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Rick Ray Takes the Reigns of a Divided MSSTATE Basketball Program

RickyRayMSU

Sitting around yesterday my phone started to beep, churp, ding and blow up as word that Mississippi State Athletic Director Scott Stricklin had chosen Clemson assistant coach Rick Ray as the man to lead the Bulldogs into the 2012-13 basketball campaign.

As I started doing my own research on Rick Ray as I had never heard of the man I also read many many comments from State fans on message boards, twitter and other places showing their disdain for the higher and their complete ignorance.  I love Mississippi State like many of you love your beloved Universities but it’s times like this that many of my own make me sick to my stomach.

“Strictkin your fired you #$%@#%@#^&$”  one fan says.  ”I’m never coming back to another game as this is just B.S” – says another.  I could fill up this column with comments that resemble those but you would just get stupider by the minute.

In the weeks leading up to the naming of Ray every Tom, Dick and Harry sporting a maroon visor and decal on their vehicle had a source.  Everyone knew someone in the know.  This always happens.  Everyone during a coaching search has that “guy” that assures them this is the move.  Frankly, to be honest not one of you knew a damn thing about what was going on and you also have no place to throw Mississippi State and Scott Stricklin under the bus.

Now I am not here to be all pie in the sky and wear my maroon glasses throughout this thing but some of you that are comparing this to a Sylvester Croom hire, I hope you never come back to Starkville.  If you do not know the difference in Croom or any other coach I cannot help you.

See – everyone always wants to be right and be the man that said, I told you so.  Everyone said it was Brice Drew and they had a source; everyone knew it was Kenny Payne because their drunken buddy at the bar said so.  Even Mstate basketball alums David Rula and Erick Dampier met privately with Payne a week ago to gauge his interest which is intriguing.  Two alums and ex basketball players meeting with a prospective coach without talking to the Athletic Department as far as anyone knows.

I am not saying that move right there made Stricklin sway away from Payne but it sure couldn’t help.  Many State fans are now calling Stricklin the next Larry Templeton (Ex Mstate Athletic Director).  See Stricklin is just the opposite of Templeton.  Templeton was a YES man and would have probably went along with the Alums meeting with the prospective coach.  Stricklin will not be a yes man much like Greg Byrne – Stricklin’s former boss would not be.  It’s all pure speculation at this point but I would guess that move did not set well with Stricklin.

But – like most athletic directors Stricklin had a plan and he said he wanted a recruiter, someone with energy, passion and a will to win.  He also wanted someone who could instill discipline  in a battered down program.

I have no idea if Rick Ray will win at Mississippi State.  You have no idea as all we can do is speculate at this juncture.  I will tell you this – his job begins today and his next few weeks are crucial if he wants to even think about success in Humphrey Coliseum.  He must first convince sophomore to be Rodney Hood to stay and not transfer.  Hood has hinted to a possible transfer and this would be a huge blow as he was expected to lead this team for the next three years.

Ray must also convince  a very good recruiting class that Rick Stansbury had in place to stay on board.  With the departures of Arnett Moultrie, Dee Bost, Rinardo Sidney and a few more this team is depleted.  There is a serious depth issue and if Ray cannot convince Hood and those recruits he is the right guy for the job – it may be over for Ray before he starts.

But – if he can convince these guys to come on down to Starkville then Ray has a fighting chance and that’s all one can ask for.

What many do not understand is it really did not matter who took this job.  This team is in shambles.  From discipline to chemistry to depth; odds are whomever took this job they were going to have a rough stretch come next year – even if your “source” told you otherwise.

My advice?  Wait, watch and lets hope Rick Ray is the man.  To throw him under the bus before he ever blows a whistle in a practice is just dumb and stupid and for those that do I hope you never come back to Starkville.

 

The Rick Ray Profile:

Rick Ray is in his second season as associate head coach for the men’s basketball program. Ray came to Tigertown in 2010 after a successful four-year stint as an assistant coach at Purdue University.

“Rick’s a tremendous hire for us here at Clemson,” Brownell said. “I’ve known Rick for years. He worked with my college head coach, Royce Waltman, at Indiana State several years ago. He’s an outstanding basketball coach. He’s a tremendous recruiter. He knows motion offense and man-to-man defense. We have very similar philosophies with how the game should be played. He’s well-respected in the business.

“He has ties to the Midwest, which will allow us to spread our recruiting base a little bit further. He’s got experience in one of the top conferences, having coached at Purdue. He’s going to help our team win.”

