When Rick Ray was named Mississippi State's head coach on April 1, 2012, a new era of Bulldog Basketball was officially launched. And with his hire came a renewed excitement about a program that certainly is no stranger to success.
But even with all the wins, 17 or more for six-consecutive years, Mississippi State hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since the 2009 campaign when the Bulldogs punched their ticket after a magical championship run in the SEC Tournament that ended with a victory against Tennessee in the finals.
It's a trend Ray, who replaced Rick Stansbury after 14 years at the helm, is eager to change as he looks to build the type of program that consistently includes a berth in the Big Dance.
"Rick fits the model of a head coach we have sought to bring into our program over the last several years," said MSU athletics director Scott Stricklin, who introduced Ray to an energetic crowd at Humphrey Coliseum on April 2, 2012. "He is bright, enthusiastic, disciplined and is a man of integrity. He has served with some of the top head and assistant coaches in college basketball and will bring a piece of all of them to our head coaching position."
Ray, the 19th head coach in school history, is certainly no stranger of NCAA post-season play, as he has been an assistant at three different institutions that enjoyed success at the highest level.
Prior to his arrival in Starkville, he spent two seasons at Clemson, where he was associate head coach to Brad Brownell. He also spent four successful years on the staff of Matt Painter at Purdue. Ray began his Division I coaching career at Indiana State, where he served for seven seasons.
All three programs participated in the NCAA Tournament.
"Rick Ray is an outstanding choice to lead our men's basketball program," MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum said. "Once our fans meet him, I know they will share the same sentiment. I am impressed with his basketball philosophy and the vision he has articulated for taking Mississippi State basketball to a higher level. Rick has been successful everywhere he has coached. He is a winner and has a solid plan to put his brand on the program that will reflect the highest standards of integrity and accountability."
While at Clemson coaching in the highly-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference, the Tigers won 38 games. A young Clemson team finished 16-15 this past season, but in 2010-11, the Tigers finished the year with a 22-12 overall record, including a 9-7 ledger in the ACC en route to advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season that year, advancing to the second round.
"Rick is a terrific coach in every sense of the word," Brownell said. "He is as consummate professional. He is a relentless recruiter, has worked with some of the best Xs and Os coaches in the business, and is unbelievably bright.
"I've known Rick for years, he worked with my college head coach at Indiana State," Brownell continued. "He's well-respected in the business. He has the ability to be both demanding with his players to make them better on and off the court, and still develop long-lasting relationships with them. He is a great hire for Mississippi State."
Ray was an assistant coach from 2006-10 under Painter at Purdue, where the Boilermakers won 103 games during his four years on staff, including 15 victories over Top 25 competition. During his tenure, Purdue advanced in the NCAA Tournament each season - including to the Sweet 16 each of his last two years there.
In 2009, the Boilermakers won the Big Ten Tournament and were a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In 2010, Ray helped the Boilermakers to 29 wins, tied for the most in Purdue history for a single season. Purdue earned a No. 4 seed and lost in the round of 16 to eventual NCAA champion Duke.
"Rick Ray is a tireless worker and fierce competitor, two traits that will serve him well as he leads Mississippi State basketball into a new era," Painter said. "Mississippi State is getting a great young coach with the energy and drive to be successful."
Ray was a part of the 2006-07 Purdue staff that signed arguably the top class in school history, a group that was rated No. 5 nationally by Scout.com and No. 6 by Rivals.com, and included All-America Robbie Hummel and current NBA players Carl Landry, JuJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore.
"Coach Rick Ray was always very patient with our team," said Moore, now with the Orlando Magic. "He was never rushing us during practice. Coach Ray was also always motivating us, especially in early morning workouts. He would always come in very energetic and trying to get the team fired up for the day. He is a very talented coach and Mississippi State is lucky to have him."
While at Purdue, Ray was on Painter's staff that also included current Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin, who enters his second season atop the Vols' program.
"It is a great hire for Mississippi State," Martin said. "Rick is a hard-working, intelligent basketball coach who really has a passion for the game. But more importantly, it is a great move by the MSU administration which did its homework and reached out to a qualified coach who will represent the university in the right way."
Ray coached at Indiana State for seven seasons (1997-2004), helping ISU to consecutive 20-win seasons and NCAA Tournament appearances in 1999-2000 and 2000-01. In 1999-2000, the Sycamores compiled a 14-4 record in the Missouri Valley Conference and won the regular season title. Indiana State then won the MVC Tournament the following season. The Sycamores went on to upset No. 4 seed Oklahoma in the first round of the 2001 NCAA Tournament. Ray was also part of the ISU staff that defeated perennial power Indiana in back-to-back seasons.
Following his time at Indiana State, he spent two seasons (2004-06) as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Northern Illinois. In 2005-06, the Huskies were regular season Western division champions in the Mid-American Conference with a 17-11 overall record, 12-6 in the MAC.
Ray's first coaching job was as a graduate assistant with the University of Nebraska-Omaha, a Division II program. He helped orchestrate a seven-win turnaround in his second season, 1996-97.
He was a standout player for Grand View College (Iowa), where he was an All-American Scholar-Athlete and honorable mention all-conference performer in 1993. Ray earned his undergraduate degree in applied mathematics and secondary education from Grand View in 1994. He earned his master's degree in athletic administration from Nebraska-Omaha in 1997.
Ray and his wife, Breyana, have a son, Deacon (1), and a daughter, Katriece (19).