By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Brad Brownell knew Rick Ray’s time was coming, and soon.
Sunday was that time. Ray, associate head coach under Brownell and Clemson the past two seasons, was hired as Mississippi State’s new men’s basketball coach. It’s his first head coaching job.
The 19th head coach in program history will be introduced at 10:30 a.m. today on the floor of Humphrey Coliseum.
“It wasn’t going to be a situation where he was coming down here much longer than (two years),” Brownell said. “He’s too good. He needs to be a head coach. It’s time.
“He’s ready, he’s excited, he’s prepared, and he’s going to be very successful.”
Ray, 40, did not return a message seeking comment, although he did issue a statement regarding his departure.
“I have so much appreciation for Brad Brownell,” Ray said. “I learned a great deal underneath him in my two years. I learned more about being a basketball coach, how to build a program, and how to treat people.”
Ray replaces Rick Stansbury, who retired on March 15 after 14 years as head coach. Stansbury turned down an offer to coach Clemson two years ago, and the Tigers then hired Brownell, who in turn brought on Ray.
How he got here
Prior to Clemson, Ray served as an assistant at Purdue for four years under Matt Painter. The Kansas City native also coached at Northern Illinois and Indiana State.
He played basketball first at Labette Community College in Parsons, Kan., then at Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa. Ray’s path to Starkville was not an easy one, and Brownell said it reminds him of his own.
He believes the stops Ray has made during his career, and the coaches he’s worked for, make him a good fit for Starkville.
“He’s had to earn everything he’s gotten in his career,” Brownell said. “He wasn’t a silver spoon guy. He’s a lot like me in that he didn’t play at a high-major school, he didn’t work for some of the bigger schools, the highest-named schools in college basketball. And yet he’s gotten where he has through his work and through his results.”
After a graduate assistant’s stint at Nebraska-Omaha, Ray worked at Indiana State from 1997-2004. He was at Northern Illinois for two years before landing at Purdue in 2006.
Throughout his coaching journey, Ray has earned a reputation as someone who’s just as strong a recruiter as he is a game coach. Brownell touted Ray’s ability to connect with players and get the most out of them, describing him as a hands-on coach.
“He’s going to be demanding of the players. They’re going to play hard,” Brownell said. “Our style is very similar to Matt Painter’s at Purdue, some of it is similar to Cuonzo Martin at Tennessee. It’s going to be that kind of rugged man-to-man defense, very hard-nosed, together teams that share the ball.
“People are going to enjoy watching his guys compete. I think they’re going to respect how hard the kids are working and how unselfish they are together and how they’re all trying to play for Mississippi State.”
Brownell added, “The players are going to enjoy him because he’s going to get out there and sweat with them. He’s going to make them better.”
MSU athletics director Scott Stricklin interviewed several candidates and was aided by Parker Executive Search, a firm based in Atlanta. Yahoo Sports reported over the weekend that Stricklin had spoken with Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne, a Mississippi native whose Wildcats play Kansas for the NCAA title tonight.
CBSSports.com broke the news about MSU hiring Ray.
“He is a winner and has a solid plan to put his brand on the program that will reflect the highest standards of integrity and accountability,” MSU president Mark Keenum said in a statement.
“I also want to commend Scott Stricklin for the extraordinary work he put into finding the right fit for our basketball program. … He was thorough and deliberate and has brought in an exceptional individual to lead Mississippi State basketball into the future.”