I like Rick Stansbury.
His teams always seem to contend in the SEC, and he is a likeable guy, the quintessential Southern gentleman.
But, at times, his unruffled mien is perplexing.
Following a last-second loss to Ole Miss last week, Southern Miss Coach Larry Eustachy called Stansbury out for refusing to play the Golden Eagles, telling reporters “If we could get Mississippi State to do it in basketball than that would be great. But (Rebels coach) Andy (Kennedy) seems to be a little more comfortable in himself than ol’ what’s-his-name.”
The punctilious Stansbury quickly dismissed Eustachy’s comments, saying “I don’t know Larry but I’m always going to make decisions on scheduling what’s best for us.”
Ironically, the Bulldogs are scheduled to face USM in a home-and-home series in 2014 and 2015. In football.
While I appreciate Stansbury’s candor in dealing with media fallout from the Eustachy episode, right now the Bulldogs are a team without an identity after two losses to unranked opponents. I mean this is a team that supposedly reinvented itself in the offseason, yet they still seem to live and die by the three pointer.
The players need their coach to show some chutzpah like his football counterpart down at the Holliman Athletic Center.
In fact, Stansbury could stand to learn a lot from Dan Mullen, who has begun to turn the MSU football team around.
Heading into the Egg Bowl against rival Ole Miss, both sides were fired up after Mullen insisted on calling Ole Miss “that school up North.”
While he had only been in Starkville for one season, players and fans appreciated how quickly he embraced the rivalry.
The Bulldogs responded by walloping the Rebels 41-27.
Following the Rebels game, Mullen told the fervent crowd at Davis Wade Stadium, “There’s certainly one program in this state that’s definitely on the rise, going in the right direction, and that’s right here in Starkville.”
Conversely, Stansbury’s squeamish response probably did little to inspire his team.
Upon being asked about Eustachy’s comments, Stansbury said “that’s fine, I can’t control that.”
Yes, but you can control how your team plays.
The Bulldogs had been listless in their previous six games, including losses to Rider and Richmond, before finally turning in a dominating performance against St. Bonaventure on Saturday.
Listen, no one can argue with what Stansbury has done in his twelve seasons in Starkville.
He is the winningest coach in school history, leading the Bulldogs to four SEC West titles and nine postseason appearances.
A savvy recruiter, Stansbury also helped lure high profile recruits such as Lawrence Roberts, Jamont Gordon, and Charles Rhodes to Starkville.
Still, his teams have never advanced past the second round in the NCAA Tournament, while his predecessor, and mentor, Richard Williams led the Bulldogs to their only Final Four in school history.
It seems to me that just maybe, Eustachy was onto something: perhaps Stansbury isn’t “comfortable in himself,” which be having an adverse effect on his team’s play.
It’s no surprise Michigan State has joined the nation’s elite under the enigmatic Tom Izzo; his players feed off his sideline swagger.
Junior forward Kodi Augustus alluded to this during his Howard Beale-esque outburst following the Rider loss, where he questioned Stansbury’s motives for benching him and guard Phil Turner.
My advice for Stansbury is this: go ahead schedule the Golden Eagles for next year, or the following year. You can challenge them to a game of H-O-R-S-E, but do something.
Put Eustachy and the rest of his lot in their place.
I’m sure your players will appreciate your boorish behavior.