Ray the Right Hire For Mississippi State

Mississippi State Athletic Director Scott Stricklin searched for Rick Stanbury’s replacement ever since the former Bulldog coach retired on March 15th. There were several names rumored to have been contacted about the Bulldog head job. Names like: Shaka Smart, Steve Prohm, Bryce Drew, and most recently,Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne.

It seemed a foregone conclusion that Payne would be namedMississippiState’s next basketball coach, but reports surfaced Sunday evening that Mississippi State had hired Rick Ray, Clemson’s Associate Head Coach. The reports turned out to be true. The news sparked immediate reaction from the fan base, with many asking, “Who the heck is Rick Ray”? There were even murmurs that the big time alumni weren’t happy with the selection—considering that they were pushing for the hire of Payne.

Ray, while not the popular choice, actually comes with an impressive resume. He coached seven years at Indiana State, two at Northern Illinois, four at Purdue, and the last two at Clemson as the lead assistant.

Ray was announced officially at a 10:30 a.m. press conference Monday that was open to the media and fans. The former Clemson assistant in his opening statement to the Bulldog faithful seemed to win over the fan base. This is a rare case where I agree with fan sentiment because I feel Ray is the right hire for Mississippi State.

Ray being an outsider is the first reason I love the hire. He has no natural ties to Mississippi State or the south for that matter. I think he can bring a refreshing viewpoint that will help the program move to the next level. One of the reasons I feel Stansbury kept the job as long as he did was because many were afraid of true change—Ray represents that change. He has coached in several basketball conferences with different brands of basketball. The charismatic coach doesn’t have any real friends in the Bulldog family and will make decisions based off of what’s best for the program—not best for select alumni.

Another reason that I believe that Ray was the right person for MSU is that, even though he arrives in Starkville with fifteen years of coaching experience, he is still, at age 40, young enough to relate really well with the players. His obvious ability to not only adapt, but to prosper, under a variety of different coaches, means that he can be flexible when the need arises.

The last reason I feel Ray is the correct choice is that he seems ready for the moment. He didn’t come across in his press conference like a person that is just happy to have a head coaching job. Ray is already laying out a plan at how he will build his program. He addressed the current coaching staff stating that he will keep at least one Bulldog assistant—in addition to a friend and a wildcard coach who seeks out the job. He seems to be a man aware of what needs to be done. I think that mind-set can be just as important as signing a big recruit or calling a great play set.

“With my background, I don’t think it will be a problem because I was given a lot of room in my previous jobs. It could be daunting for other people, but I do not think it will be a problem. I relish the opportunity. I do not believe I will be nervous at all, “Ray on becoming a head coach.

Something worth noting is that Ray becomes the first black Head Men’s Basketball Coach in the history of MSU, and only the second black head coach, overall (along with Sylvester Croom in Football). That’s a milestone worth recognizing.

I know everyone is focused on the hire itself right now, but there are decisions that must be made.

Ray must decide which assistant and players he will keep as a part of his program. I know some will go “which players”—there are only six on scholarship. It may be the case, but that doesn’t mean all should be retained. There are only two players on the roster that were major contributors last season—Jalen Steele and Rodney Hood. The rest are role players or didn’t see much playing time. Coach Ray will have to determine if the rest fit into what he wants to do. He seems to share those sentiments.

“I will put together a fantastic staff here that has the same core beliefs that I have. It will take some time, but I want people who care about Mississippi State. I want guys who are hungry and are complete coaches that want to be a head coach one day themselves, “said Ray.

“I have to build a relationship with players in a short amount of time and I have to get them to believe in our system. It will take a little time, but you have to have patience because it will happen.”

Ray naturally must keep signees from asking for releases and decide if those players are good enough to play for him. Everyone wants to know if Ray can get Mississippi State back into the mix for Devonta Pollard’s services. Signing Pollard could help jump-start his coaching tenure.

The next step would be to rebuild the program on and off the court. He has to establish what brand of basketball Mississippi State will play and level of integrity they will display off the court. Fans shouldn’t expect to much the first year or two. It may be a long process as Ray tries to establish a new brand of Mississippi State basketball.

Ultimately, only time will tell if Ray is a home run hire or a bust. I do feel, though, that Ray will turn out to be the right man to lead Mississippi State basketball into the future.

Do you feel Rick Ray is the right hire for Mississippi State?

Jeremiah Short covers Mississippi State University football and basketball.  Follow him on Twitter, @JeremiahShort26; join his Facebook blog, Real Story Sports: J.Short’s Blog, or e-mail him, JShort@realstorypublishing.com.

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