For the entirety of his basketball career, Missouri State’s new head basketball coach, Dana Ford, has been playing a game of red rover with the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). A native of Tamms, Illinois, Ford played college basketball at Illinois State. For three of those years, his coach was Porter Moser, who took Loyola Chicago, another MVC team, to the Final Four in 2018.
After a stint as an assistant at Wichita State, Ford returned to Illinois State as an associate head coach. Ford was just 27 years old. In 2014, he became the youngest Division I coach in college basketball when he took the position at Tennessee State. The first year was rough—his team ended the season with a 5-26 record. But over the last three years, he led the team to a 52-39 record. It was that record that the administrators at Missouri State were drawn to when hiring Ford as the new head basketball coach. Now, at age 34, the 6-foot-4 coach (he’s listed at 6-foot-4, but he modestly admits he’s a few inches shorter), is tasked with returning Bears basketball to heights it hasn’t reached since 1999. He arrives with a roster full of fresh faces—an illustration of the new chapter Ford’s hiring represents. With graduates and transfers, Ford was able to go out and get a few players to maximize what he calls the “cap space” he had coming into the job.
Talking with Ford, it’s easy to see why Athletic Director Kyle Moats and University President Clif Smart were so taken with the young coach. He is thoughtful and refreshingly avoids typical coachspeak in his answers, which are delivered as if he’s anticipated any and all questions that might be thrown his way. Before the upcoming basketball season, we sat down with Ford to talk about how he plans to put Missouri State on a national stage again and the reasons to care about the direction the program is headed.