When Sonny Smith needed to hire an assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth, Frank Ford was a natural choice.
After all, Smith says, Ford was essentially his assistant coach for the four seasons Frank played for the Tigers from 1983-87.
Ford, 53, died Friday after a long illness at his home in Florida.
“He was an Auburn man through and through,” said Smith, Auburn’s coach from 1978-89. “He’s one of the best players I ever coached. A coach will talk about people who are coaches on the floor – he was definitely a coach on the floor.”
A four-year starter, Ford helped lead the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament in each of his seasons on the Plains, starting a school-record 127 consecutive games.
Averaging 10.8 points per game for his career, Ford ranks No. 14 on Auburn’s all-time scoring list with 1,389 points.
Drafted in the sixth round by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1987, Ford was the last player cut at training camp. He played professionally overseas and in the 6-5 and under World Basketball League before getting into coaching.
As a high school senior in 1983, Ford was the state of Florida’s first Mr. Basketball and Auburn’s first McDonald’s All-American.
“One of the very best,” Smith said. “He came to us as a big-time scorer. He got here and we had big-time scorers, so he adjusted his game to them. He made all of them better.
“He remained the Jared Harper of our team, taking the big shot when everybody else wasn’t hitting, and making the big play. He was as good with the guys off the court as he was on the court.”
Ford helped Auburn advance to the Elite Eight in 1986 and earned All-SEC honors as a senior in 1986-87.
To land Ford, Auburn won a spirited recruiting battle.
“He was recruited by everybody,” Smith said. “He chose Auburn because he liked the atmosphere here.”
Smith’s old-school coaching style – tough love – occasionally caused his players to bristle. Not Frank Ford.
“It never affected him, and I beat them all up pretty good back in the old days,” Smith said. “He never challenged me.”
Ford lived in Columbus, Georgia, allowing him to return to Auburn often before moving back to Florida after his health declined,
“Before he got ill, he’d come back for everything,” Smith said.
Auburn fans observed a moment of silence in Ford’s honor before Saturday’s game against Murray State.
“Frank Ford was a coach on the floor,” Smith said. “He also loved Auburn. That’s a big thing.”