By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Scott Stricklin’s hiring of Rick Ray as men’s basketball coach should not serve as a referendum on his abilities as Mississippi State’s athletics director. But it is part of the picture we’re piecing together as Stricklin enters his 24th month on the job.
Ray was a surprise hire to most people. He was a longtime assistant, most recently at Clemson, and he’s replacing a man in Rick Stansbury who won 293 games during his 14 years as MSU head coach.
The natural question many are asking is whether Ray is a qualified replacement. I’ve heard a lot of fans express concern over the hire because they’ve never heard of Ray.
“I get that, and everybody wants a sexy hire,” Stricklin said Monday. “… I think a lot of that is familiarity, and once (fans) get familiar with Rick and they get to know Rick and they hear from Rick and know what his vision is, I think a lot of that goes away.”
The methodology Stricklin used during this process is drawn from experience. When his predecessor, Greg Byrne, conducted a search for a new football coach in 2008, Stricklin was there every step of the way as associate AD for external affairs.
He helped in the vetting process, he communicated with candidates, he was in on interviews, he helped with background checks. MSU, of course, hired Dan Mullen, who has led the Bulldogs to bowl games each of the last two seasons.
So Stricklin is very familiar with what MSU looks for in a head coach, and he’s outlined the desired characteristics of charisma, competitiveness, intelligence and a strong work ethic.
Prepping for big test
“Any time you gain experience going through something like that, that’s going to prepare you for the next time,” said Byrne, who’s now the AD at Arizona. “That’s the way it is with anything you do. I think he also saw that we had a model that we wanted and did that with Dan. I know he’s doing that with Rick Ray.”
Stricklin has also kept in touch with Byrne, just as Byrne kept in touch with Stricklin when Arizona was looking for a football coach following the 2011 season.
Byrne declined to divulge details of those conversations, but he liked the way Stricklin handled this search.
“He just continued to stay focused on what the task was at hand, and that was the most important part, not get caught up if you get criticized for a couple of days because it was going too long,” Byrne said.
It’s too early to determine whether the 41-year-old Stricklin made the right hire, although some national writers have praised him for thinking “outside the box.” That’s the sort of approach Stricklin has promoted time and again, because he believes doing things a little differently will keep MSU competitive against bigger, richer schools.
As Byrne noted, “You’re not going to outspend Kentucky for a basketball coach. And at the same time, too, you need to find somebody that fits well at Mississippi State.”
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.