He certainly did that in 2010-11, as the Tigers finished the season with a 22-12 overall record, 9-7 in the ACC. Clemson advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season and was the No. 4 seed for the ACC Tournament. The Tigers won an ACC and NCAA Tournament game in the same season for the first time since 1989-90.

Clemson’s guard play was a major reason in the team’s success in 2010-11, and Ray worked extensively with the Tiger backcourt. Demontez Stitt earned third-team All-ACC honors, as well as first-team All-ACC Tournament recognition, after leading the team in scoring and assists. Andre Young led the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio as well.

Ray played a key role in Clemson’s five-man signing class for 2011-12. He personally recruited both T.J. Sapp and Bernard Sullivan, Clemson’s fall signees. Sullivan was rated a four-star prospect by most national recruiting services.

Ray was an assistant coach from 2006-10 under Matt Painter at Purdue, where the Boilermakers won 103 games during his four years on staff. Included in the team’s 103 wins were 15 victories over top-25 competition. During his tenure, Purdue advanced in the NCAA Tournament each season – including to the Sweet 16 each of the past two seasons.

In 2009, the Boilermakers won the Big Ten Tournament and were a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In 2010, Ray helped the Boilermakers to 29 wins, tied for the most in Purdue history for a single season. Purdue was a No. 4 seed this past March and lost in the round of 16 to eventual NCAA champion Duke.

Ray was a part of the 2006-07 Purdue staff that signed arguably the top class in school history, a group that was rated No. 5 nationally by Scout.com and No. 6 by Rivals.com.

During his time at Purdue, Ray coached five first-team All-Big Ten players, including Robbie Hummel and E’Twaun Moore this past season. He also coached multiple Big Ten All-Defensive Team selections, led by three-time honoree and 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player-of-the-Year Chris Kramer.

“First and foremost, I’ve got a great deal of respect for Coach Brownell,” Ray said. “I’ve never worked under him, but I’ve always been around him through different associations. He seems like a guy that’s always on the right path, in terms of trying to do things the right way. He’s a great coach and teacher. He will install discipline in a program. Coach Brownell has always won every place he’s been. That’s what I was most interested in when considering working under Coach Brownell.”

Ray coached with Clemson’s director of basketball operations, Dick Bender, at Indiana State for seven seasons from 1997-2004. He helped ISU to consecutive 20-win seasons and NCAA Tournament appearances in 1999-2000 and 2000-01. In 1999-2000, the Sycamores compiled a 14-4 record in the Missouri Valley Conference and won the regular season title. Indiana State then won the MVC Tournament the following season. The Sycamores went on to upset No. 4 seed Oklahoma by a score of 70-68 in the first round of the 2001 NCAA Tournament.

Ray was also part of the ISU staff that defeated perennial power Indiana in back-to-back seasons. The Sycamores defeated the Hoosiers in Bloomington by a score of 63-60 on Dec. 11, 1999, Bob Knight’s final season at Indiana. Then, the following season, ISU won 59-58 with a buzzer-beater at home over Mike Davis’ squad.

Following his time at Indiana State, he spent two seasons (2004-06) as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Northern Illinois. In 2005-06, the Huskies were regular season Western division champions in the Mid-American Conference with a 17-11 overall record, 12-6 in the MAC.

Ray’s first coaching job was as a graduate assistant with the University of Nebraska-Omaha, a Division II program. He helped orchestrate a seven-win turnaround in his second season, 1996-97. He was a standout player for Grand View College, where he was an All-American Scholar-Athlete and honorable mention all-conference performer in 1993.

Ray earned his undergraduate degree in applied mathematics and secondary education from Grand View in 1994. He earned his master’s degree in athletic administration from Nebraska-Omaha in 1997. He is married to the former Breyana Cardwell. The couple has a son, Deacon, born January 20, 2011. Ray also has a daughter, Katriece (18)

REASONS TO CELEBRATE BJORK

If you’re an Ole Miss Fan or Alumnus, you should be excited for this day.  Today Ole Miss finally pulls back the curtains, opens the windows, and lets the sun shine on the back room-dealing Good Ole Boy network.  The “GOB,” much like the wicked witch of the West, is dead, and all of us fans (even the GOB themselves) should find reason to rejoice.

I am solidly in the new-age camp of OM fans, the group that wants new leadership, new ideas, a new direction.  For many years (actually every year until now) I have been in the minority.  My likeminded group has always been told to “sit down and shut up, continue paying your dues and season tickets.”

Finally, and after way too long of a wait, common sense has prevailed over tradition and privilege.  You can mark this day down as the day Ole Miss moves forward.

