By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
After a 17-day search that saw a host of candidates surface, Mississippi State’s new men’s basketball coach is a man who seemed to come out of the blue.
Rick Ray was announced as MSU’s new coach on Sunday. He replaces Rick Stansbury, who retired on March 15 after a 14-year run.
Ray, 40, has been the associate head coach at Clemson the past two seasons, and he’s never been a head coach before. He has gotten looks recently – from Winthrop this year, and from Florida Gulf Coast last year.
State spoke with several coaches throughout the search, including Valparaiso head coach Bryce Drew, Murray State head coach Steve Prohm, and Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne, who’s a native of Laurel. There were media reports aplenty about those candidates.
But Ray’s name didn’t come up until Sunday.
“Rick fits the model of head coach we have sought to bring into our program over the last several years,” MSU athletics director Scott Stricklin said in a statement. “He is bright, enthusiastic, disciplined and is a man of integrity.”
MSU fans expressed concern about the length of the search, prompting Stricklin to issue a statement on Thursday asking for patience. There was mixed fan reaction when the hire was first reported by CBSSports.com on Sunday afternoon.
“I think the fan base will be very impressed with him when they hear him speak a few times out on the circuit. They’re going to like what they hear,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said.
One critical question is whether players will like what they hear from Ray. The Bulldogs, who went 21-12 this past season and lost in the first round of the NIT, can’t afford to lose any more personnel.
Starting forwards Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney both left a year early to enter the NBA Draft, and backup point guard DeVille Smith departed the program after his freshman season.
Then there are the five incoming signees, most of whom are keeping their options open.
Brownell believes Ray’s ability to relate to players will be a big plus.
“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.
“He’s going to do that at Mississippi State.”