Cornell Ford is in his 21st season as a valuable member of Coach Gary Pinkel’s staff, including his 15th at Mizzou working with the Tiger secondary. Since the 2004 season, Ford has coached the Tiger cornerbacks, after he focused on MU’s outside safeties his first three years. Ford is also the Tigers’ chief recruiter in St. Louis, where he has signed some of the very best players in the state who have been critical to Mizzou’s success over the years.
Mizzou’s defense was a key to its 2014 SEC Eastern Division title run, and the pass defense supplied by Ford’s secondary played a big role. His corners contributed to a defense which ranked 2nd in the SEC in pass defense (185.8 yds/game) in league games. Led by sophomore Aarion Penton, who had three interceptions, Ford’s corners accounted for 23 pass break ups combined, including a team-best 10 from Penton and nine from JUCO transfer Kenya Dennis in his first year with the Tigers.
Mizzou’s secondary was one of the most impactful in the nation in 2013, as the Tigers led the SEC and ranked 5th nationally with 20 interceptions. Ford’s corners tallied nine of those picks, including five by senior E.J. Gaines, who won 1st-Team All-SEC honors. Fellow senior Randy Ponder had a pair of interceptions, and freshmen Aarion Penton and John Gibson both grabbed one apiece, and gained valuable experience that bodes well for the future when Gaines was lost for two games to a leg injury sustained in a win at 7th-ranked Georgia in October.
Gaines became the highest drafted Mizzou cornerback since 1983 when he was selected in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams.
In 2011, Ford oversaw the development of Gaines into one of the nation’s top young cover men. Gaines set a Mizzou record with 16 pass break ups in his first year as a starter, and tied for 5th nationally with 18 passes defended overall (including 2 interceptions). Gaines had a solid junior season in 2012, when he made 74 tackles, and led the Tigers with 11 pass breakups.
Both of Ford’s starting cornerbacks earned All-Big 12 status for three straight seasons (2008-10), including Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland both in 2009 and 2010. The Tiger pass defense was a large reason for Mizzou’s much-improved play in 2010, as MU led the Big 12 and ranked 6th nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 16.08 points per game. The Tigers also ranked 11th nationally in pass efficiency defense, with an opponent passer rating of 108.45.
Rutland’s development earned him an invitation to the 2011 NFL Combine, and while he went undrafted, he was signed immediately by Jacksonville, and in the 2011 season made his first career NFL start for the Jaguars.
In 2009, Gettis and Rutland were named honorable mention all-league by league coaches for their play. Gettis ranked 6th on the team in 2009 with 61 tackles, and led the team with 5 pass break ups, to go with having a hand in 4 turnovers in his third year as a starter. Rutland, in his first year as a starter, developed into MU’s top corner, as he won honorable-mention all-league status and was named the team’s cornerback of the year for his season, which included 47 tackles and a team-high 2 interceptions.
Both of Ford’s starting cornerbacks earned All-Big 12 mention in 2008, with senior Castine Bridges and sophomore Carl Gettis winning honorable mention all-league acclaim for their play on the Tigers’ 10-4 squad. Gettis further established himself as one of the top young defensive backs in the Big 12 Conference as he ranked 5th on the Tiger squad with 78 tackles, 4 pass break ups and 1 interception. Bridges closed out his Tiger career with 69 tackles and 1 interception, plus a team-high 7 pass break ups.
Mizzou’s cornerbacks turned in a solid 2007 season overall, and were a definite reason that the Tiger defense was one of the best in the Big 12 Conference. True freshman Carl Gettis blossomed under Ford’s coaching, as he became a starter early in the year and eventually won 2nd-Team Freshman All-American honors for his play. Senior Darnell Terrell was invited to the NFL Combine in the off-season, and later signed a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Browns.
The Tiger secondary was instrumental in MU’s defensive improvement in 2006, and Ford’s cornerbacks were a big reason why. Led by junior Darnell Terrell, who earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors from league coaches, the Tigers ranked 2nd in the Big 12 Conference, and 37th nationally, in pass defense, permitting 185.69 yards per game on average. That fact was even more impressive, considering that sophomore starting CB Domonique Johnson missed five games due to a knee injury midway through the season.
After losing his top performer from 2004 in Shirdonya Mitchell, Ford helped develop his cornerback unit into one that was dependable and steady in 2005. Mizzou ended the 2005 regular season ranking 4th in the Big 12 in pass defense, allowing an average of 212.55 yards per game.
Senior Marcus King blossomed into a big-play performer for the Tiger secondary in 2005, as he led the team with a career-high 13 passes broken up – including a record-breaking 99-yard interception return for a TD in the Independence Bowl win. King earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors by both league coaches and media for his efforts, and he teamed with fellow senior A.J. Kincade to give the Tigers a dependable tandem. King later went on to earn a free agent contract with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys following the 2006 NFL Draft, and another Ford protégé, Calvin Washington, was invited to the rookie minicamp with Washington following the draft as well.
Just about every one of Ford’s cornerbacks had career years under his coaching in 2004, and that performance was instrumental in Mizzou’s substantial improvement in defense. Thanks in large part to his cornerbacks, Mizzou led the Big 12 Conference, and ranked 3rd nationally in pass defense in 2004, allowing an average of just 149.27 yards per game. His corners grabbed 8 of MU’s 15 interceptions in 2004, which was a nice team improvement from a total of 9 in 2003 (including 3 from cornerbacks that year).
Senior Shirdonya Mitchell blossomed into a high-level cornerback in 2004 under Ford’s direction, as he ranked 5th in the Big 12 Conference, and 33rd nationally, with his 4 interceptions. Mitchell earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors for his play, in only his second year playing defense, and signed a two-year free agent deal with the Miami Dolphins following the 2005 NFL Draft. Juniors Marcus King and A.J. Kincade also had big years, as King tied for the team lead with four turnovers gained (2 interceptions and 2 fumbles) and led the team with 7 pass break ups, while Kincade had a career-high 2 interceptions, including a game-winning pickoff in overtime of the season finale at Iowa State.
In addition to his coaching duties, Ford has worked hard to earn a reputation as one of the most well-trusted recruiting presences in his area of St. Louis. His hard work and straightforward approach has paid off recently, as he has successfully attracted stars such as Will Franklin, Jeremy Maclin and 2008 signees Blaine Gabbert and Wes Kemp to Mizzou. In 2009, he landed Gateway Tech superstar Sheldon Richardson, who was one of the nation’s top overall prospects, and this past February, MU signed a class which ranked 21st-best in the nation according to Rivals.com, and that was the highest ranking ever for a Tiger recruiting class. Ford was also successful in getting Missouri’s foot in the door in other St. Louis schools where there hadn’t been much Tiger success in recent years.
Ford spent five seasons at Toledo coaching the wide receivers. Toledo graduate Mel Long pulled in 175 receptions in his four-year career, 21 of those for touchdowns. He also held the longest active streak in NCAA Division I for consecutive games with a reception. Under Ford, Long became Toledo’s all-time leading receiver.
Before Toledo, Ford coached at Marietta College where he coached the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, while also serving as the team’s strength and conditioning coach. Marietta led the conference in rushing offense in 1994 and 1995 and owned the league’s top running back both seasons.
Prior to joining the Marietta staff, Ford served two seasons as a graduate assistant at Toledo. He helped with the offensive line in 1992 and the secondary in 1991.
Ford holds a bachelor’s degree (1991) in physical education and a master’s degree (1993) in sports administration from Toledo.
He and his wife, Dawn, are the parents of a son, Devin, and a daughter, Taylor.