Suffice to say, it’s been a whirlwind few weeks for the Plano ISD athletics department — navigating an all too unique road to finding Plano Senior’s next head football coach, but one that at last has a destination after Tuesday’s announcement that Todd Ford will usher in the next era of Wildcat football.
Just what led Ford to the third head coaching job of his career on the varsity gridiron came down to pedigree, tradition and opportunity.
“It doesn’t take long to call roll in the state of Texas when you’re asked how many football programs have won seven state championships or more,” Ford said. “It doesn’t take long to see who those are, and obviously that’s the first thing that piques my interest about Plano. Plus, there’s the size and that’s something that’s important for building depth.
“Lastly, the tradition is there and it’s something you can’t take lightly. I absolutely embrace the tradition that has been there and that we will continue to honor.”
It’s that combination that molded the Wildcats into one of Texas high school football’s legacy programs — something that isn’t lost on Ford as he begins laying the foundation for his program. Whether or not that opportunity would materialize took an unforeseen turn earlier in the month after Denton Braswell’s Cody Moore was initially hired as Plano’s next head coach. Approved by the PISD school board on March 3, Moore had a change of heart less than 24 hours later and opted to stay with a Braswell program that he built from scratch — a sentiment that Ford understands.
“I know Cody very well. He’s a good friend of mine. We talked, and I had to make the decision to move on from a 6A program down in Round Rock (Cedar Ridge) that I started,” Ford said. “It took six years and it’s very difficult to do something like that because you put so much blood, sweat and tears into building the program. I know how difficult that is, and when what happened with Cody happened, I knew exactly why and he confirmed that.”
Ford noted that Moore gave a glowing endorsement of the Plano job — something that reassured him during a process that he said accelerated quickly prior to Tuesday’s announcement.
“It wasn’t one that was drawn out very long, and I give credit to administration for making things happen in the midst of all the other uncertainties that were going on at the time,” Ford said.
It’s the latest in several Dallas-area coaching stops for Ford, including a four-year run at Lovejoy where he led the Leopards to three consecutive playoff appearances — highlighted by a combined 15 wins over the past two seasons — before stepping down in January to pursue new opportunities, per Lovejoy ISD.
“It was great. I’ve been able to establish some really great, tremendous relationships with the people in that community,” Ford said. “I’ve spent the majority of my career coaching up here in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and it’s really great being able to stay. That’s really significant.”
Preceding his time at Lovejoy with a six-year run as Cedar Ridge’s first-ever head coach, during which he led the Raiders to three straight playoff berths, Ford garnered championship-level success as the offensive coordinator at Southlake Carroll from 2004-06 as part of a three-year run when the Dragons went 48-0 and won a trio of Class 5A state titles. Ford coached under Todd Dodge during that stretch and again from 2007-09 in the college ranks as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at The University of North Texas.
Under Ford, the Mean Green set program and Sun Belt Conference single-season records for pass attempts, pass completions and passing yards — a glimpse into the wide-open offense he looks to deploy at Plano.
“We will spread the field. We want to force defenses to defend every square inch of the turf from sideline to sideline,” Ford said. “We love to throw the ball, but we’ll run it too, and the defense will determine how much of that takes place.
“But we’ll have a premium on the passing game. It’s what we’ve done and what we’ve had success with. We’re excited about getting some quarterbacks, running backs and receivers and these skill guys involved. I think they’ll be really excited about this.”
During Ford’s last three seasons at Lovejoy, the program averaged just over 400 yards per game, highlighted by an average of 451.5 yards amassed in 2018 — a figure that ranked No. 1 in the area among 5A’s top 25 teams in total yardage.
Ford looks to carry that over to a Plano program seeking its first playoff win since 2009. The Wildcats are coming off a 5-5 campaign in the last of a 12-year run under previous head coach Jaydon McCullough. Plano posted a 70-59 record under McCullough, who took a different position within the school district in February.
With just one playoff berth over the past five seasons, the Wildcats’ path along the comeback trail, Ford said, will initially start with a sense of perspective.
“We all have goals for ourselves, but I think it’s important as you build a program and instill its core values that you make the most out of the opportunity that you have today,” Ford said. “If you do your best and take ownership, then tomorrow will present itself. We can’t look too far ahead. We have to take care of the task at hand today and be the best Wildcat that we can today. If we can build days upon days then we’ll improve quickly.
“That’s the challenge we all have right now because our kids aren’t in school. We’re all in the same boat, so we’ll attack that obstacle as well and have a great plan to see our kids through this.”
With PISD high schools closed until April 3 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and UIL athletics suspended until May 4, it remains to be seen how long until Ford so much as conducts his first practice as the Wildcats’ head coach. In the interim, he’s taken initial steps to get in touch with his players.
“It’ll mostly be electronic for now. If this had been 15-20 years ago, I don’t know that we would have had this opportunity,” Ford said. “It’s a life-saver for all of us across the state and the country. It’s huge for us to be able to reach out to our kids this way. We’ll have a plan that we get together and we’ll be in communication with our kids constantly from this point forward.”
In addition, Ford said the process of rounding out his coaching staff has already begun.
“I’ll have guys come with me for sure — that’s just part of the head coaching business — but it’s also going to involve getting around to the previous staff and getting to know them and seeing what their strengths and weaknesses are,” Ford said. “We’re trying to find the best men of character that we can to be around our players.”