By MICHAEL WARDLAW
They say all good things must come to an end, and a remarkable 14-year run as a head coach came to an end for Mississippi State’s Rick Stansbury Thursday.
Stansbury has given his life to the Bulldog family for the past 22 years as an assistant coach as well as his decorated tenure as head coach, and he said couldn’t be more pleased with that fact.
“I have been very blessed to be a part of this university for the last 22 years, 14 as the head coach,” said an emotional Stansbury. “I’ve just been blessed.”
Under Stansbury, the Bulldogs have witnessed more success than any other period of time in Mississippi State basketball history. He’ll depart as the most winning coach at MSU with a 293-166 record, 10 20-win seasons, two Southeastern Conference Tournament Championships, an overall SEC Championship, six NCAA appearances and five NIT selections. He ranks ninth on the all-time coaching record in the SEC.
While his team’s performance in recent years drew harsh criticism from some, those doubts drew praise from Stansbury. He acknowledged some things didn’t go the way he, the administration or fans wanted them to go. Stansbury said he was proud that fans were disappointed because it simply told him they expected championship, just as he did.
“(MSU Athletic Director) Scott (Stricklin) and I met yesterday, and we both agreed there are some things that we both didn’t like about the season,” Stansbury said. “That’s apparent to both of us. How many times have I said our goal every year is to compete for a championship? That’s what it’s about with us in every way.”
At the end of the day, Stansbury said he felt it was time to spend time with his family, something he has hasn’t been afforded the luxury of doing over the last 14 years.
“It’s time for a new chapter in my life,” Stansbury said with a smile. “It’s time for me to be a better father. It’s time for me to be a better husband. I know as coaches ... we are judged by wins and losses. But for me, it’s the relationships.”
Stansbury didn’t speak of personal accomplishments, records or success. He simply said he was ready to experience the things he and his family had missed out on over the past two decades.
“For the last three years — and all of y’all that have got these young kids, you can relate to this — every time I walk out door Luke would say, ‘Daddy, when do you get a day off?’ I’ve given him the same answer: ‘Soon.’ He’ll keep asking that question,” Stansbury said as his emotions showed. “In his last three years of playing soccer, you know how many games I’ve seen? (holds up one finger) That’s tough.
“Isaac, Noah play hoops, every time they go out that door: ‘Daddy, can you come watch us?’ … I tell them the same thing. ‘I can’t tonight, boys,’” Stansbury added. “I’m at a point now I’m ready to become a better father, a better husband.”
During his 50-minute farewell press conference, Stansbury took the time to call attention to his MSU family of co-workers and support staff. One by one, he called their name and made known his understanding of how much they meant to the Mississippi State program.
“A lot of coaches get judged on (wins and losses). That’s part of the profession; I’m good with that,” Stansbury said. “But my wife and myself ... we know our relationships and friendships are a whole lot deeper than (wins and losses). A lot of coaches can’t say that. We can.”
The relationships Stansbury forged include the friendship with Stricklin. The two entered into a conversation on Wednesday morning that never reached the topic of his return.
“(Wednesday’s) meeting was talking a lot about where Rick’s heart and mind was,” Stricklin said. “I’ll be honest, I did a lot of listening and let Rick really talk through what was going on in his heart and his head. When you’re faced with a situation where you have options, it’s a good thing. And Rick was in a situation where he had options.”
Stricklin continued by expressing his gratitude for the things the Stansbury family did for the university.
“Rick has given much to Mississippi State University over the past 22 years, including the last 14 as our head coach,” Stricklin said. “The achievements of men’s basketball under his direction are many. He and his wife Meo have been totally invested in our basketball program, and we thank them both for what they have brought to Mississippi State University.”
While the details of his retirement package haven’t been made public, it was clear Stansbury will remain a part of Mississippi State University.
“As we transition him away from the role of head basketball coach, (we will) find a way that he can continue to serve the university,” said Stricklin. “A lot of that is still to be determined, but as far as exactly what the role is going to be, there’s no one better at developing individual relationships than Rick is. Nobody. It’s one of his true gifts.
“That Mize Pavilion over there is a testament to his ability to develop relationships with individuals. I’m not real smart, but I’m smart enough to know that when someone’s got a unique trait like that, ... you better find ways to maximize that for our organization, our institution.”