MSU Mythbusting: Stansbury was a Great Coach


Over the course of the next five days, I want to look at some things regarding the athletic programs at Mississippi State. I then plan to put them to the Mythbusters test. If you’ve never seen the show on Discovery, they always test the myth and then determine if it is confirmed, plausible, or busted. We will do the same for the myths of Mississippi State. We will do 2 for basketball, 2 for football, and one for baseball.

Since the Elite 8 weekend just finished up, I thought there would be no better time to look at one of the most hotly debated topics among Mississippi State fans: Just how great of a coach was Rick Stansbury? To determine if anything is true or not, you have to have evidence. So let’s take a look at the evidence.

The Regular Season

The regular season record of Rick Stansbury makes a compelling case for him being considered a great coach. In his fourteen year career, he compiled a record of 293-165, a winning percentage of .641. That averages out to 21 wins a year. This will be one of the first things championed by people who thought Stansbury was unjustly fired after the 2012 season. He is the winningest coach in school history, so if you look to his regular season record, you can easily make a case for Stansbury.

Conference Record

As impressive as Stansbury’s Regular Season record was, it takes a hit when you factor in the conference record. His SEC record was 122-102, a winning percentage of .541 and averaged just under 9 wins a year. You expect there to be a drop off during conference play, but that is a pretty significant drop off. The Bulldogs did win the West five times during the Stansbury era, but the Bulldogs won the West twice with a record of 9-7 and once with a record of 8-8.

The SEC Tournament

Stansbury teams did well in the SEC tournament rather consistently. The Bulldogs won the tournament twice under the direction of Stansbury, in 2009 very unexpectedly  and stealing an NCAA tournament berth from a Bubble team, and they also appeared in the Final two additional times. Rarely did the Bulldogs flame out when they weren’t expected to. The only time that happened would be in the 2004 tournament. That year, they were the SEC Champions and lost their opening game against Vanderbilt.

The NCAA Tournament

The Big Dance is the biggest mark against Stansbury. In fourteen seasons, the Bulldogs only made the tournament six times. They did make the NIT five other times, but the only people who pay attention to the NIT are the fans of those teams that are involved in the tournament. The NCAA tournament is the only real standard that matters. Had Stansbury teams fared better in the years that he reached the tournament, I believe the athletic administration would have displayed more patience with Stansbury. In the six years his team made it to the tournament, they were never able to advance beyond the second round. The biggest disappointments came in 2003 when they were ousted by #12 seed Butler in a game which they appeared to take a first round victory for granted. In 2004, probably the most successful regular season ever for a Mississippi State basketball squad, they were defeated in the second round by #7 seed Xavier. No one faults the Bulldogs team for running into a team that was playing as well as anyone in the country and came moments away from playing in a Final Four. Many do point to their poor performance in the SEC tournament, the aforementioned loss to Vanderbilt, which cost them a chance at a #1 seed. Getting to the final of the SEC Tournament would have made a compelling case for the Bulldogs to be a #1 seed and they would have avoided Xavier in the second round had that happened.

The Verdict: Plausible. Arguing with Bulldog fans about the legacy of Rick Stansbury is one of the most futile things a person can do. Most Bulldog fans are firmly entrenched into one of two camps: They believe he was the greatest coach that we could have possibly hoped for and were idiots for firing him, or he was a lousy coach that underperformed and we were idiots to hold onto him as long as we did. I try to make the case for a third faction, and I believe there are others out there, though we are small in numbers. He was a good coach with some great years. The team took a number of steps backwards in his final three years with no NCAA tournament appearances, and it was simply time to make a change. How the team has done under Rick Ray should have no bearing on whether or not we should have retained Stansbury. That is a completely different discussion, one that I plan to tackle tomorrow.