It's Time to Get Over It

In my office, there is a framed picture of Rick Stansbury. I see it everyday as I enter my office to begin the day's work. To my left, there Rick is arms raised triumphantly as he celebrated Mississippi State's 82-81 win at Alabama to secure the SEC conference championship. It was Rick's finest moment. It was one of those ESPN classic type games that we still talk about.

When you mention the name Timmy Bowers, every Bulldog fan can still see him pump fake and then bank one in off of the glass as Jack Cristil roared the good news across the Mississippi State radio network to a jubilant fanbase.

We are a long way from that moment, though in some ways it seems like only yesterday that it took place.

Bowers is long gone and Stansbury too. Much of the support for our proud program has waned. A few years back, people were ready to take Bart Gregory hostage over where they would be seated in the new Humphrey Coliseum seating plan. Now seats are easy to come by. No fuss, no lines, no need to get hot under the collar when calling the ticket office or Bulldog club.

It's sad really.

The saddest part is seeing the fan base split into different camps. The same folks who cried as Charles Rhodes raised his senior day jersey are for the most part absent when we go to the Hump for Hoops as Dr. Hank Flick used to say.

These artificial battle lines have been drawn by some who simply refuse to give Rick Ray a chance, because they remain upset about Rick Stansbury's "retirement". I admit I was extremely disappointed in how things ended, but I think we can all admit something had to change.

I will never forget the horror of seeing video of Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey fighting each other on national television. If you are looking for the death blow of the Stansbury era that was it. Bailey may have come up on the short end of the scrap, but it was the Mississippi State fan base who toted the butt whipping.

The criticism came from everywhere and Bulldog fans had no defense. You just sort of had to grin and bear it and laugh it off. It was difficult to digest, but that embarrassing moment really happened between players wearing our school colors.

The team showed some signs of life after that, but it just seemed that nothing was ever the same again. The one constant in MSU athletics, men's basketball was in trouble, big trouble.

Like most of you, I was blindsided when the news came down that Rick Stansbury had retired. It made no sense. Stansbury was Mississippi State basketball. While he was the guy many in the fan base chided for never making the sweet sixteen, he gave Bulldog fans something to cheer for on an annual basis. Every year carried big expectations and you always felt like the team may get hot and make a run deep into the post season.

Once the news had sunk in, the collective opinion was that Scott Stricklin would have to fight his way through resumes and head basketball coaching candidates just to go home at night. That turned out to be more fiction, than reality.

While early interest appeared to be brisk, serious candidates with the proper credentials were much harder to come by. Fan's wish lists that started with Shaka Smart were essentially pie in the sky pipe dreams. It became painfully clear, that the next man to guide the Bulldog basketball program would not be a "name" coach.

When Rick Ray was announced as the new men's basketball coach at Mississippi State, the news was met with a collective "Who?". Rick Stansbury had turned down the head coaching job at Clemson and now his replacement would be an assistant coach from Clemson that Stansbury would have possibly interviewed about a position on the Tigers' staff.

Some Mississippi State fans checked out, right then and there. Much of the Bulldog roster quickly followed suit. Like his father before him, Rodney Hood elected to leave the Mississippi State basketball program. News of his transfer proved to be the final stroke of misery for many, who expected the program to bottom out.

The first two years of Rick Ray's tenure yielded few quality wins. A 2-0 SEC start in 2013, turned into 2-13 as Ole Miss came to town. The Rebels were expected to win going away. The previous home game for State was a 72-31 shelling at the hands of Vanderbilt. A 30 point loss at Kentucky followed as Ole Miss came in looking to polish up their post season resume.

Ray's undermanned team found a way and knocked off Ole Miss 72-67. Wins over Auburn and then South Carolina in the conference tournament allowed the young dogs to close out the year winning three of five against SEC opponents.

The team was expected to be better with a deeper bench in 2014, but it really wasn't. The squad won just three SEC games and support suffered as year three rolled in.

With early losses to Arkansas State, McNeese State and South Carolina-Up State, most Bulldog fans were prepared to give up on the season and give up on Rick Ray and his staff. A funny thing happened on the way to the new coaching search, the team started to come together.

A close loss at A&M showed the team had some fight left. A win over Vandy was fun, but a road win at Auburn broke the road conference losing streak and people took notice. Respectable showings against Georgia and Ole Miss in contests that the Bulldogs probably should have won, had people talking about more than just football recruiting and potential coaching searches.

On Saturday, LSU came to town looking to capture an important road win against a Mississippi State team that they were expected to beat.

I decided to attend the game and catch up with an old friend from Baton Rouge. I didn't plan to stay, but once I saw our guys out on the floor I couldn't leave. This was my first basketball game in some time. Like many of you, when the team was rolling I was right there with them. If I couldn't make the game, I always watched. It was easy to be passionate about the team when they were winning.

I guess I had become a bit of a fair weathered hound when it came to basketball. I had lost my appetite for hoops after leaving the arena with the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth. I was disenchanted and found other things to do with my entertainment dollar.

I sat in the Hump today and I watched those guys wearing our jerseys fight. I watched them compete and I watched them win. I saw our fans cheer and high five each other. Bulldog basketball was fun on this day and based on recent results, one would assume some other good days lie ahead.

None of the guys on this staff or roster were around on that ill fated day in Hawaii when our collective nightmare took place on national TV. They were not involved, but they are the ones picking up the tab.

Rick Ray did not conspire to oust Rick Stansbury. Ray is not responsible for the roster turnover before he even had the chance to unpack his whistle, but he is the one who has tried to piece together a competitive team with who stayed and who could stay healthy.

There are still some very spirited opinions about Rick Ray and his hiring, but it is time to move past that. While some may never approve of Scott Strickin's decision, it is time to accept it for the good of the program, for the good of those players.

I am not a Rick Stansbury guy or a Ricky Ray guy. I am a Mississippi State guy and those guys out there playing defense, setting screens and trying to put the ball in the net are Mississippi State guys too. They deserve our support.

These guys are fighting and they aren't fighting each other. They're fighting for MSU. Won't you join them?


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