Travis Ford let Marcus Smart down

Absolutely no one and absolutely none. The day Smart decided to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season, he was given the keys to the Cowboys' program, even if he really isn't old enough to drive it.

What we've seen since is Exhibits A through Z in selling your moral soul in an effort to win basketball games. Smart is Colonel Jessep. Ford needs him on his wall to win, and don't think Smart isn't smart enough to know it. On Jan. 25, Smart went 1-for-7 against West Virginia and took out his frustration on a chair.

On Jan. 27, he played 25 minutes against Oklahoma.

Last week, in a comment that sounded like a veiled threat then and reads prescient now, Smart told ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman, "I know players are going to go out and take shots at me. Starting this game, I'm putting it in the back of my mind. If that's how it's going to be played, that's how it's going to be played.''

And here we are.

Whatever private conversations Ford has had with his star player, however many extra wind sprints he may have run in practice, there has been no public reprimand or censure for a player whose behavior has been spiraling out of control.

At the very least, Smart shouldn't have started against Oklahoma after kicking the chair. There should have been at least a smack on the wrist to say, 'No, that's not tolerated here.' Would it have definitively stopped this train from wrecking? Maybe not, but it wouldn't have hurt to try.

Instead Ford, in his sixth year in Stillwater with only one NCAA tournament win to show for it, opted to put on his blinders and hope that winning would cure everything.

Now he's finding out the ironic twist in that plan: When you sacrifice everything for winning, including your own authority, you usually fail wildly. He let Smart walk all over him. He waited for Stevie Clark to commit his third strike before kicking him off the team last week. And now, he's got a team that is, not surprisingly, deteriorating as rapidly as Smart's reputation.

Ford is not unusual. Plenty, if not most coaches eventually find themselves at this intersection, standing between the right thing to do and the path to job security. The same idealism that promotes coaches making men out of players also pretends coaches aren't fired for losing games. There inevitably will come a time in every career, then, when righteousness and self-preservation take root on opposite shoulders.

When you have the tenure and equity of, say, a Tom Izzo, it's a lot easier to make the morally right decision as opposed to the ambiguous indecision. But for every coach who closed his eyes and crossed his fingers that things would work out, there are others who did the right thing, wins and losses be damned.

In 2011, two years after he took the job and long before the results came in, Josh Pastner in short order booted Pierre Henderson-Niles from the Memphis team, suspended Wesley Witherspoon indefinitely and parted ways with top recruit Jelan Kendrick before he played a second in a Tigers uniform.

Pastner and Memphis took their lumps, but the coach made his choice based on his convictions rather than this career arc.

"Sometimes you make decisions based on what's best for not only the team, but also what's best for the young man,'' he said when he suspended Witherspoon.

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