Stricklin: "It Takes A Special Person"

"Everybody comfy?" Scott Stricklin asked the media crowding into his second floor office. The one with the view of the Bryan Building first-floor where Coach Rick Stansbury's retirement as Bulldog basketball coach had just been formally announced.

For his part Stricklin seemed quite comfortable with the week's hurried events. And, entirely confident that Mississippi State basketball is positioned for continued progress.

During the fifty-minute public event (see video) athletics director Stricklin deferred to 14-year coach Stansbury to address assembled fans and take media questions. Following this, Stricklin had reporters report to his own office for a more direct question-and-answer session on Stansbury's decision and what Mississippi State does now to fill this position.

Q: When did you set up yesterday's meeting with Rick? "Wednesday morning, I didn't talk to him after the game Tuesday. It was Wednesday morning."

Q: Did he express any desire like this before Wednesday? "Our conversations prior to Wednesday were just about basketball, the team, that kind of stuff."

Q: Was it the normal end-of-season meeting? "It was a little different. It was a lot different. This was much more personal than normal, yeah. And I said it was a long meeting, the last part of it once Rick really started (to) where we ended up…the more it got to that point where he was talking about it I just sensed that his whole demeanor changed. And there was I almost want to say a peace that came over him, and a calm in his facial expression and everything. I don't want to put words in his mouth but I think relief might not be the right word. But I felt like he had a real peace on how he ended up on that is the best way to put it."

Q: Did he almost seem to be expecting something like this? "I don't know. I can't speculate."

Q: But was there a sense a lot of people felt like or wanted there to be a change? "You know, I heard opinions on all sides. 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."

"But at the end of the day it's about what is best for Rick and his family."

Q: What are the steps now? "Going forward, we'll look for the right guy, the right fit. There's no timetable how long it takes until we identify whoever that is. I don't know, I'm just speculating, there usually are people who are still playing that you have to wait until they can finish up before you can to them. But that's a head coach or an assistant coach."

"You heard me earlier this week talk about the work ethic, the competitiveness, intelligence, and that ability to sell. We won't deviate from that. I think that is a formula that works. I don't care if it is a head coach, assistant coach, big school, small school, young, old, I don't care. For whatever reason we've hired a lot of assistant coaches, first-time head coaches, or in Vic Schaefer's case a head coach a long time ago, but I don't think that's anything but coincidence."

Q: Will you have a search committee? "I'll have some people internally that I talk with."

Q: Will you hire a search firm? "Actually there's a chance we'll engage somebody. And more of that is logistics-based than anything else, because they can do a lot of groundwork and make connections. Especially in a situation where people are playing and you want to be respectful but you also want to put feelers out. I think sometimes, especially in basketball, that's helpful."

Q: Greg and Larry always talked about ‘back pocket lists' to be ready for sudden openings. Have you thought about this before, especially after Rick was looking at the Clemson job? "Yeah, I think you have to be aware. I think its hard though to get locked in, because until you are in front of somebody and face-to-face you really don't know if there is a fit, if there is that spark. I compare it to dating, you know? Until you order the steak and sit across from somebody and spend some time you really don't know if that is somebody you could see something working out for."

Q: What are the terms of the retirement package or whatever you want to call it? "I'm not going to talk about that, I want to be respectful to Rick on that."

Q: Does any kind of buy-out come into play? "Not on any state dollars. We're going to transition out of his head coaching contract and try to do it in a way that makes it as easy for Rick as possible."

Q: Is that, and the role with State, comparable to what you have worked out with Sharon Fanning-Otis? "No. I mean, the role will be a little different, Sharon is going to work in the Bulldog Club. Rick may help some with fundraising but it will probably be a little bit different. And Rick may end up reporting just to me."

Q: If Rick had wanted to stay coach would have been allowed to? "That's hard to speculate. It just never got to that point in the conversation."

Q: Who broached the subject of retirement first? "It was Rick's decision. Rick is the one who said I may be ready to step away and do something different. And the family thing, he really talked a lot about that down there, but I think that was really weighing on him."

Q: Did you talk about what the future might look like if he stayed? "It really never got to that point in the conversation."

Q: You said a sense of calm came over him? "Yeah, I think you saw down there. There was a peace about him. I'll be interested to see in a couple of years though if he doesn't recharge and be ready to go. But he may not, he may feel like something else. Rick is a talented guy and I'm telling you, there is nobody better at relationships, one-on-one relationships, than Rick is. And there is a lot of use for people with that skill set."

Q: Who do you turn to for advice outside State, your first major hire? "It's major from the standpoint that it is a high-profile sport. But I think it is the same process, you talk to people that know the sport, people you respect, maybe people who recently went through a search to find out. They might can point you to people, hey here's somebody we didn't hire but we really liked him, we were close to hiring.

"Or, they may say boy, here's somebody you hear a lot of but we did our homework and we didn't like that person because of this. You may still end up talking to them but it just helps to have those conversations with other ADs, other coaches, just people who are close to college basketball."

