Mark Humphrey
March 21, 2015

Mississippi State has ended basketball coach Rick Ray's short tenure after three straight losing seasons eroded a large chunk of the program's fan support.

The school released a statement announcing the decision on Saturday. Ray had a 37-60 record over three seasons, including a 15-44 mark against Southeastern Conference competition.

Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin told The Associated Press he spent more than a week wrestling with the unpleasant decision before making the call to end Ray's tenure.

''Because of the respect I have for Rick, I wanted to believe he could get us where we wanted to be,'' Stricklin said. ''But as time passed, I had less confidence that was accurate. When you get to that point, it's probably best for all concerned that you try a different direction.''

Ray has two years remaining on a contract that pays about $1 million annually. Stricklin said the school will owe ''a portion'' of that salary, but that the contract is not fully guaranteed.

Stricklin acknowledged Ray was doing a good job in several off-the-court areas, but progress on the court ''has not been satisfactory.''

Ray, 44, took over for longtime coach Rick Stansbury, but struggled from the outset. The Bulldogs just finished a 13-19 season, which included a 6-12 mark in the SEC.

Mississippi State has a proud basketball history, with 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, including its only trip to the Final Four in 1996. But those days seemed eons away over the past three years, with the Bulldogs getting clobbered on most nights.

It also hurt that while the Bulldogs were struggling, rival Ole Miss made two NCAA Tournaments over the past three seasons. Announced attendance dipped to just 6,291 this season, and many nights it looked like about half that many were actually in the stands.

Not only were the Bulldogs bad, they were usually boring. They ranked near the bottom of the SEC in most offensive categories, focusing on defense to try and win games.

The program briefly looked like it had turned the corner midway through the past season, winning four of six SEC games. But the Bulldogs quickly regressed, losing six of their final seven games.

This was Ray's first college head coaching job after working as an assistant at Clemson, Purdue, Northern Illinois and Indiana State.

Mississippi State expects to have several veterans returning next season, including seniors Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware. Sword was a second-team All-SEC selection. Stricklin said he met with the players who were in Starkville on Saturday and encouraged them to keep up on their academics and workouts.

''I'd like to think this job is more attractive than it was a few years ago and I think Rick deserves credit for that,'' Stricklin said.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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