These are my reasons to celebrate the hiring of Ross Bjork as the new athletic director at Ole Miss

1. Bjork is not an Ole Miss Alum.

College Campuses are an alternate reality, by design, insulated from the outside world.  Many of the traditions at a college, and especially Ole Miss, are held dear by alumni.  But there is a fine line that must be walked by the college leadership between fostering this “bubble” and making it safe and fun and unique, while at the same time keeping it relative to the outside world.

Ole Miss has lost their way, and wandered far off this line, long ago.  There is something to be said for a AD candidate that understands Ole Miss and can market to this specific environment, but what we need the most is to operate the University in the 21st century.

2. We can relate to Bjork.

Bjork is not a legendary football player from the 60’s, he will not be a secluded figure head that rules without any input from those around him.  Bjork is accessible, he is young, and savvy on social media.  He actually has worked his way up the ladder and earned this position, not given the job because of his father or other connections.  He is more like the majority of Alumni instead of the top 10 percent, who usually run the school.

3. He is a decision maker.

Bjork has shown he can make the hard decisions, and quickly upgraded the coaching staff at Western Kentucky.  He didn’t make popular decisions or bow to compromised influences.  He made the right choices to improve the school.  Winning is the only thing that is important.

4. He understands his role

Bjork understands (based on what I have gathered) that an AD’s role is to steer the helm of the Athletic Department.  To get the best coaches and staff possible, give them the resources they need to be successful, and let them coach.  This is going to be liberating for the existing coaches in Oxford, who have become accustomed to walking on egg shells around the current AD.  No more last minute cuts in expenditures.  No more bus trips to Baton Rouge or Athens.  No more Jerry Jones-esqe ADs watching over your shoulder.

5. The fan base can heal

There are still a slew of issues that are unresolved at OM, from mascot fiascos to image branding, poor decisions on hiring or firing of coaches, ect.; way too much to get into for this article.  But with a confident, even handed AD, who is professional and gathers the trust of the alumni, we can begin to heal.  We can put the past to bed and the entire fan base can begin to look in one direction.

I am not happy with all the changes we have seen at OM the last 10 years, and I’m sure the next 10 will bring more changes I am not excited about, but I will put my personal issues aside and trust that Bjork will do what he can to sail the flagship University of Mississippi into calm waters.

Will he be perfect? No.  He may be too young and out of touch for most of the Alumni to embrace.  But we don’t need a yes man.  We need someone to get their hands dirty, get out of the country club, and make Ole Miss relevant again. 

And that is good for all of Mississippi.

IS DAN MULLEN RAISING THE STAKES IN MISSISSIPPI

Originally published in the March/April issue of Mississippi Sports Magazine www.mssportsmagazine.com

By MakeItRainSports Featured Columnist –

In 2008, the dynamics of college football in the State of Mississippi were decidedly different than they are today.  Ole Miss was on a huge upswing due to solid recruiting by former coach Ed Orgeron and the excitement of new Head Coach Houston Nutt.  Mississippi State while coming off a bowl game in 2007 was not able to build off that win and were headed for a 45 to 0 drubbing by Ole Miss in the eggbowl.  Southern Miss was feeling out new coach Larry Fedora and had to have felt lucky to get to the New Orleans Bowl after a 2-6 start to the season.

MSU’s Athletic Director Greg Byrne, immediately fired Sylvester Croom after the poor showing in Oxford that November, and promised, like many had before him, that a national search would ensue.  Byrne promised the Bulldog faithful, the football program would be transformed.  The next coach would have “energy,” “charisma,” and “hard working.”  But isn’t that just standard speech for an athletic director in Mississippi.

The State of Mississippi has long been recognized as a fertile recruiting hotbed.  A State that has lost many of the best and brightest of the year’s recruiting crop to the States of Louisiana or Alabama.  What is left over by bigger schools are split between MSU, Ole Miss, Southern Miss and multiple SWAC schools.  All having much smaller annual budgets and facilities than the surrounding States.

All these factors and more over time has cemented Mississippi athletics’ as a second or third tier within the SEC.  Few if ever have Olemiss and MSU been at the top of the SEC standings, or even near the top.  So, the words of Greg Byrne had to ring somewhat hollow outside the MSU faithful.

Byrne found himself offering the reins of the program to then 36 year old Dan Mullen, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the University of Florida.  

Byrne said about Mullen,”He has a confidence about him as a coach and as a person and he had confidence in his plan, in being able to go into Mississippi State and concentrate on what his strengths were.”

Florida QB Tim Tebow said,”They are going to get a coach who likes to work, who will do a great job.  They will have success because of the way he is.”

