December 26, 2012 9:31:55 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE - When a man decides after 28 years in the profession, 22 of them at Mississippi State University and 14 years as the head coach to do something else with his life, The Dispatch certainly believes this act is more than justifiable to be named MSU story of the year.
The retirement of Rick Stansbury as MSU men's basketball head coach after 22 seasons in the position that lasted 5,116 days meant he'd be leaving the Starkville campus as the school's all-time wins leader, th ninth-winningest coach in league history
"I lot of coaches can stay at one spot too long," Stansbury said. "I don't want 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."
Despite a perplexing collapse in his final season, one that many assumed Stansbury needed to have major success in to earn job security, MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin and Stansbury stressed its was the Bulldogs coach's decision to walk away from the program with two years remaining on a contract which was scheduled to pay him between $1.4 million and $1.5 million per season.
"It was a long meeting......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 on that is the best way to put it."
The announcement came two days after Mississippi State lost to the University of 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, Mississippi State had a 19-5 record and was ranked as the 15th best team in the nation by The Associated Press.
"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.
Stansbury repeatedly got very emotional during the 52-minute media conference on March 16 especially when referring to his wife Meo and three sons Isaac, 13, Noah, 11, and 8-year-old Luke.
At age 52, Stansbury 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."
During his time in the head-coaching chair, Stansbury guided the Bulldogs to an overall SEC Championship in 2004 and four SEC Tournament championship appearances which netted two titles including the run in 2009 that saw MSU win four games in four days. He compiled 16 SEC Tournament wins, which ties for the ninth most in league history.
"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."