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MSU Hires Clemson Assistant Ray As New Hoops Coach

It took 17 days from the “retirement” of Rick Stansbury to now, but Mississippi State will introduce its new basketball coach today in Starkville and in Jackson.  Bulldog fans, meet Rick Ray, Clemson assistant.

Ray — who came from far, far off the radar — is the only one of the SEC’s 14 head coaches to be hired with zero previous head coaching experience.  Scott Stricklin clearly took the up-and-comer approach with his search, targeting mid-major coaches (two with just one year’s experience) and assistants (like Kentucky’s Kenny Payne, who was also a finalist). 

For State fans, they must hope that Ray turns out to be the basketball version of James Franklin.  Vanderbilt grabbed Franklin away from Maryland’s coaching staff a year ago despite his lack of Southern recruiting ties.  His hiring was met with everything from head scratches to yawns.  But he’s quickly proving to be a great hire for the Commodores.

Ray has been at Clemson since 2010.  The head coach there — Brad Brownell — said of Ray: “This guy is a home run.”  Brownell also credited him with being a “tremendous recruiter.” 

Before joining Clemson’s staff, Ray served under Matt Painter at Purdue.  Painter said yesterday: “Rick Ray is a tireless worker and fierce competitor, two traits that will serve him well as he leads Mississippi State basketball into a new era.”  At Purdue, Ray worked with Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin, who also gave MSU’s AD a good review.

Stricklin released a statement last night:


“Rick fits the model of head coach we have sought to bring into our program over the last several years.  He is bright, enthusiastic, disciplined and is a man of integrity.  He has served with some of the top head and assistant coaches in college basketball and will bring a piece of all of them to our head coaching position.”


State apparently beat out Winthrop for Ray’s services.  The small South Carolina school was also targeting the Midwesterner for its head coaching vacancy.  He becomes MSU’s first-ever African-American head basketball coach.

From a salary perspective, Ray is expected to receive less than the $1.5 million Stansbury was paid last season, according to The Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Ray’s hiring doesn’t appear to be having a quick impact on State’s recruiting.  The Magnolia State’s top player still has MSU crossed off his list and Josh Gray — a point guard who requested a release from his signed national letter of intent — said he is still leaning toward a release.

Eventually, Clemson’s Brownell believes Ray will connect with players.  “He’s done an unbelievable job with our guys in the last two years of knowing how to be demanding with them to make them work, but also knowing when to love them up and hug them up, and how to build meaningful relationships with the guys.  They trust him,” Brownell said.  “He’s going to do that at Mississippi State.”

If so, he’ll be viewed as a good hire by a fanbase that seems a bit skeptical today.  Remember, many State fans thought their school would replace Stansbury with a Shaka Smart or Frank Martin.  For Stricklin to choose someone with no head coaching experience to replace the winningest head coach in State’s history, well, it’s a real dice roll.

CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish credited the AD for having the guts to roll said dice:


“I know Rick Ray doesn’t excite State fans, but guess who else knows that?  Scott (Stricklin).  And yet he made the hire.  He really put himself out there to make this hire, and I can appreciate that because too often athletic directors take the predictable and easy way out.  Scott didn’t do that, though.  This is his hire.”


Indeed.  But it might be a little misleading to suggest Stricklin could have landed a bigger name if he’d so desired.  Bryce Drew and Steve Prohm — for example — chose to re-up with Valparaiso and Murray State, respectively.  Whether this was a hire of great intestinal fortitude or one of necessity, we can’t truly know.

What we do know is that State’s last two head coaches were also assistants with no head coaching experience when they took over the Dogs’ program.  Of course, Richard Williams and Stansbury were both promoted from their predecessors’ staffs at State.  That’s not the case with Ray.  No one in Starkville aside from Stricklin knows much about the man.

By the time he’s finished making speeches on the chicken-dinner, fundraising circuit, most State fans will convince themselves that he’s the right guy for the job.  That happens at every school, regardless of the hire and his resume.  For their sake and for Stricklin’s, here’s hoping Ray will be the right guy.

 


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