Evaluating the Rick Ray Era


Oct 22, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Rick Rayspeaks with the media during the SEC media day at the Ballantyne Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports


When I decided to write a piece that put the three years of Mississippi State basketball under the microscope, I was going to try to give it a grade. I am a teacher, and that’s what I do. But to do so would be pointless. Going through the Rick Ray era was unavoidable.

When Rick Stansbury was let go as head coach at the end of the 2012 season, Mississippi State fans wanted to get a big time hire for the program. We believed with all of our heart the amount of winning we pulled off under Stansbury would tell potential coaching candidates they could win in Starkville. If it was a normal retirement where the long time coach was stepping away, that might have been the case.

It wasn’t the case, and Bulldog fans were aware of the black eyes and bruises the program had taken, but very few of us were aware of just how ugly they made the program. Stricklin reached out to a number of candidates and they all turned him down. No one wanted to put their career on the line when the cards were heavily stacked against any coach being successful. Dee Bost was graduating. Arnett Moultrie was headed to the NBA. Renardo Sidney was going to leave, and even if he wasn’t, no one was going to put up with him. And the one piece you could build around, Rodney Hood, was going to leave regardless who the coach was. To top it off, there was the fight in the stands in Hawaii, and player discipline was almost nonexistent. Richard Williams and Rick Stansbury proved you could win at Starkville, but unless a proven head coach decided to come to Starkville, we weren’t going to win at that moment in time.

Rick Ray was the only person Stricklin could find that was willing to take the job. Rick Ray wasn’t equipped with the tools needed to get this program back on the right track. He came to us from a Clemson program that was very average. Ray didn’t learn from a coach who knew how to win at an elite level. Stricklin hired Ray in the hopes that he caught lightning in a bottle. Unfortunately, he didn’t.

The Ray era, however unavoidable it was, was not a lost cause. The team now has players who respect their coach. The team has some players, while not great, are good solid players that can get a good coach a year to do something with. And though we didn’t win under Ray like we did under Stansbury, the program is more attractive than it was three years ago. If you need any more proof of that, we just hired a coach that has won multiple Pac-10 (now Pac-12) conference championships and been to multiple Final Fours. The program is in much better position now than it was three years ago.

The Rick Ray era was unavoidable, but it is now over. It was painful to watch. There isn’t any question about it. But it wasn’t a complete loss, and better times are on the horizon.