Semoball

Column: Now is the time for change in Southeast basketball

Southeast Missouri State men's basketball coach Rick Ray returns to his seat as Nygal Russell (25) shoots a free throw during a game against Missouri Baptist earlier this season at the Show Me Center.
Ben Matthews ~ Southeast Missourian

When youíve been the editor of three newspapers, not just the sports editor, but THE editor, there have been times in which I have had to write on difficult topics.

Iíve written on military deaths, a law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty, and natural disasters, each of which has been a tragic situation to immerse myself in.

So opining on the subject of a college basketball program is infinitely less important than those topics, but this column is extraordinarily difficult to construct, nonetheless.

The Southeast Missouri State menís basketball program is in need of new leadership and writing such is gut-wrenching for me due to my deep amount of respect for Redhawk coach Rick Ray.

I have known Ray from afar for over two decades but really became close with him since being hired by Rust Communications in May of last year.

I find it incredibly ironic Ė in a despicable way - that on a day in which ESPN is heralding the troubled basketball program at Auburn under scandal-ridden coach Bruce Pearl, I am calling for the professional termination of a man and coach of Rayís genuineness.

Life isnít always fair.

The Redhawk program is in need of new leadership and it is my opinion that now is the prudent time for Southeast Athletic Director Brady Barke to make that change.

The Redhawks fell to 0-10 in the Ohio Valley Conference with Saturdayís loss at Eastern Kentucky and have just two wins this season against NCAA Division I competition. But my decision to write this column now isnít due to Saturdayís defeat, nor do I feel that such a decision should be put off until the regular season culminates on Feb. 29.

This decision is a big-picture one and quite frankly, even if the unfathomable occurred, and the Redhawks won their eight remaining games, it wouldnít change my opinion.

I was not in Cape Girardeau to witness the issues troubling this program earlier in Rayís tenure, but I have done the research and have an idea of those problems.

As for this season, the on-the-court dilemmas of skill level, toughness, and intellect, or lack thereof, coupled with the off-the-court problems of selfishness and delusions, lead me to believe that this program lacks the proper culture necessary for success.

Ray is in his fifth season and there are athletes - on a two-win team - complaining about which position they play.

That is a program that lacks a winning culture.

Ray has lost contributing players to transfer such as Tahj Eaddy (24 minutes per game for a 17-win Santa Clara squad this year); Denzel Mahoney (21 points Saturday in a 15-point win at No. 8 Villanova); LeDarrius Brewer (a double-digit scorer in his first two college seasons); and Gabe McGlothan (the Redhawksí leading rebounder last season as a freshman); each of whom should be on THIS Southeast team.

That is a program that lacks a caring culture. And no, not every program in America loses its most significant athletes year after year.

ďWeíve got guys worried about their professional careers and what level of basketball they can play at,Ē Ray said recently following an overtime loss against OVC-power Murray State. ďAs long as they are worried about those things our team is not going to be good and their chances of being a professional player are slim and none.Ē

The fact that the Southeast players are under the hallucination that they have a professional future Ė when their team has lost 7 of 10 league games by double digits Ė tells me the locker room not only lacks the proper culture, but also maturity, intellect, and self-awareness.

The placement of fifth-year senior Skyler Hogan on the cover of the 2019-20 media guide, a player who had spent just one season on the court with the program and had openly tried to transfer after that year, tells you much of what you need to know about the culture of this program.

Editor's note: Redhawk Assistant Director of Athletics for Strategic Communications, Jeff Honza, made the media guide decision, not the Southeast coaches. His decision was based on Hogan being the leading returning scorer.

I could point out a multitude of basketball statistics that justify my call for change, but one will suffice.

The programís RPI as of Saturday ranked 345th out of 354 NCAA Division I programs. That is the lowest it had reached in the last 20 years.

Even during the abysmal seasons of 2007-08 and 2008-09, the Redhawks finished with RPIs of 292 (before 11 wins were vacated) and 339.

RPI certainly isnít the be-all, end-all, for measuring success, but it is a barometer that carries some weight.

My reasoning for calling for the termination of Rayís employment now, as opposed to later, is that it brings closure to an uncomfortable situation that many feel is inevitable.

I absolutely am NOT of the belief that somehow this program will be improved without Rayís guidance over the next four weeks.

Letting Ray go now would also give Barke the opportunity to start his search process, as opposed to waiting until March when he would be competing for a new coach with an array of other athletic directors in the same situation.

Making that decision today would cost Southeast $109,375.98. That is due to the two-year extension that Barke offered Ray following the 2016-17 season.

The Redhawks are off until Thursday when they host Jacksonville State at the Show Me Center. The four-day break would allow Southeast assistant coach Keith Pickens to get established as the interim coach to lead the program throughout the remainder of the regular season.

Ray has done an exemplary job of managing this program Ė in many ways - with the highest amount of integrity in terms of academics and ethical behavior.

His team continues to play with great effort despite its trying circumstances.

His reputation as a knowledgeable, principled, and diligent coach will afford him another professional opportunity as a ĎPower-6í assistant as soon as he wants it.

Ray will be making 75 to 100 percent more salary a year from now than he is today, so worry not for him, too much.

Like myself in penning this column, Barke knows what the right thing to do is, even though it is upsetting, to say the least.

There is never a wrong time to do the right thing, and as it relates to Redhawk basketball, that time is now.

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

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