After three seasons at Mississippi State, men’s head basketball coach Rick Ray was let go by Athletic Director Scott Stricklin.
A statement was tweeted out by Stricklin Saturday afternoon with the news. MSU’s season ended a week and half ago with a loss to Auburn in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, but Stricklin didn’t want to make any rash decisions, so he took his time assessing the situation.
“I had struggled with this decision probably for the last few weeks of the season,” Stricklin said at an informal media gathering Saturday afternoon. “Once the season was over, I still didn’t really have a peace about it because I kept thinking I wanted to stay the course. I decided that I was not going to try to land anywhere for a few days after the season ended. I wanted to get away from the emotion of winning or losing.”
In his first head coaching job, Ray went 37-60 overall and 13-41 in conference play.
The Bulldogs won 10 total games in Ray’s first season, but totaled four SEC victories and finished 13th in the league. The second season saw 14 total wins, but only three in league play. MSU finished dead last.
This past season, Ray led the Bulldogs to 13 wins and six SEC victories. MSU was the No. 12 seed in the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs never appeared in the postseason under Ray.
“I am saddened by the events (Saturday),” Ray said in a statement. “Not for myself but for the players who have sacrificed their bodies and mind for me and the program; for the signed and committed recruits who have to go through a coaching change after taking SO much time and effort to make an educated decision about what is best for them and their future and choosing me as their next coach, mentor, and role model but now have to go through the gut wrenching process again; for my staff who worked tirelessly to hold our players accountable, to develop our players on and off the court, to recruit true student-athletes who hold up to my high standards as human beings and citizens, and for their undying loyalty to me and Mississippi State.
“But a decision has been made and I want to thank (President) Dr. (Mark) Keenum and Scott Stricklin for giving me the opportunity to lead their program. I want to thank the athletic administration and coaches, especially John Cohen, Dan Mullen, and Vic Schaefer for all of their help and support. The high school and AAU coaches in this area have welcomed me and my staff with open arms and have been a complete pleasure to deal with and I am thankful for that. And most importantly the Mississippi State community, alums, fans, and former players for being SO kind to me and my family and making us feel at home and at peace. You truly showed us the definition of family and southern hospitality.“
Stricklin informed Ray of his decision Saturday morning and he said he handled it with class.
“I kept wanting to believe that he was going to be the guy that could lead us to where we want to be which is competing at this time of year,” Stricklin said. “We want the entire package. The more I thought about it, I’m just not convinced or have the confidence, that as much as I want Rick Ray to be the guy to lead us forward, I just don’t know how much confidence I have that that was going to be the direction that ended up being where we wanted it to be.”
Ray still has two years left on his contract and Stricklin said he will be compensated for them.
Stricklin met with some of the players and he said many of them were quiet without a lot of questions being thrown his way. Stricklin said Director of Operations Adam Gordon will be the one communicating with the players the most during this transition period. The assistant coaches’ futures are in question until a new coach is hired.
Attendance was on the decline, as the listed attendance was 5,897 for the final regular season game against Missouri this season.
“There’s no question that we have a chance to be more successful the more engaged we get our fans,” Stricklin said. “Our fans have not been as engaged as we would have liked and they have not been engaged at a level that you need to win at a high level in basketball.”
Ray was Stricklin’s first major hire in the three men’s sports since taking over for Greg Byrne as the Athletic Director at MSU.
Stricklin already has a list in mind and will be taking care of the coaching search by himself.
“I’ll keep Dr. Keenum informed as I always do anytime we have an important decision, but I’ll probably do a lot of this on my own,” Stricklin said. “I have a great staff and I’m going to rely on them from time to time for various parts of their responsibility. I don’t anticipate us using a search firm. We have enough contacts and know the lay of the land well enough, that I’m confident we’ll be able to get in front of the people we need to get in front of.
“I have an idea of some names that interest me more than others and I’ve already started the process of trying to figure out which ones of those are something that may be fruitful.”
Ray replaced MSU’s all-time winningest coach Rick Stansbury. After 14 seasons as the head man, Stansbury stepped down after the 2011-12 season. He won 293 games and 122 in SEC play. Stansbury led MSU to six NCAA Tournaments, one regular season conference championship and two conference tournament titles.