Mississippi State's athletic department is in quite a precarious situation with its men's basketball program. The team has showed clear improvement over the course its last 5 games. Some players have stepped up, like Craig Sword and I.J. Ready, and set themselves apart as guys who could potentially be stars if they stay in Starkville. This is a team with plenty of talent that can be built on, BUT, the elephant in the room remains. Rick Ray simply has not done enough so far to warrant another year at MSU.
State has 10 feasibly winnable games remaining on the schedule, splitting those games 5-5 (and counting Kentucky as a loss) gives the Bulldogs a 14-17 overall record and a 7-11 mark in the SEC. With that finish, Ray would have a 38-58 record overall, 14-40 in conference. Considering the state the program was in when Ray took the reigns, this is not completely apprehensible, but it's just not good.
The dilemma that Scott Stricklin faces as MSU's athletic director, lies in the fact that Rick Ray will likely have to be let go at the end of the season, but Ray has a solid set of players that the team cannot afford to lose if Ray is fired. To boot, the job will be an extremely hard sell to any coaches who will be in high-demand this off-season.
Stricklin's best option to replace Ray, at least in my opinion, is Kermit Davis at Middle Tennessee State. Davis is from Mississippi and played and was an assistant coach at MSU. He's been the head coach at MTSU since 2002 and has amassed a record of 232-148 and led the program to its first ever Sun Belt conference championship in 2012. He's also very much in MSU's price range, Davis reportedly made $290,000 in 2013. Rick Ray currently has a base salary of $1,000,000.
Past Kermit Davis, Mike White at Louisiana Tech is another quality option, but White played and coached at Ole Miss and according to some, he may be waiting to take Andy Kennedy's job in Oxford.
And don't even begin to think that we might get a guy like Shaka Smart from VCU or Archie Miller from Dayton. There's no point in getting your hopes up for something that will never happen.
If Scott Stricklin can hire Kermit Davis or someone on a similar level, then firing Rick Ray would theoretically be a good decision. But if MSU whiffs on Davis and any other upper-tier candidates, the options go downhill quickly and we will likely be stuck hiring another obscure assistant from the ACC. Our best players will likely flee for greener pastures just like they did when Rick Stansbury left and MSU basketball will be right back where it left off three years ago, if not in a worse position.
So, pick your poison. There is no right answer to this conundrum. Keep Ray and likely only postpone the inevitable, or show Ray the door and run the very real risk of putting the program in an even bigger hole. The only conclusion that I have come to when considering Bulldog basketball is that I'm just glad I'm not Scott Stricklin right now.