Stansbury: "No Way I Could Walk Away"

They asked, he listened. They offered, and he considered. And after a couple of days to consider, Rick Stansbury had to tell Clemson…thanks, but no thanks. "I can say they made it very intriguing," the Bulldog basketball coach said. "But when I came down to it, leaving Mississippi State…I couldn't do it."

Stansbury squashed speculations that he was going to change conference addresses from the Southeastern to the Atlantic Coast in a Monday afternoon meeting with media. The talk began a half-hour later than scheduled as Stansbury, accompanied by wife Meo and three sons, met quickly with athletic director Greg Byrne. The coach then confirmed that he would stay at Mississippi State for a 13th season.

"At the end of the day there was no question in the end what I felt. It's nice maybe to have been wanted, it's nice to have heard some people talk about some things. But at the end the day there was no way I could walk away from Mississippi State and what we're established here over 12 years."

Monday morning it emerged that Clemson, looking to replace recently resigned Oliver Purnell, was negotiating with Stansbury; and had begun so last Thursday. Though the Bulldog coach never used the actual word ‘offer' today, everything else said backed this idea up. Such as Stansbury's talk of negotiating the contract, potential details of which were not offered.

"These are not like process in hiring for regular jobs," Stansbury said. "They start pretty quickly. I think the first conversation from their AD to Greg (Byrne) happened Thursday evening. From that point on it was pretty quick, Meo and I visited with them on Saturday afternoon." That was in a location he would only call "north of Atlanta. We got back Saturday night and rassled with some things."

Besides talking with Byrne, and meeting with University president Dr. Mark Keenum on Sunday evening on campus, Stansbury related that he'd contacted SEC peer Billy Donovan for counsel. The Florida coach had flirted with leaving Florida after their second national championship in 2007, only to cancel out. "Billy told me he took a job for three days, and it was the most miserable three days of his life. I do appreciate some insight he shared on it, because he's been through it."

By contrast this was the first serious attempt a major program had made to hire Stansbury away from Mississippi State since he succeeded Richard Williams as head coach in 1998-99. He had been hired by Williams in 1990-91. Such an offer was definitely worth consideration. And in any regard, "Another team called, I owed it to my family to listen," Stansbury said. "And that's what we did." More than listen, too, as both sides were serious. "I'm not going to make Clemson look bad in any way. Those guys were really good to us. Their AD was terrific." Ultimately though Stansbury said he couldn't envision himself getting on a plane Monday for Clemson.

"And the one thing I wanted to keep out of it, and I did, was we kept the emotions of the alumni out of it. I didn't want to get in a drawn-out situation, I couldn't have handled that. And we did that, Clemson kept it quiet."

"The last 36 hours, my wife would throw some gas on it at times and then throw some water on it. When we could tell Clemson we were no longer interested there was a peacefulness about both of us for the first time in 48 hours."

Byrne, who himself accepted the Arizona A.D. job just three weeks ago and will be leaving Mississippi State by the end of this month, confirmed that his talks with Stansbury really weren't about money. Though, Byrne said, as matter of course the current contract did come into play. "Right now we anticipate getting him back to four years like we did last year. And we're on the same page with that." Byrne is certainly pleased that he won't be leaving a major coaching search job for his successor, and that there will be no changing of the basketball guard at State anytime soon.

"And that's a good end result for our University, our men's basketball program, and our athletic department."

For his part Stansbury did not include uncertainty about who could be his boss in the decision. "But I know we've got a very depend and reliable candidate that we all will find soon, that I feel very comfortable in knowing where that's going to be."

Stansbury is 255-140 in his dozen seasons, with a 105-87 SEC record. In this stretch State has one SEC championship (2004) and league tournament titles in 2002 and '09. Six of his squads have played in the NCAA Tournament and four more in the NIT, including the 2010 team that lost in the second round to North Carolina.

The Bulldogs graduated two seniors, all-time NCAA shot blocker Jarvis Varnado and program three-point champion Barry Stewart. As Varnado gave up his scholarship for the senior season so ineligible freshman center Renardo Sidney could enroll, there was just one certain free grant to hand out and in November it went to junior college guard Brian Bryant.

"We've got a good group coming back," Stansbury said. As to how that group had handled the morning's events, the coach had yet to speak with any player he said. "They should be working right now so I'll squash any rumors with them." The head coach also said he'd informed his assistant staff during the process.

"I've talked to them off and on. I've kept them plugged-in pretty close to the situation. As I've said many times we've got the best staff going. Those guys are all loyal guys and have been with me from day-one. All those people understand the process. My secretary understands the process. So I've kept the people I know right there in touch with what was going on because I knew it affected their lives. They were a part of the decision and I kept informed and everything."

One of those aides, Phil Cunningham, has been contacted by another college, Stansbury confirmed without saying it was Gardner-Webb as reported elsewhere. "We'll see how it goes for him." But his boss? He's staying. "Sometimes it takes something like to make you realize how special it is. It wasn't about money, it wasn't about money at Mississippi State. I'm coming back not expecting no raise."

And apparently confounding the cynical popular wisdom that any time a coach or athlete says something is not about money it is, Stansbury does work at clarifying that impression. That, fiscal considerations were not involved in his talks with Mississippi State's administration, or what settled his choice.

"They didn't have to show anything. What Mississippi State has showed to me in 12 years, not any way could you put any monetary value on that. We're invested," Stansbury said. "But it made me realize how special Mississippi State is. That's something no money could change.

"It's very obvious, I think as long as y'all are going to keep me here, it's obvious we're here for the duration. Its twenty years already. And sometimes it takes something to make you realize how good you really have it."

Which, Stansbury said, means he's at Mississippi State for the long haul. "Unfortunately you all have to put up with me!"


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