I don't think it's hard to see what Travis Ford is.
He's a pretty darn good recruiter. When players leave the program for time in the NBA, or other professional leagues, then it's clear that talent is being lured to the university. The problem comes after they get here.
Good recruiters make a nice living at smaller colleges. All it takes is one pretty good player to lift your squad above the rest of your league. You might even pick off the occasional regular season win over a larger, sleepy program.
Talent reigns supreme. Just look at what Ford accomplished at Campbellsville, Eastern Kentucky, and UMass.
In eight opportunities, his teams improved on their season record every year except two.
That has not happened at OSU.
Now in the middle of Ford's 7th season, the Cowboys appear to be headed for their fifth finish of 6th place or lower in the Big 12. Ford's OSU squads have only crested 10+ conference wins once. Despite this, the team has 4 NCAA tourney appearances, and will likely get another barring a collapse down the stretch. Unfortunately, the Cowboys can't get out of the first round (don't be fooled by the last two "NCAA Second Round" shown above. The play-in games now count as the "first" round).
When you see coaches like Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart thrive at smaller schools, not only in record but also in the post-season, you know the X's and O's are there. When you see a coach move up from much smaller programs and struggle at a competitive Division I level, that can often indicate an X's and O's problem, which is where I think we are with Travis Ford. There's plenty of talent at this level, so you better bring some strategy if you want to succeed (unless you're Kentucky).
The addition of James Dickey has definitely invigorated the defensive capabilities, but offensively OSU is downright atrocious. Not "Texas Tech" atrocious, mind you, but not very good. Ford has had plenty of time to bring in players that fit his system, but I'm not really sure there is a system to fit. We're now watching our third consecutive season of what feels like underachieving athleticism, and that falls back on the coaching.
Oklahoma State has a very proud and successful basketball tradition. If football and basketball are considered the "major" sports, hoops is by far the more accomplished, sporting a couple of national championships, six final four's, and several Big 8/12 titles from both the regular season and the conference tourney.
Gallagher-Iba Arena is a revered building, and when the upper bowl should be closed off, even when the team is winning games, then something is wrong. The product is not attracting enough attention, and it's not for lack of trying. Ford has gone to great lengths to woo the fans, but the one thing he hasn't been able to provide is the quality result on the court. It's obvious to most of us that the talent is present.
My biggest issue in this moment, however, is where does OSU go if that change is made? I'm not buying James Dickey stock right now, because I don't think he's the right fit for the long term.
The end of this season will definitely have something to do with Ford's tenure. The team has enough talent to get hot, make a run, maybe win a couple of games in the tourney. If the Cowboys get to the Sweet 16, my bet is Ford remains another season.
But if the team stumbles home, misses the tourney, and a change isn't made, then this is squarely on Holder and Company. If we get the usual result (one and done in the tourney), I'm not sure I'll feel any differently.
Either way, how bout let's kick OU's ass on Saturday night!