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The Case for Rick Ray

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MSU basketball lost its fifth straight game on Saturday. Rick Ray is now fixed squarely on the hot seat but I’m here to explain that this situation is not as cut-and-dried as MSU fans may think.

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Rick Stansbury was a great basketball coach but an awful disciplinarian. His teams did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted and it ultimately brought his demise as the coach of the Bulldogs. He couldn't focus a roster that had huge amounts of talent and after repeated team discipline problems and a 14-loss season in 2011, he stepped down from his position. But he did not leave quietly.

Following Stansbury's exit, nine players either graduated, transferred, or declared for the NBA draft in the offseason, including the entire 2011 starting five. The program was essentially burned to the ground and Rick Ray was hired from Clemson in 2012 to salvage something from the ashes.

Ray was not only hired to be a head coach but also to be a janitor of sorts and clean up a program that had been soiled by his predecessor. MSU basketball needed an infusion of structure and integrity and at the time, Rick Ray was the right guy for the job. He came in and cleared house, suspending and dismissing players that he felt weren't living up to his standards.

The inmates were no longer allowed to run the asylum like they were with Stansbury and thus Rick Ray brought a complete culture change to Starkville. In one way, player discipline, this was a good change and in another way it was bad. Fan interest dropped to near zero. People were understandably disenchanted with MSU basketball after all of the trouble of the the previous seasons. Fans also knew that things would be rough for a while, causing interest to wane even further. Though, they were clearly not anticipating it to be as rough as it has been.

Ray has compiled a record of 29-46 and for the first time in three years, he has a full roster of scholarship players in 2014. Unfortunately, the team doesn't appear to have made much progress, starting with a 5-5 record in their first ten games, including wins over Utah State and St. Louis but also losses to Arkansas State and USC Upstate. After the team's most recent loss, fans were vehemently calling for Ray to be fired but I'm here to say that there's no need to do that.

At least not yet.

Truly consider the situation before demanding Rick Ray's head. Ray started with less than a blank slate. He started without a slate at all. The man was brought in to essentially be a punching bag for at least two years and he's done that and he even managed to improve his record from 10 wins in his inaugural year to 14 victories in 2013.

On top of the already bleak circumstances, take into account that SEC basketball as a whole has more or less imploded during the last two years and Ray's task of rebuilding this program in three years or less begins to seem almost impossible. To put the SEC's recent fall in perspective, out of ESPN's top 50 recruits in the 2013 and 2014 classes combined, 5 players committed to SEC schools that weren't Kentucky or Florida. 5 OUT OF 100. And none of those were to MSU.

Go back to the fact that fans are now completely disengaged, which is only detrimental to recruiting because nobody wants to play in front of nobody, and there is less than a minuscule chance that any top recruits will come to play in Starkville

The same principle applies for finding a coach to replace Ray if the worst occurs. If he's fired, it will be next to impossible to get an established basketball coach to come to a school located in a rural city that plays in a football-dominated league. It doesn't matter what kind of money the athletic department can throw at someone. Very few coaches will want to come to a school where recruiting is an uphill battle at best and they'll constantly be playing second fiddle to football and baseball.

Ray had no team to start with because of Stansbury and recruiting top talent was and still is a lost cause, frankly, the fact that he has the team that he does is impressive. And this is why he needs your support this season and not your vitriol. If the team tanks, the list of coaches to replace Ray is short and obscure and his successor likely won't fare much better so, give the man his fair shake.

John Wooden, the greatest coach in the history of college basketball, didn't make it past the first round of the NCAA tournament until his 14th year at UCLA and then he went on to win 10 national championships... It's all about perspective, folks.

I'm not saying that Rick Ray will be John Wooden but, I'm begging you, don't write him off just yet. His first season with a full roster is only a little more than 25% complete. Right now, just show up for games and cheer if you have the ability. We all know how great the Hump can be when it's packed and more fan support can only be for the better. If you don't want to do it for Ray then do it for his players (did I mention how nobody wants to play in front of nobody?). And if you give him your support and the team still doesn't deliver, then maybe he's just not the man for the job and we can find a new basketball coach next year. After the trial by fire that Rick Ray has endured, he deserves one more chance and if you give it to him, you may be pleasantly surprised.