With the return of Rick Stansbury to Humphrey Coliseum, Mississippi State fans can reflect on what he truly meant to Mississippi State basketball.
At 7:30 tonight, the Mississippi State basketball team will open SEC play for the 2015-16 season. The game against the Texas A&M Aggies will be significant for one other reason. It will be the first time the Bulldogs have Rick Stansbury in the building as an opponent.
The last five seasons of basketball for the Bulldogs have skewed the way we view and remember Coach Stansbury. 2010-11 was the first year we had with Renardo Sidney and the fight in the stands. 2011-12 started off great ,but finished with an epic collapse that would cost Stansbury his job. The last three seasons under Rick Ray saw supporters of Stansbury and his detractors clash over whether or not it was the right move to let him go.
Now that the Bulldogs have hired Ben Howland, tensions surrounding the program have died down. The team won’t make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2016, but the future appears to be bright. Mississippi State fans can now look back on the tenure of Rick Stansbury, and reflect on the good times. There certainly were a lot of them.
Rick Stansbury spent the majority of his coaching career at Mississippi State. He spent eight seasons as an assistant to coach Richard Williams, and became the head coach after Williams retired in 1998. Coach Stansbury would lead the Bulldogs for the next 14 seasons.
During that time, Stansbury would rack up more wins than any other coach in the program’s history. His 293 wins won’t be surpassed any time soon.
There isn’t any doubt he was a good coach, but just how good was he? It’s not the easiest question to answer.
The teams Stansbury put on the court were as good as any during the regular season. Stansbury’s teams won the SEC West five different times and were the overall SEC Champs in 2004. It was the 2004 team that was the pinnacle of the Stansbury era.
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Mississippi State entered the 2003-04 season after consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. With the departure of Derrick Zimmerman and Mario Austin from the 2003 team, no one was sure if the Bulldogs would be able to continue you to compete at a high level. The emergence of Baylor transfer Lawrence Roberts and Timmy Bowers replacing Zimmerman at point guard paid off big time. The team only lost three games in the regular season before losing the opening round game in the SEC Tournament and in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Xavier.
Stansbury also did amazing work in the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs only won more than one game in the SEC Tournament under previous head coach Richard Williams. Under Stansbury, the team seemed to thrive in the yearly tournament, especially when they needed the wins for their NCAA Tournament livelihood. The Bulldogs won the SEC Tournament twice under Stansbury’s leadership and finished runner up two additional times. Arguably the best performance by one of those teams came in 2009 when the Bulldogs had no shot at an NCAA Tournament berth, but won the automatic bid by winning the tournament.
For as good as he was during the regular season and SEC Tournament, Stansbury was never able to advance beyond the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. During a three year stretch from 2002 to 2004, the Bulldogs made the NCAA Tournament each season and was a 3 seed (2002), 5 seed (2003), and 2 seed (2004) Twice the Bulldogs were eliminated in the Second round and 2003 saw the Bulldog go down in their first game.
One of the reasons Mississippi State was never able to get past the second round in the years that followed was how often their Tournament resume was hurt by head scratching losses in the regular season. Here are some of the worst losses people just couldn’t figure out.
- In 2006-07: losses to Winthrop and George Masno
- In 2007-08: losses to Southern Illinois, Miami (OH), and South Alabama
- In 2008-09: losses to UNC-Charlotte and San Diego
- In 2009-10: losses to Rider, Richmond, and Western Kentucky
- In 2010-11: losses to FAU and East Tennessee State
- In 2011-12: losses to Akron and Georgia twice
In some of those years, the losses made us eight or nine seeds in the tournament. Other seasons, it kept the team completely out of the tournament.
A lot of that could have been overlooked. It wasn’t until Rick Stansbury made his costliest error that Bulldog fans were ready to run him out of town. Before the 2009-10 season, Stansbury made the decision to sign Renardo Sidney, the highly touted recruit who came with a lot of baggage. Sidney was never cleared to play his freshman season by the NCAA, and would be suspended an additional nine games his sophomore year. During a holiday tournament in Hawaii, Sidney would get in a fight with his own teammate that saw Sidney stay on the team but Elgin Bailey transfer.
The 2011 season was a disaster, but the 2012 season was promising. The Bulldogs got off to a great start but it fell apart after a loss at home to Georgia. The Bulldogs went 2-7 in their last 9 games and lost in the first round of the NIT Tournament to UMass. Stansbury would “retire” after the end of the season.
So what do we make of the Stansbury era and what is his legacy? Stansbury took what Richard Williams started and built it up. He won more than many more ever thought possible. But he won’t go down as a great coach. Great coaches have most of their success in the post season, not the regular season. It leaves Stansbury as a really good coach with some flaws. But the future wouldn’t be as bright for Mississippi State as it is now had it not been for the foundation Rick Stansbury laid. And because of that foundation, Mississippi State basketball fans should be forever grateful.