Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Rick Stansbury stepped down as Mississippi State's head basketball coach last week. Stansbury seems to have burnt out during his final two years in Starkville. Saying that he was missing time with his young kids, Stansbury has gone off into the sunset. I wish him the best, and I hope he enjoys his family time.
I won't be surprised to see Stansbury pop back up in a couple of years. Once a coach always a coach—coaches tend to return after sitting out a few years to recharge. We see it all the time.
In the meantime, MSU needs a coach now, and I am sure athletic director Scott Stricklin will look at the coaches who already have ties to the program. There is nothing wrong with that, but I know of several coaches at mid-major programs that MSU should contact.
At the top of the list has to be Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart.
In the past two years, Smart has taken the Rams from first four to final four, and this year they almost made the Sweet 16 again. VCU lost by two points to a very good Indiana team. Smart has done a lot with mid-major talent, so imagine what he could do with some of the Bulldogs' talent.
Even though his team didn't make the tournament, another coach MSU should get on the phone is Brad Stevens. The Butler coach got his team into the championship game last year after a championship appearance the year before.
Gonzaga is the mid-major that started it all. Mark Few has turned Gonzaga into a tournament regular. Mississippi State should give Few a long look to replace Stansbury.
Smart, Stevens and Few have done great things with small budgets and lower-tier talent the bigger schools pass over. All three men can flat-out coach, and all have their teams prepared to play night in and night out.
One wild card, Sean Woods at Mississippi Valley State, is also a great candidate. Woods played at Kentucky, so he knows all about pressure to win from the premiere basketball program in the SEC.
Woods did a wonderful job with MSVU this season. He had to play a lot of games against bigger schools on the road for money, but it paid off in the SWAC season; the Delta Devils went 17-1 in regular season play. He got his team into the first four and tried to calm a collapse against Western Kentucky. I have no reservations that Woods would do great things at a cash- and talent-rich program.
But right now, VCU is out of the tournament. Stricklin should be on the phone with Shaka Smart.