Jeff Goodman of ESPN reported Monday that Ben Howland will be the 20th head basketball coach in Mississippi State Bulldog's history.
Ben Howland has reached a verbal agreement to become the Mississippi State coach, sources told ESPN. He is en route to Starkville now.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 23, 2015
There's been no word on the terms of the agreement or when an official announcement will be made by the university.
Howland was previously the head coach at UCLA from 2003 to 2013 where he had a record of 233-107. He won four Pac-10 regular season championships, two Pac-10 Tournament championships, and his teams appeared in three straight Final Fours from 2006 to 2008. He was named the Pac-10 coach of the year in 2006. He was also an excellent recruiter for the Bruins, bringing in players who are now NBA stars like Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Jrue Holiday. In March 2013, Howland was let go by UCLA despite winning the Pac-10 regular season championship that year.
Prior to UCLA, Howland was the head coach of the Pittsburgh Panthers from 1999 to 2003. While at Pitt Howland rebuilt the program and in his third year, won the Big East regular season title and led the team to an appearance in the Sweet 16. Pittsburgh advanced to the Big East tournament final three straight years under Howland from 2001-2003 and the Panthers won their first Big East title in school history in 2003.
Howland also coached for five years at Northern Arizona from 1994 to 1999 where he led the Lumberjacks to a Big Sky Conference Title in 1998.
This is an excellent hire for MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin after his misstep with Rick Ray. Howland is a proven winner, he's successfully rebuilt other programs, and he's a big name that will likely keep current players with the program and retain committed recruits. It's a great hire not only for MSU but the SEC as a whole because Howland brings more notoriety into a league that has struggled to keep up with its peers over the last few seasons.
Unfortunately, this hire does not come without some amount of baggage as well. In February 2012, Sports Illustrated published an article accusing Howland of having discipline problems within his program. One snippet from the article states:
"Over the last two months SI spoke with more than a dozen players and staff members from the past four Bruins teams. They portrayed the program as having drifted from the UCLA way as Howland allowed an influx of talented but immature recruits to undermine team discipline and morale. Fistfights broke out among teammates. Several players routinely used alcohol and drugs, sometimes before practice. One player intentionally injured teammates but received no punishment."
UCLA and Howland fought these accusations vehemently but the simple fact that this was reported at all is concerning considering that one of the main reasons Rick Ray's predecessor, Rick Stansbury, left the program was discipline problems with his players. These accusations sound eerily similar to the problems that Stansbury very publically had during his final season with the Bulldogs.
Howland has a quality resume that perhaps allows for Mississippi State to overlook Howland's checkered past with the Bruins and give him the benefit of the doubt going forward with MSU's program. Undoubtedly, Scott Stricklin is taking on a certain amount of risk by hiring a coach who has been accused of things that have been a problem inside Mississippi State's basketball program in the past.
Despite these factors, the future of MSU basketball is much brighter with Howland as its coach. Fans are already excited and the SEC basketball community can't help but take notice of Mississippi State now. Howland provides instant relevance and that's exactly what this program needed.