Losing to UMass and giving up 91 points in the process is a bad, bad loss for Travis Ford and SLU. There’s no way around it and no one is really saying otherwise. However, the loss brought out calls from a small minority of SLU fans for Travis Ford’s firing.
To put it bluntly, such calls are extremely premature. Travis Ford has seen both his share of successes and frustrations at Saint Louis University since he undertook the task of reviving the program from the Jim Crews era. He’s won 100 games as the Billiken head coach, recruited some of the top talent in the St. Louis area, including Jordan Goodwin, Yuri Collins, Terrence Hargrove, and Jordan Nesbitt, made a NCAA tournament and turned SLU into a consistently good team that has a chance to compete for an at-large bid and win their league every year. Prior to Ford, the only coach to do that for SLU is Rick Majerus, a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time, and Eddie Hickey, who coached in the 40s and 50s.
Those calling Ford’s tenure at SLU “mediocre” are confusing mediocre with “good, but not great”. Mediocre is the Dave Paulsen and Paul Hewitt years at George Mason after the Patriots’ Final Four run, not what SLU fans have had during the Travis Ford era so far. You can argue that with SLU’s status as the major university in a big city and with its recent facility upgrades that SLU should be a consistently great basketball program and Ford isn’t living up to that. Sure, maybe. Frankly though, SLU’s never been that type of program, and Travis Ford has done a good job building a foundation from which SLU basketball could launch into greatness.
It’s entirely possible Travis Ford is not the guy to lead SLU to that breakthrough that will propel the Billikens into that elite space, but it’s too early to tell, even after six years. Ford was able to build SLU back from a very low point very quickly, through recruits like Goodwin and Hasahn French and instant impact transfers like Javon Bess and Tremaine Isabell, culminating in the Billikens’ exciting 2018 A10 Tourney run that propelled SLU to the NCAA Tournament in Ford’s third year. Since then, SLU hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament, and looks on track to miss it again this year, which will make only one NCAA Tournament appearance in 6 years.
However, it’s worth noting (and has been noted frequently) that there was no NCAA Tournament in 2019, and you can’t make a tournament that doesn’t exist, the next year SLU had a month-long COVID pause that clearly affected the team the rest of the year and derailed a potential dream season, and then this season SLU lost Javonte Perkins, one of the very best players in the country, before the season even started. SLU isn’t Duke or Kentucky, it’s hard to expect a team that lost a player like Perkins to make an NCAA Tournament or consider the season a failure if it ends with an NIT bid (in the event it does).
I’m not saying Ford has an unlimited string or that he’s done a perfect job at SLU. Next season will likely be very pivotal, as Collins, Gibson Jimerson, Hargrove will be veterans and Francis Okoro will be a senior. If SLU disappoints next year, there should be some conversations to be had. If yesterday’s UMass loss is the beginning of a season collapse, that’s cause for conversation too.
it’s very fair to criticize Travis Ford, but much too early to be calling for his head. He has his shortcomings, but Travis Ford so far has been a good hire for SLU. Realistically, what coach is out there that SLU could hire that would be a certain upgrade over Ford? There’s a lot more bad hires out there than good hires. The Ford era has definite room for improvement, but right now, the best thing to do is enjoy the good basketball, don’t be afraid to criticize the bad, but also remember SLU isn’t the Gonzaga of the Midwest (yet).