By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Rick Stansbury felt at peace, and Scott Stricklin could sense it.
It was Wednesday morning, and Stansbury was meeting with his athletics director the day after completing his 14th season as Mississippi State’s head basketball coach. The topic was Stansbury’s future, and the decision had been made.
After 22 total years at MSU, Stansbury had decided to retire from coaching.
Word got out Thursday morning, and in the afternoon the 52-year-old native of Louisville, Ky., announced his decision before a crowd of media and supporters at the Bryan Athletic Administration Building.
An era has ended, and Stansbury said he and his wife, Meo, felt it was the right time for it.
“As the process went on, you evaluate a lot of things, you reflect on a lot of things,” he said. “As I kept doing that in these last couple of days, it got clear. It really got clear to us. And there was a peacefulness about both of us.”
Stricklin always has end-of-season meetings with MSU’s coaches, but he called the meeting with Stansbury “much more personal than normal,” and he said there was “a peace that came over him, and a calm in his facial expression and everything.”
Stansbury and Stricklin agreed on a retirement package, but Stricklin declined to divulge specifics. He did say that Stansbury’s contract would pay him between $1.4 million and $1.5 million this year, and then MSU will “transition out of his head coaching contract and try to do it in a way that makes it as easy for Rick as possible.”
Stansbury will have a role within the athletic department, but it’s yet to be determined.
He expressed a desire to continue aiding the school that first employed him in 1999 as an assistant to Richard Williams. Stansbury was promoted to head coach on March 13, 1998, and proceeded to win a school-record 293 games against 166 losses.
State reached the NCAA tournament six times under Stansbury, most recently in 2009.
Simply walking away from coaching wasn’t easy for Stansbury, who grew up playing basketball in Kentucky and began his coaching career immediately after his playing days at Campbellsville College, in 1981.
After stops at Cumberland College and Austin Peay State, he joined MSU, and doesn’t want to leave.
‘Part of what we love’
“Scott helped me through this by making it even easier for me to continue to be a part of what we love, and that’s you and Mississippi State, and continue to raise our boys right here,” Stansbury said.
Spending more time with his family was the main factor Stansbury cited. He and Meo have three sons between 7 and 12 years old.
Stansbury and Stricklin both stressed that retirement was Stansbury’s decision, although the AD acknowledged the growing frustrations of fans after a season full of tumult.
MSU was at one point ranked No. 15 in the country but finished on Tuesday with a loss to Massachusetts in the first round of the NIT. The Bulldogs finished 21-12 and were having internal issues.
Junior forward Renardo Sidney has been an albatross for MSU since signing in 2010. Arnett Moultrie and Rodney Hood both spoke of inner turmoil this season. State lost seven of its last nine games, going from an NCAA tournament shoe-in to a quick NIT exit.
It all led to speculation about Stansbury’s job security.
“You know, I heard opinions on all sides,” Stricklin said. “We just had primary season, it’s not a vote. But I appreciate everybody’s opinion. I hear a lot of opinions through email and people stopping me.”
When asked if Stansbury would have been allowed to remain as coach if he had so chosen, Stricklin said, “That’s hard to speculate. It just never got to that point in the conversation.”
Both men agreed that the past season fell short of expectations, but Stansbury also said those expectations were a result of his past successes.
“Our family, Meo and I, and our staff is totally responsible for that,” Stansbury said. “We’re responsible for creating that expectation. We never ran from expectations. That’s what we wanted.”