Ford’s departure leaves basketball team in “state of shock”

Rachel Jones

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Geno Ford’s Kent State contract

The Kent State athletic department named associate head coach Rob Senderoff the interim head coach of the men’s basketball team until a replacement for former head coach Geno Ford is found.

“I’ve seen firsthand the relationships Rob has built with these young men,” said Joel Nielsen, the director of athletics at Kent State, during a press conference Monday. “It’s genuine. They’re not purely acting out of emotion saying, ‘We just want somebody who’s here right now.’”

While it was critical to name Senderoff as soon as possible, Nielsen said the nation-wide search to permanently replace Ford will not be concluded as quickly.

The athletic department is taking a few days to absorb the sudden change before narrowing down the dozens of candidates it is already considering to avoid any rash decisions.

Although Ford’s decision to leave could be considered just that.

After several conversations in the past few days, Ford made an indication to Nielsen on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. that he would be leaving the Flashes after serving as head coach for three years.

Nielsen was “alerted to the Bradley University website” at 9:30 p.m. to see Ford accepted a head coach position there.

“I would have hoped for better communication because there was excellent communication (earlier),” Nielsen said. “I would’ve liked to sit down and hear his thoughts and ideas.”

And the players agreed.

“I’m in a state of shock,” junior guard Carlton Guyton said. “It was very unexpected.”

Guyton said he found out when a former coach called him Sunday at 9:55 p.m. and said he heard Ford was leaving.

After an online search confirmed what Guyton thought was “a joke or something,” he attended a meeting with his teammates and several staff members at 10:15 p.m. Everyone there had mixed emotions, from surprise to sadness to anger.

“I think (getting a new head coach) is going to be difficult on student athletes already,” Nielsen said. “But in a situation like that, it’s tough.”

Ford was not present at the meeting because he touched down in an Illinois airport at 7:15 p.m. then went to Bradley University to meet with his new team.

“I was brought here to be what I am: passionate about Bradley University; passionate about the players,” Ford said at a press conference Monday. “We have a very rich basketball tradition.”

After signing his most recent contract less than a year ago on April 1, Ford is the 23rd men’s basketball coach to depart from the Flashes.

But Nielsen said he does not want Kent State to be known as “a training ground” — a term he has heard before. Since 2000, the men’s basketball program has been a stepping-stone for coaches.

Gary Waters left for Rutgers after the Flashes won a game in the 2001 NCAA Tournament. Stan Heath took off for Arkansas after Kent State’s Elite Eight run in 2002. And before Ford, Jim Christian accepted the coaching job at Texas Christian after a 28-7 season in 2008.

“Last year, I thought we made some progress,” Nielsen said. “We hoped the changes we made and the buyout would have helped establish us some greater certainty and consistency.”

Ford’s contract said if he decides to stop coaching before the contract expires on March 31, 2015, he or his future employer must pay Kent State his salary plus his supplemental salary — for the basketball camps and other activities he does for the team outside of coaching — multiplied by the number of years left on his contract.

Four years and $300,000 totals up to $1.2 million.

Although this was not enough to keep Ford around, Guyton hopes Senderoff makes his time as the temporary head coach permanent.

Having 10 new players finally mesh this season, the next-year senior said it would be better if the team did not have to readjust to a new coaching staff as well.

“Hopefully, (the new coach) is someone we’re used to,” Guyton said. “Or if it’s a new coach, I hope things stay the same.”

Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected].