Column: What does Southeast basketball need next?

Southeast Missouri State coach Rick Ray talks with guard Chris Harris (5) in the first half of a game against Vanderbilt this past season in Nashville.
Associated Press file

The seemingly inevitable news that Southeast Missouri State has parted ways with men’s basketball coach Rick Ray after five years finally became official today, and it is obvious to look in the rear-view mirror and question as to why.

He lost more games than he won.

“There are always a number of factors,” Southeast athletic director Brady Barke said at a press conference following his meeting with Ray and the Redhawk coaches and players. “At the end of the day, we simply haven’t had the on-court success that any of us want or feel like we can have.”

The more relevant question to ponder is to what type of coach the Redhawks need to pursue to reverse three decades of basketball that has ranged from mediocre to God-awful with just a few flashes of success mixed in.

Here is a look at the traits needed by the next coach to succeed on AND off the court.

Be like Rick

In some regards, Redhawk athletic director Brady Barke needs to seek a coach exactly like Ray.

This is a program that has some (not a lot, but some) history of questionable ethics and academic emphasis and Ray did everything in his power to alleviate those concerns.

“It’s never the part of your job that you want to do,” Barke said of terminating Ray’s employment. “It’s hard. He put everything that he had into that program.”

Ray’s teams were well prepared and to the very end of his tenure, his players played hard disciplined basketball.

They just lost much more often than they won.

In my nine months as regional sports editor for Semoball.com, I have yet to meet anyone that didn’t like Ray, as a person, myself included.

Ray’s emphasis on character, academics, and ethics are non-negotiable topics for the next coach. There is no reason to tolerate whatsoever a lack of attention to those details.

Love the one you're with

The next coach needs to embrace this position because after all, he is the one who chased after it.

“I got the job that I applied for,” seventh-year Southeast football coach Tom Matukewicz said to me at one point.

Listen to ‘Coach Tuke,’ he currently leads the most successful football program in the OVC, and he has a lot less to market to recruits than the basketball program does.

Don’t accept the position and then complain – especially publicly – about any of its faults.

This is a nice program, with nice facilities, with a nice campus, and in a nice city.

“If we think of the facilities,” Barke said, “some of the resources that we have for the program, there is no doubt in my mind that it is a program that can be a successful program in this conference perennially.”

Whoever is hired is damn lucky to have been given the opportunity, so embrace all of those things and sell them.

A culture-builder

Ray’s demise had absolutely nothing to do with his basketball acumen. Absolutely nothing.

What ultimately failed him was the fact that he couldn’t retain his top players on an annual basis.

The degree of importance placed on building a culture where players care about the program AND elevating it can not be overstated enough.

“Creating a vision,” Barke said of the necessary traits he is seeking in a candidate, “developing the culture that you need, and instilling a sense of belief and pride in that program. That s a huge starting point for us to turn the corner.”

Averaging double figures should not be viewed as a ticket out of town, it should be viewed as “Good, I’m helping make history by changing the trajectory of this program.”

The next coach has to be an expert in team-building even more so than in Xs and Os. That starts with recruiting the right type of people. If he doesn’t do that, then everything else won’t ultimately matter.

Be creative

The Southeast basketball program isn’t perfect, none of the Redhawk athletic programs are, so if the coach wants to improve the situation. QUIETLY meet with Barke and figure out creative ways to address any concerns.

When Jacksonville University men’s basketball coach Tony Jasick was hired, the Dolphins’ locker room was in bad shape. He knew the university didn’t have the funding to renovate it, so Jasick – who grew up working for his father’s construction company - went to Home Depot, bought supplies, and he and his Director of Basketball Operations spent a weekend fixing it up as best they could.

THAT is the drive needed to overcome obstacles, not complaining to Barke about wanting more funding.

In addition, any concerns about facilities or funding can be addressed by scheduling “guarantee games.”

If Barke tells the coach he needs to bring in $200,000 in funding to help the rest of the athletic department, then go schedule $250,000 worth of games in the first season and use the $50,000 profit to renovate the locker room or improve some other aspect of the program.

Barke is not going to say no to Ohio State building Southeast a new locker room.

And remember, the end game here is to be competitive in the OVC. Taking a loss to some Power-6 program in November/December doesn’t impact that at all.

Be a politician

Unfortunately for the next coach, he will have to overcome three decades of malaise from a public interest perspective.

I can tell you unequivocally, unless you write a column calling for the coach to be fired, very few people have an interest in following the program. So until the winning starts, the new coach will have to be EVERYWHERE throughout Southeast Missouri kissing babies and shaking hands.

Ray certainly was dismissed for losing games, but the Show Me Center often being near empty also was problematic for him.

College basketball is a business and the coach is the most impactful in terms of the marketing of it.

Be positive

In closing, the next coach is going to be wealthy by any measurable standard and have been given one of 353 opportunities like it in the entire world.

He and his family will have been blessed to be here and he needs to espouse that message every single day of his tenure.

There are zero reasons why this program can’t be markedly better than it has been over its history. It is an opportunity with tremendous potential, so it needs to be seized with every ounce of vigor as possible.

“I’m interested in making sure we get the best possible person to come in and lead this program moving forward,” Barke said. “I think we owe that first and foremost to our student-athletes.”

Tom Davis is the regional sports editor for Semoball.com and the Southeast Missourian

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