“Footsteps” is an ominous word on a track, conjuring images of someone nipping at the heels of the lead runner. However, in the case of Mike Ford, B.B.A. ’97, the word portends a different context.
Ford, who was a six-time All-American and two-time 4x400-meter relay national champion at Baylor, was named the University’s track and field head coach in July after 17 years as an assistant coach and four years as associate head coach. He is the fourth head coach in the program’s modern era, following legends Todd Harbour (2005-2021), Clyde Hart (1963-2005) and Jack Patterson (1956-1963). Ford said following in their footsteps is an honor he does not take lightly and that he sets a high bar for himself.
“Our student-athletes need to understand that we can be successful at a private school and win nationals like men’s basketball proved this year,” Ford said. “You can be successful at a small school in a small city, but you don’t have to give up your Christian values to do it.”
A Rochester, New York, native, Ford grew up wanting to play basketball, which remains his favorite sport. He watched with awe and a deep sense of pride as his alma mater claimed the men’s basketball national title in April.
That Ford attended Baylor was unlikely as a few hurdles surrounding his official visit had to be cleared. A gas leak at the Ferrell Center forced the cancellation of Baylor’s basketball game that weekend, and his official host had to leave after a family death. Ford’s mother assumed that what he described as “not a good weekend” would mean Baylor was out of the mix, but the University’s educational prowess and class sizes were important to him.
“I didn’t want to get lost on a big campus,” Ford said. “At the time, the Christian part of Baylor wasn’t important to me, but Coach Hart made a point to say, ‘It’s there if you need it.’ And I felt it; I felt the presence of God on campus. That gave me peace about Baylor.”
In the end, though, it was Hart who sold Ford on Baylor. Hart promised him only a scholarship.
“He told me that if I did everything in the classroom, if I did everything on the track, that I would be successful,” Ford said. “He didn’t say I would be a 15-time All-American, but he said I would get my degree. That was the tipping point because a lot of coaches don’t really talk about the after-college part. Coach Hart treated me more as a person than as an athlete. He had my best interests at heart. That was the selling point.”
Like many others in the profession, Ford had no aspirations of becoming a coach after college. In fact, he moved back to New York and was a market researcher for a law firm. While jogging at the University of Rochester, where he had worked camps during several summers, he was approached by Rochester track coach Tim Hale, who convinced Ford to join his staff. Three years thereafter, Hart brought Ford back to Waco as an assistant coach.
“Probably 15 years later, I asked Coach Hale why he hired me,” Ford said. “He said, ‘When you came up here and worked my camps, you did an awesome job with those 13-, 14-year-old kids. You have a knack for relationships.’”
Now Ford is in charge of fostering relationships for the entire Baylor Track and Field program. When not at the track, he cultivates relationships with his biological family in New York and his spiritual family at Waco’s Carver Park Baptist Church. He is a ravenous reader and enjoys authors Walter Mosley and Jon Gordon.
Ford is also an avid Baylor sports fan and believes one program’s success benefits the others. He said a successful football or men’s basketball or women’s basketball season acts as an icebreaker in conversations with recruits and their parents.
“There is a trickle down to the other sports,” Ford said. “For years, when basketball and football weren’t doing well, track was Baylor’s marquee sport. For me now, it’s about making sure we stay up there, making sure people are talking Baylor Track and Field in a positive light, too.”