Q: Is there any concern over the last two years about what was going on in the program, the fistfight in the stands… "That was a bit of a concern, that particular incident. I mean, I don't think there was any question that as Rick related there were some things that weren't like we wanted them to be."

Q: Is there the possibility of an interim coach for recruiting and off-season workouts? "I think Coach (Richard) Akins will be OK, the strength program is in-place. I don't if there is a need to hire an interim coach, since we don't have games to play or anything."

Q: Could you give an interview opportunity to any assistant coaches? "We'll see. Like I said we're wide-open, I wouldn't dismiss that idea."

Q: Related to that, who will stay in touch with current players and recruiting? "I'll talk to Rick about that and get his thoughts. It may end up being me. And obviously the message there is to ask for patience while we're going through this process and Mississippi State is still a great school, we've got great facilities, and we compete in a great league. And we're going to hire a great coach, be patient until we get through this process."

Q: Will you attend the Final Four? "My plan is to. My plan all along was to, but I may have to work during the Final Four now!"

Q: Did Rick express any regrets about what has happened the last couple of years and say that contributed to his decision? "I'll let Rick talk about that. I want to be respectful of that conversation and let him share parts of it he wants to share."

Q: The characteristics when Greg and you hired Dan Mullen and John Cohen, do they stay in place for this hire? "I don't think it's any different. I still think smart, competitive, intelligent, hard-working people who understand how to attract and sell what we have here at Mississippi State University, attract people to it. I think they're going to be successful regardless of the sport. And there are things unsaid in that, we want people of character who work well with others. To me that goes back to the intelligence piece. And I think it is the same model."

"And the other thing I've seen us do that I think as worked for us, we kind of like developing our own talent so to speak. And not necessarily take someone who has already developed a brand somewhere else, but take let us help develop their brand while they're here. I'm not saying we wouldn't not do the other but I kind of like that concept."

Q: You were at State when Richard Williams put the program on the map, then saw it develop further while working at other schools. How much more attractive is this job now, and maybe compare it to the successful hiring of Vic Schaefer this week? "I think Coach Schaefer did a great job of spelling out how impressive the facilities are relative to other schools that have really good facilities. So obviously we've got a facility piece and Rick is a big part of that, that we didn't have before."

"In recent years we've re-done the locker room, we continue to make improvements inside the arena as far as seating and lights and all kinds of stuff. And then the practice facility, the academic center. Our University keeps investing in brand-new dorms which has been huge for our whole campus and our increased enrollment."

"You know, right now Rick is making a top-thirty salary; that's top-ten percent in the country. I think we're pretty committed to the sport of men's basketball, and I think we've got a really unique situation. I know when we talked to Coach Schaefer and other coaches in other sports that there is a sense that there is an energy at Mississippi State that is different right now. And I think that attracts people, and people see that this whole University is united, we're on the same page from Dr. Keenum all the way to the student body and everybody in-between."

"If people know about us they're going to be interested. If they don't and do their research, I think they're going to be impressed."

Q: How much was Rick due for his contract this year? "It was either $1.4 (million) or $1.5."

Q: After post-season and incentives? "I haven't looked at all what it was going to be, that was before incentives."

Q: After the press conference is a fifth thing to be added, somebody who can build relationships? "I think that goes with the sell, a lot of sales is relationships. So that's a part of it. You've got to be able to sell individually, but you've got to be able to sell collectively. You have to sell to the recruit, you have to be able to sell to the fan base. And kind of sell to the masses."

Q: Not many schools hire men's and women's basketball coaches the same year? "You know, I was at Kentucky one year when they did that, actually! It was actually Matthew Mitchell was hired as women's coach. Oddly enough Mitch (Barnhart) finished up the men's search and hired Billy Gillispie, and the next day Mickie DeMoss walked in his office and said she was resigning. So he had no rest for the weary. I can relate to that! But it's not normal and hopefully something we never do again."

Q: Is it more difficult when you haven't had a coaching search for basketball in a long time, but also the SEC is expanding? "I do think our league schedule is about to get tougher. We're about to play some of those East teams more often than we have in the past and obviously they've been the stronger side of our league in recent years. Our league is not getting any easier."

"But at the end of the day I still think it's an opportunity to coach in the Southeastern Conference, at a school that has good things for it and great facilities, an administration that is supportive and wants to do everything it can to help our student-athletes have a great experience. That's an important part of this, we need to make sure we create great experiences for our student-athletes, for our staff, for our fans, alumni and student body. It takes a special person, these are not easy jobs, and Rick did it very well for a long time. We'll have to make sure that we do a really good job finding somebody who can maintain and build off that." Q Are you willing to send more than $1.5 million a year? "I'm going to pay whatever we need to get to whatever works for them."

Q: With Rick three years from state retirement, are you paying for two coaches for three more years? "No. I don't want to get into Rick's financial situation but there are certain things that can add to your years there, leave time and that kind of stuff, and I'll just leave it at that."

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