CAMBRIDGE — Gene Ford brought the best out of everyone, whether on the court or another aspect of life.
The legendary Cambridge coach was known for his upbeat attitude and good nature.
Unfortunately, his presence was taken away Friday morning when Ford lost his battle to cancer. He was 67.
Ford had 400 career wins on the high school hardwood, most with the Bobcats. He led them to five final four appearances, including a state runner-up finish in 1995, in 25 seasons.
Andy Slaughter, the current Cambridge coach and Tri-Valley alum, remembered his first meeting with Ford. Slaughter's family moved into the same neighborhood Ford lived in, and the coach drove over on his lawnmower to welcome him to the community.
"I was grateful for the time I had with him," Slaughter said. "He was larger than life and had the ability to make you have a better day even with just a short conversation. He was a great man who will be missed not just in basketball, but life because of what he did for this community, district and my family and myself."
His knowledge of the game was one Slaughter appreciated from the start. He welcomed Ford to his program any time.
"He was an invaluable asset," Slaughter said. "It was good for the program and the staff to have someone there you could bounce ideas of off him. It awesome to have a mentor like him, and not many people are blessed to have a person like Gene in their lives. If I'm the quarter of the coach he was, I had a pretty good career."
Ford's impact also came during his playing days under legendary coach Jim Burson. Burson had only been at Muskingum for a few years when he recruited Ford from Indian Valley North.
Burson remembered one of his players telling him about Ford, and saying he was only 5-7, 5-8, but he still went to watch. Ford displayed his skillset, putting up a triple double.
It was a sign of what was to come. Ford became the Muskingum's leading scorer after playing from 1970-74. He was a key contributor to a pair of Ohio Athletic Conference titles and became an All-American as a senior.
Ford is still second on the all-time scoring list with 1,717 points. Andrew Moore surpassed him during his career from 1988-92 with 1,871.
"He put on one of the best exhibits of how to play the game the first time I saw him," Burson said. "As a young coach where I felt I needed to win, he came into my life at a good time. I played a style where we held the ball, and that wasn't his game, but he never complained. He kept everything in perspective, and he was the best player and best young man I ever had in my program."
It wasn't only Ford's skills that stood out. Ford displayed the character so many coaches look for, and his attitude and likability made every player in the program better.
"He cared about everyone whether they were on the second team, third team or jayvee," Burson said. "Anyone who got in the game with Gene played harder and better than I thought they could.
"He wasn't out there to impress anyone, and he took that into his coaching career," he added. "He really cared about people and players and that was more important to him than winning. That's why he was a winner and such a beautiful person."
Ford returned as a coach to Muskingum in 2005. He was an assistant for his son, Geno, for two seasons before becoming the head coach in 2007. He coached through 2015.
Dave Brown, a Coshocton graduate and current Maysville coach, played under Ford for two years. His wife, Katie, was also the bookkeeper during Ford's tenure.
"He was a great guy and developed relationships. He still called me once a month to see how we were doing, and he's always been special to my family," Brown said. "I don't remember anything we did in practice or the X's and O's, but I know he loved his players. That's the biggest thing I took away from him."
Brown recalled his father taking him to watch Ford's high school teams. He noted Ford was fiery and had a competitive nature when the game started.
No matter the result, Ford remained positive. Brown said he hopes to continue Ford's legacy through his coaching and example.
"He joked around a lot, but when it was time to play, he wanted to win," Brown said. "It was an honor and a dream to play for him. He made you feel special, and he was a legend everywhere he went. I hope to impact one kid the way he impacted me."
Longtime Zanesville coach Scott Aronhalt was playing for River View when he first met Ford, who was coaching Tuscarawas Valley at that time.
He was able to get to know Ford through the years, especially coaching against him.
Aronhalt said the two talked regularly and Ford even visited practice on occasion.
"I've known Gene forever. It's a sad day," Aronhalt said. "My old buddy, Jim McCandlish, said there were energy takers and energy givers, and Gene was an energy giver. He lit up every room he walked into. He always had something funny to say and was always in good spirits."
Ford had established his coaching reputation when Aronhalt took over the Blue Devils, and his success was one Aronhalt aspired to reach.
"When I interviewed for the job, I asked the administration, players and people in the program about who had the best program in the area. Everyone said Gene," Aronhalt said. "I wanted to build Zanesville like Cambridge and to have notoriety, winning and long tournament runs. He was the envy of a lot of coaches.
"He was the best high school coach I've ever coached against," Aronhalt said. "He had the ability to adjust to any style and knew what it took to win at this level. He still had so much to give to the game with his knowledge and spirit, and it's tough to lose someone like that."