesterday I felt like I was at the foul line, shooting a 1-and-1 and had to make it or we were losing."

Kennedy felt no need to conduct a national search to find Christian's successor, and there was no external pressure to look outside the program.

"We're built to last," he said, "and when you're built to last, you look within for your next leader."

Ford's father, Gene, who coached him in high school and then took over the Muskingum program when his son returned to Kent State, attended the news conference. The elder Ford knew early on that his son would make his living on the sideline.

"He's always been a coach, on the floor and off," Gene Ford said. "This is his dream."

And now that he's got a dream job, Ford hopes it lasts a long time.

"I'm an Ohio guy," he said. "I've spent almost my entire adult life in the MAC. This is home for me. I have zero aspirations of doing anything other than being here and winning a ton of games. Hopefully, they can wheel me off the floor one day and not to a chorus of boos."