Rick Ray hasn't really slept since being hired as Mississippi State's new basketball coach on Sunday. Today provided a good example why.
It began with a 6:15 a.m. team workout, where the Bulldogs focused on fundamentals.
"Rodney Hood, after that workout, said, 'Coach, that's the hardest workout I've ever had,'" Ray said to a crowd of about 100 fans in Jackson earlier this evening. "And I said, 'Well, we've got one tomorrow.'"
Ray has been working the phone, working Twitter, working Facebook, whatever way he can get in touch with incoming signees. He's been trying to assemble a coaching staff. And he took the jaunt to Jackson to meet and greet fans at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
The plane left Starkville's Bryan Field about 5 p.m., and the flight took less than a half-hour. Ray, dressed in a maroon polo and slacks, was eating chips and cheese crackers and drinking a bottled water. He was rather quiet as athletics director Scott Stricklin and basketball SID Gregg Ellis talked about Discovery Channel shows, like "Frozen Planet." Penguins and polar bears, and their mating habits, were discussed at length.
(Note: Ellis could have a fine career as a flight attendant.)
Michael Wardlaw (Starkville Daily News, BulldawgJunction.com) and I had a good chat with Ray on the plane, covering his upbringing in Compton, Calif., and Kansas City, his former field of actuary mathematics, and how he relates so well to players.
I'll have plenty about his background in a forthcoming story. Interesting guy, to say the least.
So we arrived in Jackson, and he addressed the crowd before fielding questions from them. Here are some highlights.
• Ray said he has interviewed two of MSU's four current assistant coaches, but he declined to divulge which two. Ray has said that he plans to retain one assistant from Rick Stansbury's staff. He'll conduct one more round of interviews and will make a decision within 48 hours.
"Two of those guys have ties to Mississippi State, they played for Mississippi State. I think it's important that we have somebody that the fans can identify with," Ray said.
Those two guys would be George Brooks and Marcus Grant, so you can probably deduce from that who's in play here.
As for the rest of the staff, Ray reiterated what he said Monday. "There's a couple of guys I've always had in mind if I ever got a head coaching job, and I feel pretty solid about those guys."
• Keeping the five-man signing class intact is hugely important. Ray has been communicating with those guys, mostly by text or social media.
"I was texting during the national championship game with our guys. It was just good to have some dialogue with those guys," he said.
Ray later added, "The response has been very good. ...I fully anticipate us keeping all those guys and having them in a Mississippi State basketball uniform next season."
There is room for one or two more scholarship players (six return). Ray said he wants a big body who is physical but can still run the floor (the crowd chuckled, and you can probably guess why).
Ray: "The key to me is I firmly believe in making sure that you don't make mistakes in recruiting. I want a full roster. … The worst thing you can do is go out and take a kid because you panic. And now you've got that kid for four years, and it doesn't pan out. It's unfair to the kid, it's unfair to the university.
"We've got some opportunities to go out and fill a scholarship. I want to make sure we get the right guy down here to help us in SEC basketball."
After greeting fans and taking pictures, the stormy weather forced a bit of an early departure back to Starkville. Michael and I had another good chat with Ray, discussing his wife and his musical tastes.
Stricklin asked us all what our walk-out music would be, and Ray said his would be something by Public Enemy. Ah, but he also likes The Police, The Smiths and Stone Temple Pilots. He also prefers underground rap as opposed to the "commercial" rap, like Lil' Wayne.
(BREAKING: Stricklin has "an Usher song" on his iPod.)
As we landed, Ray was furiously texting on his phone. He said he had quite a few calls still to make tonight.