The first name to appear publicly in national circles to replace Rick Ray has been former UCLA coach Ben Howland. Ordinarily this type of speculation would be MSU fans dreaming of a coach who went to back-to-back-to-back Final Fours, but it’s the national media, namely ESPN, who is perpetuating the rumor…
First off – before we all get our hopes up, take these reports with a grain of salt. Remember when Dan Mullen was the frontrunner for the Penn State job in December of 2011? He was the first name mentioned, and ESPN spent an afternoon talking about it, and nothing ever happened. Nothing.
But…..these rumors do seem to have some legs. And the way things have shaped up, it’s not hard to connect a few dots.
Most likely it’s Howland’s agent who is stirring up the media. He wants his client’s name circling around the MSU job for two reasons:
- he becomes a viable candidate for the MSU job, and MSU fans start clamoring for the hire
- other programs around the country view Howland as a potential candidate for their job opening
It’s also very possible that Howland’s agent placed a not so subtle telephone call to Scott Stricklin this past week to let him know Howland’s services were available.
Why did it take 10 days after the final game to make the decision? Stricklin says it was to let the air cool and get away from the emotion of the season. That may be true, but having a desirable coach become attainable could be the cause as well for the sudden firing of Rick Ray.
This report from CBS Sports confirms that Stricklin knew Howland was a candidate before Ray was fired:
"A source told CBSSports.com Mississippi State AD Scott Stricklin knew Howland was a possibility when he fired Ray after three seasons on Saturday. Howland’s initial preference this offseason, sources said, was to maybe land at UNLV. But that opportunity never presented itself because UNLV is giving Dave Rice at least one more season."
A quick search into the most recent follows of MSU men’s basketball SID Gregg Ellis on twitter, and Ben Howland is at the top of the list. Hmmmm.
There’s no question that hiring Ben Howland would be a huge coup for Mississippi State. A 57 year-old coach with 19 years of head coaching experience including four years in the Big East and 10 years a UCLA – the most successful program in college basketball history – winning eight regular season conference championships, four conference tournament championships, 10 trips to the big dance and making three final fours and one national championship game. That doesn’t come around too often to say the least.