March 16, 2012 10:02:17 AM
STARKVILLE -- Since he was six years old, Rick Stansbury's life has been about nothing but basketball. Whether he was playing or the 28 years he's been in the coaching profession, basketball has dominated his life, his profession and his mind. Thursday's announcement he would be retiring as the school's all-time wins leader and th ninth-winningest coach in league history allowed the 52-year-old to go out on his terms and bring a element to his life to the forefront: family.
"You know, been thinking long and hard about this - it's time in my life to start a new chapter and step away from coaching. And I'm ready for it."
Stansbury repeatedly got very emotional during the 52-minute media conference especially when referring to his wife Meo and three sons Isaac, 13, Noah, 11, and 8-year-old Luke.
"For the last three years, every time I'd walk out the door, Luke (Stansbury's 8-year old son) would say 'daddy - when are you going to get a day off?' I've given him the same answer - soon. In his last three years of playing soccer, you know how many games I've seen (holds up one finger) and that's tough. Issac and Noah play SAY basketball, every time they walk out that door it's 'daddy can you come watch us?' and I tell them the same thing, 'I can't tonight boys'. That's really tough. I'm at a point now I'm ready to become a better father, better husband because I've like most of you when you want to be successful - you put your heart and soul in it."
Stricklin and Stansbury met Wednesday morning to discuss the turbulent season and the future of the program and it was the result of the meeting which led Stansbury to walk away from the only profession he's known - coaching.
"When I met with Scott we both agreed to this - we've had a couple of disappointing years," Stansbury said. "No one to blame but me for that - I'll take responsibility for that. I want expectations (and) we don't run from them."
The Bulldogs finished the season with a 21-12 record, losing seven of their final nine games. Once a projected lock to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years, Mississippi State fell to a No. 4 seed in the NIT, then fell behind by double-figures in the first half of Tuesday's home game against UMass before losing 101-96 in double overtime in front of the smallest announced crowd of the season, 2,507.
"We didn't meet some expectations the last couple of years but that's good - that's where it came from," Stansbury said. "I like that. Our standards, which we created, were not met and that's okay. I want the expectations. We don't run from them."
In front of fans and notable donors to the program such as Richard Adkerson, CEO of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., and Buzzy Mize, who was the primary donor for the Mize Pavilion basketball practice facility on campus, Stansbury let the world into his life and was more emotional than in any of the three years I've covered him on the Mississippi State beat.
Stansbury talked openly about his decision to remain at MSU and reject a contract offer two years ago to become the next head coach at Clemson University. Similarly to how he spoke to me exclusively in the feature which ran in last week's Dispatch regarding his family.
After the conclusion of the 2009-10 season, Stansbury was approached and offered a contract close to $2 million per year by Clemson administration. Last week Stansbury told The Dispatch his decision to turn down the offer "had nothing to do with basketball".
"I made a decision two years ago and (people) couldn't believe why I was staying," Stansbury said. "The same reasons still exist today. My love for this university and my love for you people."
Stansbury first met with Clemson officials which included Tigers athletic director Terry Don Phillips in a face-to-face meeting where he was convinced he would be leaving the Starkville community for the first time in nearly two decades.
"Two years ago I went to sleep on one side of the bed feeling one way and woke up the next morning feeling different," Stansbury said. "When Meo and I got up this morning. , we got up on the same side of the bed with the same feeling - just how blessed we've been in every way."
His wife Meo, a graduate of MSU in 1992, was admittedly not much help in the process until the Stansbury family got back from Clemson to talk out the decision as a family.
"You start entertaining an offer and you get caught up in it but what happens is you don't sit back and collect yourself so it becomes a two-day tidal wave," Meo Stansbury said last week. "So at the end ot those two days there's a job offer in your lap and now after two days you're changing your life forever. Finally, Rick spoke up and said 'no we can't leave (because) our family is now here, our sons' teachers that they adore are here think about everyone we would leave behind."
In a conference with the local media, Stansbury said negotiations between his agent, the Stansbury family and Clemson began Saturday evening but ended all speculation Monday morning by telling MSU president Mark Keenum he was staying on the Starkville campus.
On the court, Stansbury and his MSU team won only 38 of 64 games while missing the NCAA tournament in both seasons and having consistent off-the-court problems with players most notably junior center Renardo Sidney.
"We know our relationships here go much deeper than w's and l's," Stansbury said. "A lot of coaches can't say that."
"I remember 2 years ago Rick and his family struggled with the (Clemson) decision," Keenum said. "His love for this university brought him back."
It's that love for MSU and Starkville that for the time being will keep the Stansbury family in the community they've need best over two decades even if the man of the house is no longer roaming the sidelines of Humphrey Coliseum.
Two years ago, Stansbury consulted with current Florida coach Billy Donovan about the offer from Clemson/ The leader of the Gators program, who Stansbury called a friend then and Wednesday, has first-hand knowledge of a similar situation when he left Florida to be the next head coach of the NBA's Orlando Magic just to change his mind and return to the Gainesville campus three days later.
"He shed a lot of light on things and been through exactly what I've been through," Stansbury said. "He took a job for three days and it was probably the most miserable three days of his life. He asked me a simple question...Rick are you happy and are you comfortable?"
Leaving the Bryan Athletic Building arm in arm with his wife Meo to a standing ovation, Stansbury got validation he'd made the correct call.
"I didn't have to (talk to anybody else) this time," Stansbury said. "Last time you're trying to make a decision you're just not sure about. This time I knew where my heart was at, knew where my feelings were at and where we were in our stage of life."
Stansbury, 52, did acknowledge he wasn't sure if he'd be making the decision to walk away if MSU could've salvaged the 2011-12 season into the school's first at-large berth in the NCAA tournament since 2008. He also left the door at least slightly open to the potential possibility of him returning to coaching at some point in his career.
"I can tell you this - it's not about being tired....you see guys spend their whole lives at universities and they leave so negative (and) I don't want to do that," Stansbury said. "I want to go out while we're still great. Meo and I are 100 percent at peace."
Stansbury, 52, will continue to work at Mississippi State in a yet-to-be-determined position, said athletic director Scott Stricklin. Stansbury is officially three years of service away from being able to collect retirement from the state of Mississippi but Stricklin confirmed the gap could be lessened with built up leave time not being collected over his 22 years with the university.
"I'm very pleased with how this happened and very happy that Coach Stansbury gets to have more quality time with his family," MSU president Mark Keenum said. "I wouldn't have had it happen any other way. Rick considers this university family and we are thrilled to always have him remain part of our family at Mississippi State."
Like the classic Frank Sinatra song, Rick Stansbury will likely be remembered at Mississippi State as a man that did it his way - and won doing it too.
"I lot of coaches can stay at one spot too long," Stansbury said. "I don't one be one of those coaches. I want to be able to do things and make decisions to step away from this when it's my decision."
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