Dec 17, 2014; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Rick Ray during the game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Humphrey Coliseum. Arkansas State Red Wolves defeat the Mississippi State Bulldogs 69-55. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
We all knew there was a distinct possibility that the Rick Ray Era would be a flop. He was somewhere around 10th on our list of candidates. He had no head coaching experience when he took over the Basketball team at Mississippi State, and his days as an assistant were spent on mostly average basketball programs. We knew we weren’t going to find anything out about what kind of a coach he would be the first two years of his career. It was always going to be about years three and four. After the 69-55 loss to Arkansas State on Wednesday night, it’s time we went in another direction.
I wanted to wait a day to write this simply because I didn’t want my frustration with the loss to cloud my judgement. I didn’t want to be a “prisoner of the moment”. And approximately 36 hours since that game, I still feel the same way. What makes it even worse is I thought we were getting ready to turn the corner.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
The team started off 5-0 with some good quality wins over Saint Louis on a neutral court and Utah State at home. The first loss of the season to TCU was disappointing, but the Horned Frogs have played really good basketball this season. They still haven’t lost a game. The rest of the losses have been utterly disappointing.
The loss to Tulane isn’t as bad as many might think, but we should be at a place where we can beat teams like Tulane. Our primary contributors are now all in their third year with the program. There should be more progress than what we have shown. The following loss to Oregon State, a team that most analysts had 40 to 60 spots lower than the Bulldogs in power rankings, controlled the game in Corvallis from start to finish. Mississippi State made some runs to get back in the game, but Oregon State did mostly what they wanted all game. It was a sign of a much greater problem during the Rick Ray era. We can’t win a true road game. We haven’t won a true road game since the first SEC road game during Ray’s first year on the job.
The loss to Arkansas State was the final nail in the coffin. Arkansas State came in to the game with an RPI in the 330s, and we really didn’t even challenge them. And this game was at home. Sure, there was almost no one in the stands, but it isn’t like the Bulldogs were playing in a hostile environment on another team’s court. The loss to the Red Wolves is simply inexcusable.
I know there are a lot of people who will read this and think that if we had never let Stansbury go, then we would probably still be winning 20 games a year and a bubble team for the NCAA and a lock for the NIT. We never should have gotten rid of Stansbury. I know there are people thinking that because I read it almost every day whenever there is a discussion about how long we are going to keep Rick Ray on board. Here’s the problem with this logic. The failures of Ray do not make the firing of Stansbury a bad decision.
Rick Ray has now become a bad hire. But the decision to hire Ray was a separate decision to fire Stansbury. The two are independent of one another. I was an ardent supporter of Stansbury until the final year in 2012. When Mississippi State started their monumental collapse from a Top 25 ranked team, to also ran in the SEC in a seven game span, I knew it was time to make a change. The Bulldogs had stopped doing the things that were hallmarks of a Rick Stansbury basketball team, primarily committing to defense and rebounding. When teams stop doing the things that a coach stresses and believes the most in, it’s a clear sign they aren’t listening any more. And the Bulldogs had completely tuned Stansbury out. We had to make a change.
The primary argument for not getting rid of Stansbury was we didn’t know who we could get to take his place. But that is a very flawed outlook on how to judge a program and coach. You have to judge the coach based on if you believe he is the best person to accomplish what you want as a program. I’d like to think Mississippi State fans want our team to compete for SEC Titles and deep runs in the NCAA tournament. If Stansbury wasn’t capable of getting us to that point, then the only reason we had to keep him was because we thought there wouldn’t be anyone better to hire. Do you know what that kind of thinking is called?
If you’re to afraid to let a coach go because you think you won’t find someone better, then you are acting in fear and you are a coward. Rick Ray is obviously not better, but we won’t have a hard time letting him go. It’s obvious to everyone that he isn’t working out. But based on many people’s opinions, we could have gone ten more years with being a fringe bubble team and making NITs. That’s the very definition of mediocre. That’s like going 6-6 in football and doing just enough to make it to a bowl game. It’s like doing just enough to qualify for a regional in baseball and getting sent home after two or three games. Would you settle for those things in football and baseball? Most wouldn’t so why would we want to settle for them in basketball. I think the men’s basketball team is able to do more than “just enough”.
Rick Ray was not the right choice to lead the team. The next coach we get might not be either. We will find the right person to lead this team. I just hope it soon rather than later.