Mississippi State fires Rick Ray

Mississippi State has fired men's basketball coach Rick Ray.

Ray, 44, went 37-60 in three seasons at Mississippi State after replacing Rick Stansbury in 2012. The Bulldogs went 13-19 this season, including 6-12 in SEC play.

Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin announced the decision to fire Ray in a release Saturday.

"This has been a difficult decision, as I have the utmost respect for Rick, and am highly appreciative of the effort he put forth in leading our basketball program," Stricklin said in the statement. "To Rick's credit, we have seen great strides from our student-athletes in several areas, including academics.

"However, the on-court results have not been satisfactory. In order for MSU to achieve success at the levels to which we aspire, I believe that a change is necessary at this time."

In a post on Instagram, Ray said he was "saddened" by the move.

My statement, thank you.

A photo posted by rickray01 (@rickray01) on

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

"Men's basketball is important to Mississippi State University, and history illustrates that we can compete for championships on a consistent basis," Stricklin said. "MSU has won six SEC championships, in four different decades, under three different coaches. We have seen the Bulldogs play in the sport's final weekend, and I firmly believe there are more achievements like those in our future."

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.

Mississippi State has a proud basketball history, with 10 NCAA tournament appearances, including a 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 to win games. The program briefly looked like it had turned the corner midway through the season, winning four of six SEC games. But the Bulldogs quickly regressed, losing six of their final seven games.

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.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.