A little before 9 p.m. Sunday night, the central Illinois and Bradley communities heaved a great sign of relief.
It was over.
Arguably the most high-profile job in the city had finally been filled.
Three weeks to the day after Jim Les was let go, Geno Ford landed at Peoria International as the 13th head coach in Bradley history.
“We have a very rich tradition in basketball,” Ford said during a press conference on Monday. “It’s been talked about: 34 tournament appearances, NIT Championships, NCAA Tournament championship game appearances. Those things you don’t find, you just don’t find them. This institution is so special because of whatever key component and that being our fanbase.”
Ford comes from Kent State where he led the Golden Flashes to a 68-37 record and two consecutive Mid-American Conference titles in his last two years there. He racked up a record of 35-13 in the MAC.
Kent State reached the quarterfinals in the NIT this season before they lost to No. 1 seed University of Colorado.
The allure of Bradley’s fanbase is something that played a huge role in his decision to come here.
“This is just one of those rare places where we’ve got a fanbase that wants to win,” Ford said. “It was first evident to me in 1999. I was an assistant coach at Ohio University. We played Bradley out in Hawaii as part of the Rainbow Classic and there were several schools there. The school that traveled the best was the Bradley Braves and as I sat there as a young assistant I remember thinking to myself I cannot believe this school would have that many people follow their team. It made a big impression on me.”
Even though it almost took a month to fill the position, Athletics Director Michael Cross got the man he wanted for the job.
“When the search began, President (Joanne) Glasser and I made a short list of candidates,” Cross said. “I can now tell you that Geno Ford was at the top of that list.”
Throughout his entire head coaching career, Ford has compiled a 119-69 record. His only sub-.500 campaign came in 2006-07 when he was coaching Div. III Muskingum, and they finished 12-13. As a head coach, he’s been named his conference’s coach of the year three times, at Shawnee State once and Kent State twice.
“When I started the search process a few weeks ago, I made it clear I wouldn’t rest until I got a coach with outstanding leadership skills, one with values that are aligned with the university,” Cross said. “My expectation was to hire a coach who could provide our student-athletes with an educational experience as well as a championship experience. Coach Ford is exactly the right fit for that position.”
Bradley has declined to release information about Ford’s contract. Ohio media outlets have reported he’s making $700,000 and an additional $200,000 possible in incentives.
Ford’s contract at Kent State had a buyout clause, meaning Ford is responsible for the final four years of his contract there at $300,000 a year. It wasn’t clear this week whether Bradley was covering that $1.2 million or Ford was responsible.