By any measurement this looked like a solid hire, expecially, considering the state of MSU’s football program at the time, but what Byrne didn’t know was the total effect this hire would eventually have on the entire state of Mississippi.

Mullen quickly made his strategy for rebuilding MSU known.  He went right at Ole Miss, and claimed MSU would dominate recruiting, and that MSU would soon be the “one” school for all Mississippians to play and cheer.  He held nothing back in pumping excitement into the program.  He even reached back into the Woodie Hayes days and branded Ole Miss, “The School Up North,” using the similar nickname Ohio State used for Michigan.

Ole Miss looked to be very strong heading into 2009, coming off one Cotton Bowl win and ultimately won another after a top 5 start in the preseason poll.  MSU only won 5 games in 2009, but one of them was a decisive, 45-31 win over Ole Miss in Starkville, after which, Mullen stated, ”There’s only one team that’s on the rise in this state.”

2010 brought a nine win season and another egg bowl victory over Ole Miss, which led to Mullen saying, “This team (Ole Miss) will never beat us again.”

Mullen’s rhetoric whether part of his overall plan or half happen stance, proved to be effective at taking the momentum away from Ole Miss and very quickly surpassing them as the best program in the State.  A highly effective billboard marketing campaign used the term, “Our State” as a play on words of Mississippi State controlling college football in the State of Mississippi. 

Mullen’s brash tones were not ignored by other programs. 

Larry Fedora at Southern Miss joined in the billboard wars by pointing out, “We are proud of the fact that all the great players from the state of Mississippi on this team have an opportunity to actually play for a championship.”  Pointing out the CUSA championship USM won over Houston last year.

Delta State took out full-page newspaper ads to promote their multiple national championships in Division II Gulf South Conference.

Mullen energized the entire State of Mississippi like no other coach ever has.  Many claim his Northern disposition will eventually be his downfall; they feel this stirring of the fan base, is somewhat classless and doesn’t put MSU in the best light.  But I will tell you this is a good thing for Mississippi.

Look at the State of Alabama, where play on the field and off is fierce all year long.  Even the most recent transplant is forced to choose a side between Alabama and Auburn, and alumni put their money where their mouth is.

Now more than ever, all football schools in Mississippi are improving the coaching staffs, improving the facilities, and pushing for better talent during recruiting.  And the fans are “all-in” behind their respective schools (Just take a quick listen to a radio talk show or a visit to a fan message board).

Mullen continues to push the envelope whenever possible, whether it is to openly turn down a job that he may or may not have been offered, or to remind the rest of the state who he thinks is the best school and fan base.  Mullen has turned the heat up on the other schools, hopefully for good.

In a southern state with so much history and football tradition, the schools have just been going through the motions, for years.  But thanks to a Yankee football coach from Pennsylvania, the title of the Best in Mississippi means something again.

 This passion, this fire, this desire to win by all schools: This is our State.

Meet MakeItRainSports

This is a guest article from my compadre Carlos (@justagigilo).  SECJams or myself are in no way responsible for the content hereof or his twitter content that you no doubt feel compelled to partake.

Hola from #makeitrainsports

If we started in the 1930s, we would have been the Marx brothers. If we started in the 1970s, you would watch MIRS, instead of ESPN. Instead, we started in the 2010’s and you get a twitter and facebook page (which are still open for advertising and sponsors, by the way).

#makeitrainsports (#MIRS) has become the bane of existence of sports personalities from the local morning talk show to the twitter wars with Scott Van Pelt during Sportscenter.  The phrase was coined by myself, but evermore developed and driven by Ray (@notjoeleedunn) and all our great friends who were looking for a similar outlet.

What started as a small group of friends on twitter has grown into a 24/7 sports roundtable of fans from Arizona to Florida to Boston.  Still with strong MS Sports/SEC slant, #MIRS represents the “every-man,” the true fan; the guy drinking lite beer and putting ketchup on everything.  The guys who may never attend a Superbowl but would rather watch the game anyway with his buds.

Teaming up with SECJams further expands our goals and expectations, and we are excited to see where this goes. Like most projects, you tend to set your goals too low. My original, end all, be all, prayer, was to film a #MIRS used car commercial with @tiffanyboyte (she never responds to me anymore). But now I can set a much higher goal, to get press passes to Olemiss games (reach for the stars kids, you might just get the moon).

Thanks to SECJams and get ready for a wild ride.

In the words of Billy Madison, “That puppy was a dog…but the industry…that was a revolution”.  Viva la revoluticiones!!!