Mar 11, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Rick Ray during the first half in the SEC Conference Tournament against the Auburn Tigers at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
The Mississippi State Men’s Basketball Season came to an end last night with their 74-68 loss to Auburn in the opening round of the SEC Tournament. It ended a frustrating season for the players, coaches, and fans of the Bulldogs. The season was full of up and down play. Right when most believed the Bulldogs were toast for 2014-15, they would play better and win some games we didn’t expect. Just as soon as some people got back on board, they would go back into a funk and lose games most thought they shouldn’t. In the third year of the Rick Ray era, Mississippi State fans wanted more.
After the game was over last night, much of the talk on social media turned to Rick Ray’s job status. You would be hard pressed to find a single person who has watched this team the last three years that believes Rick Ray is going to have any sustainable success as the head coach. You also would have a really hard time finding anyone who believes Scott Stricklin is going to pull the trigger and let Ray go. The absolute best we can hope for was summed up by one of the editors of our site.
I’m done debating whether or not Ray should be back. I’m done arguing with people who still scream from the rooftops that Rick Stansbury never should have been fired. At this point, those are all irrelevant. What is relevant is what the Rick Ray hire and adamant stance by Scott Stricklin to keep him on board says about the performance of our Athletic Director.
Scott Stricklin has one of the most difficult jobs in the SEC. He presides over an athletics program that has one of the smallest budgets in the conference, a conference where schools spend money like they have their own mint on campus. Since Stricklin has been AD, there have been a number of things you can point to as signs of an excellent athletic director. The football team has a football only facility that is regarded by most as one of the best in the country. Davis Wade Stadium opened up an expansion increasing attendance to over 60,000, and made it one of the most difficult places to play according to many who came to Starkville this past football season. Stricklin introduced and started taking donations for an aggressive new version of Dudy Noble Field that will be unmatched in college baseball. All of these things among others show that Scott Stricklin is doing the things necessary to strengthen the core of Mississippi State Athletics.
But none of it matters.
Athletic Directors have a vast array of responsibilities they have to oversee. Despite that, they are largely praised or scorned based on the coaches they hire. Scott Stricklin hired Vic Schaefer. Schaefer has brought a new attitude and level of play to the women’s basketball team that could lead the Lady Bulldogs to becoming a national powerhouse. Scott Stricklin hired Vann Stuedeman. Stuedeman took a stagnant softball program and revitalized it to three straight NCAA tournament appearances, and they will likely make their fourth in a row this year. Scott Stricklin hired new volleyball coach David McFatrich. McFatrich’s team hasn’t played a match yet, but most who know anything about volleyball praised Stricklin for hiring one of the rising stars in the sport.
Once again, none of that matters.
What matters in the SEC is who you hire and who you fire for the head coaching jobs of football, men’s basketball, and baseball. Stricklin just signed head coach Dan Mullen to a $4 million per year extension, but he didn’t hire him. Scott Stricklin has done everything to ensure John Cohen is the coach of the Bulldogs until the day he retires, but he didn’t hire him. Mullen and Cohen were hired by Greg Byrne, and the one of the big three that Stricklin did hire, Rick Ray, will forever be compared to those two coaches. And it is hurting Stricklin’s legacy.
Stricklin made the decision to give Rick Ray four years to get the basketball program turned around. He has no intention to back off of that despite the fact there has been no appreciable improvement in the program. Yes, the team no longer gets blown out by 20 or 30 points most games, but losing by a smaller margin means nothing. In the third year of the program that is built around players with three years of experience, the Bulldogs should be winning much more often than 6 times out of 18 games in SEC play.
Stricklin needs to be bold when it comes to the men’s basketball team. If he doesn’t want to fire Rick Ray and give him a fourth year to make the necessary improvements, fine. But he needs to address the problems that are staring everyone in the face. Stricklin needs to come out and say that a fourth year of this level of play will not be acceptable. Stricklin needs to address how the Hump is a wasteland because no one believes in the direction of the program. Stricklin needs to show he is aware there are some who believe he is sacrificing the development of the program simply so he won’t have to admit that he made a bad hire.
Scott Stricklin is a good Athletic Director. He has done a lot of things for our university and solidified the financial well being of our athletic programs. But if he isn’t careful, he is going to be remembered for screwing up the men’s basketball team.