It’s amazing how so often in life, we think we have something figured out, and then we find out just how wrong we were. Such is the case with Scott Stricklin. I wrote after the basketball season was over that Stricklin was having his legacy defined by Rick Ray. I wrote that piece because everyone who covered the Mississippi State basketball team was convinced Stricklin would give Ray another year. It took a little longer than anticipated, but Stricklin pulled the trigger and proved us all wrong.
For Mississippi State to succeed, it takes bold leadership. Stricklin showed he can be bold by bringing in one of the most accomplished coaches to ever come to Mississippi State. Maybe there were coaches who came to Starkville with better resumes than Ben Howland, but it hasn’t been in my lifetime. Ben Howland has been to multiple Final Fours and won multiple Pac-10 (now Pac-12) championships. And he did it at the best basketball school in the history of the sport. There will not likely be a bigger hire in this offseason than the one Scott Stricklin just pulled off.
This comes in the face of the criticism that Scott Stricklin can’t hire a good coach. Ever since Stricklin hired Rick Ray, this has been the constant criticism. No one can no longer say that. This is a mammoth hire. There is a lot of evidence that Stricklin was made aware Howland would be interested in coming to Starkville before Stricklin made the move to fire Ray. Even if that is true, Stricklin deserves tons of credit for seeing the opportunity and taking full advantage of it.
Now, it doesn’t mean Howland will guarantee success. UCLA didn’t fire Howland because they thought he was the greatest coach in the world. UCLA did win their conference championship in his final season, but the three or four years before it weren’t on the same level as the first six Howland had at UCLA. But the primary reason UCLA parted ways was there were some player discipline issues that started to surface. Mississippi State parted ways with Stansbury for the same reasons. If we allow that to happen again, then we wasted our time with the Rick Ray era and we will be right back at square one. Having said that, Stricklin was aware of why UCLA let Howland go. In the process of hiring Howland, I’m very confident Stricklin made it clear that can’t happen again. I also believe that as much success as Howland had, he is smart enough to learn from his mistakes.
I don’t know what your opinion of Scott Stricklin is. Maybe you like what he has done, maybe you don’t. But if you walk away from the Ben Howland hiring still thinking that Stricklin can’t bring premium coaching talent to Starkville, you’re wrong. Now, more so than ever before, the athletic programs at Mississippi State are in good hand.