Michael Ford builds legacy

Baylor's track team is led by Michael Ford, the third Black head coach in Baylor history. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Marquis Cooley | Sports Editor

Track and field head coach Michael Ford says he never imagined his life turning out as it has. This past summer, Ford became only the third Black head coach in Baylor athletics history. He followed Harry Miller, who coached men’s basketball from 1994-99, and LaPrise Harris-Williams, who coached acrobatics and tumbling from 2011-2014: Ford said it’s an extreme honor and wants to do his part to pave the way for more minority coaches in the future.

“I always say that I have a weight on my shoulders just because we’ve only had three Black coaches at Baylor,” Ford said. “I think there’s always been a lot of qualified minority coaches out there. We have to make sure that we do our part [so] we can have more minority head coaches in our university if that’s in God’s plans.”

Ford said he’s already begun seeing a change across the nation in terms of minority head coaching hires.

“When we were at the meet this past weekend, I noticed there were, say, 15 schools there and it was like 10 Black head coaches,” Ford said. “For me, it was just like, ‘Wow, we made it.’”

While he enjoys coaching now, it wasn’t always his plan. Even though Ford was a track star at Baylor, breaking a school record and winning back-to-back national championships in the 4×400 in 1995-96, he took a job in the marketing and research department of a law firm in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y., after graduating.

Ford eventually decided to give coaching a shot, spending three years at the University of Rochester as a part-time assistant coach, helping establish eight school records in sprints and relays. However, once former Baylor track and field head coach Clyde Hart called and offered him a job at his alma mater in 2000, Ford said he knew he couldn’t pass it up.

In his 21 years at Baylor as an assistant coach, Ford mentored several high-profile student-athletes such as Olympic gold medalist Jeremy Wariner, two-time NCAA champion and Olympian Trayvon Bromell and 17-time All-American sprinter Tiffany Townsend.

“When I met him, there was a connection there that I knew, he’s the coach for me,” Bromell told Baylor Insider Jerry Hill in 2021. “It was more than just track and field talent with him, it was more of, ‘I’m looking out for you. I’m here when you need me.’ And that’s the type of coach that I felt like I needed.”

Ford said the relationships he’s built with his student-athletes is his biggest accomplishment. Those same student-athletes were also his loudest supporters when he was hired to take over the program this past summer. Bromell, Warnier and even former Baylor All-American and Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson flooded Ford’s phone with congratulations and still send him words of encouragement regularly.

“I have a group chat with all of them,” Ford said. “If we’re running bad, they’re texting saying ‘Coach what’s going on?’ If we’re running great, they’re like, ‘Keep it up.’ I think for me, that’s probably the biggest motivating thing for me, that I’m able to keep in touch with a lot of my former student athletes … Hopefully, I’ll be recruiting their kids one day, but I just think that’s a huge blessing. I just love the support of all of them.”

One of Ford’s biggest supporters has been Todd Harbour, who retired after 16 seasons at the helm.

“[Ford] cares deeply about the total athlete and the ministry that we all have to the mission here at Baylor,” Harbour told Hill. “He is a great choice to lead this great program into the future, and I am excited to see what the Lord does through him.”

Ford is the fourth head coach of Baylor track and field in the last 65 years and said he’s taking some of what he learned from his time with both Hart and Harbour to lead the program the best way he can.

“I piggyback on the spiritual part [of Harbor] and wanting to maintain the tradition that Baylor’s been known for in the 400 and 4×400 [under Hart], but also, I think we have a really good overall team too. So I wanted to mesh all that together,” Ford said. “The one big key to me that was probably the most important part was that both of them stressed family. I wanted to make sure that we kept our family atmosphere with the student athletes and the staff.”

When it’s all said and done, Ford said he doesn’t just want to be known as a Black head coach. He wants to take the program to another level and leave the program a better place for the next coach down the road. To do that, he wants to do something none of the previous coaches have been able to do: bring home a national championship.

“I want us to be really consistent [and be] as nationally relevant as we can,” Ford said. “The goals have always been to win nationals. But I think we also have to put the pieces in place to be able to do that … It’s going to take some time. It’s going to take some hard work, but we’re willing to work and get it done.”