March 16, 2012 1:43:53 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- After 28 years in college basketball -- including 22 years at Mississippi State University, 14 years of which he served as head coach of the men's team -- Rick Stansbury decided to do something else with his life.
"It's time in my life to start a new chapter (and) step away from coaching," Stansbury, who will continue to work at MSU in an as-yet undetermined capacity, said Thursday. "And I'm ready for it."
On March 13, 1998, Stansbury took over the head coaching position at MSU. And he proceeded to become the became the school's all-time wins leader, the ninth-winningest coach in league history, with 11 post-season appearances.
"A lot of coaches can stay at one spot too long," Stansbury said. "I don't want to 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."
MSU Athletic Director Scott Stricklin and Stansbury both stressed its was the Bulldogs coach's decision to walk away from the program, with two years remaining on his contract, which was scheduled to pay him between $1.4 million and $1.5 million per season.
"It was a long meeting (where Stansbury discussed his retirement and) the more it got to that point where he was talking about it, I just sensed that his whole demeanor changed," Stricklin said. "And there was, I almost want to say, a peace that came over him and a calm in his facial expression and everything. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I felt like he had a real peace on how he ended up. That is the best way to put it."
The announcement came two days after the MSU basketball team lost to Massachusetts in a first-round game of the National Invitation Tournament, ending one of the most disappointing seasons in recent years and perhaps the biggest collapse in Stansbury's 14 seasons as the Bulldogs' head coach. On Jan. 2, MSU had a record of 19 wins and five losses and was ranked as the 15th best team in the nation by The Associated Press.
Stricklin and Stansbury met Wednesday morning to discuss the turbulent season and the future of the program and the meeting 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 record of 21 wins and 12 losses, losing seven of their final nine games. Once a projected lock to make the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament for the first time in three years, MSU fell to a number four seed in the NIT.
The team then fell behind by double figures in the first half of Tuesday's home game against Massachusetts, before losing 101-96 in double overtime in front of the smallest announced crowd of the season -- 2,507.
Stansbury repeatedly was very emotional Thursday, especially when referring to his wife, Meo, and three sons -- Isaac, 13, Noah, 11, and 8-year-old Luke.
"Family, my boys and my wife are absolutely the number one decision," Stansbury said. "There's not even a close second."
Stansbury, 52, acknowledged he wasn't sure if he'd be making the decision to walk away if MSU had salvaged the 2011-12 season, gaining the school's first at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, since 2008.
He also left the door open to the possibility he would return 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 is three years away from being eligible to collect retirement from the state of Mississippi, but Stricklin confirmed the gap could be lessened with leave-of-absence time collected during 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."
During his time in the head-coaching chair, Stansbury guided the Bulldogs to an overall Southeastern Conference championship in 2004 and four SEC Tournament Championship appearances, which netted two titles, including a 2009 run, during which MSU won four games in four days. Stansbury compiled 16 SEC Tournament wins, which ties for the ninth most in league history.
"It's time for me to be a better husband, better father," Stansbury said. "I know as coaches, and I understand that, that we are judged by wins and losses. But for me, it's the relationships."