By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Rick Stansbury urged everyone to smile, but he had trouble holding back the tears.
With dozens of supporters watching inside the Bryan Athletic Administration Building on Thursday afternoon, Stansbury talked about his retirement after 14 years as Mississippi State men’s basketball coach. Upon entering the room, he said, “I see way too many long faces in here. Cheer up. Smile!”
For most of the next 51 minutes, the 52-year-old Stansbury sat next to athletics director Scott Stricklin and expounded upon the reasons he is retiring after 22 years at MSU – the first eight as an assistant coach. The biggest reason: Family.
His wife, Meo, is known for her enthusiasm at games, and the couple has three sons: Isaac, Noah and Luke. Stansbury talked about being able to go watch them play soccer and basketball a lot more often.
“Every time I walk out door, Luke would say, ‘Daddy, when do you get a day off?’ I’ve given him the same answer: ‘Soon.’ He’d keep asking that question,” Stansbury said with trembling voice.
His sons were usually with him on game days, wearing MSU jerseys and leading the team out onto the floor for warmups. Then they would watch from the bench or the stands, and they saw many of Stansbury’s 293 career victories, the highest total in MSU history.
He also lost 166 games, and lately those losses had been coming more frequently. The Bulldogs started this past season with high expectations, reaching a national ranking of 15th at one point, but it ended with a fizzle.
MSU lost seven of its last nine games, including a first-round NIT loss at home to Massachusetts on Tuesday.
Stansbury served as an assistant under Richard Williams, then replaced his boss on March 13, 1998. Stansbury led State to six NCAA tournament appearances in his 14 years, but only twice in the last seven years. The last visit was 2009.
MSU won one overall SEC title, five Western Division titles, and two SEC Tournament titles under Stansbury. He’s the only coach in State’s 100-year basketball history to record four consecutive 20-win seasons.
“A lot of coaches get judged on Ws and Ls. That’s part of the profession; I’m good with that,” he said. “But my wife and myself” – and here he paused to collect himself – “we know our relationships and friendships are a whole lot deeper than Ws and Ls. A lot of coaches can’t say that. We can.”