After a long day with much speculation, Mississippi State made it official by hiring Ben Howland as the new men’s basketball coach Monday night.
MSU Athletic Director Scott Stricklin shared the news via Twitter with a picture of himself and Howland holding a cowbell. Howland becomes the 20th head coach in MSU program history and he will be introduced at a 2:30 p.m. press conference inside Humphrey Coliseum. Fans are invited.
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported earlier in the day that Howland and MSU were close to a deal.
Howland takes over for Rick Ray who was fired after three seasons. He went 37-60 during his first head coaching job.
“We have a coach who is a proven winner that’s taken three schools to the NCAA Tournament,” Stricklin said of Howland in a school release. “Ben is someone who is ready to invest in the people of Mississippi and Bulldogs everywhere, while bringing championship basketball back to the Hump. Mississippi State basketball can compete at the highest level, just as several of our other teams have done in recent years, and I’m excited to have coach Howland lead us back to that level.”
Howland spent 10 seasons at UCLA before being fired in April of 2013. During his time with the Bruins, he went to three-straight Final Fours from 2006-08, including a runner-up in 2006. He also won the Pac-12 regular season title in his final season.
Before going to Los Angeles, Howland coached at Northern Arizona and Pittsburgh. He won league titles at both schools. While with the Lumberjacks and Panthers, Howland made three NCAA Tournament appearances and two National Invitational Tournament appearances.
While at Pittsburgh, Howland won several National Coach of the Year awards for the 2001-02 season. The Panthers went to the Sweet 16 that season.
The 57-year old owns a 401-206 overall record.
“I’m just so humble and grateful to be the new basketball coach at Mississippi State University,” Howland said. “I’m elated and excited with the opportunity to build a consistent winner here at State. I know we have some of the greatest fans in the country and I look forward to making them proud of our team and our efforts. Hail State.”
Howland hasn’t coached the past two seasons, and has been a color commentator for both Fox Sports and NCB Sports college basketball broadcasts.
“I am impressed with Coach Howland’s resume,” MSU president Dr. Mark E. Keenum said. “He has been successful at the highest levels of college basketball, and I have every confidence he will bring that same proven, winning formula to Mississippi State as well. I know the MSU family will embrace Coach Howland and his family and will fully support his efforts to put our Bulldog basketball team in position to compete for championships.”
MSU loses only two players from this year’s squad in forward Roquez Johnson and guard Trivante Bloodman. The Bulldogs bring back the top two scorers from this season in guard Craig Sword and center Gavin Ware. Sword averaged 11.3 points a game and was an All-Southeastern Conference Second Team selection. Former Starkville High School standout Ware scored 10 points and pulled down a team-high 7.1 rebounds a game during his junior campaign.
Both will be seniors along with guard Fred Thomas, who were a part of Ray’s first recruiting class.
MSU struggled offensively under Ray and this past season averaged only 61.8 points a game, good enough for 13th in the SEC. The Bulldogs did shoot 43 percent from the field this year, but just 30.6 percent from behind the three-point arc.