It’s official: Mississippi State has hired Ben Howland as its new men’s basketball coach. The school announced it Monday night when athletic director Scott Stricklin tweeted a picture of his new man for the program ringing a cowbell.
With three Final Four appearances and Coach of the Year honors in three different leagues, Howland arrives as one of the most decorated hires in the history of MSU sports. In three previous stops at Northern Arizona (1995-99), Pittsburgh (2000-03) and UCLA (2004-13), Howland has amassed a 401-206 overall record, taking his teams to the NCAA Tournament 10 different times.
“We have a coach who is a proven winner that’s taken three schools to the NCAA Tournament,” Stricklin said in an official release. “Ben is someone who is ready to invest in the people of Mississippi and Bulldogs everywhere, while bringing championship basketball back to the Hump. Mississippi State basketball can compete at the highest level, just as several of our other teams have done in recent years, and I’m excited to have coach Howland lead us back to that level.”
Howland has spent the last two years working in the media world as a TV analyst for college basketball, but indications are that he has been anxious to get back into coaching recently, much of why he and MSU were able to come together so quickly.
In a USA Today story last month on the 57-year-old coach, Howland explained both his desire to return to coaching and the lessons he’s learned in the time he’s been off the court. Of note in that story, Howland offered a view into the style of play he plans to employ, and it appears State fans can expect an up-tempo game, a switch he made late in his tenure at UCLA.
In his final season with the Bruins, that style of play helped his team average 74 points per game as it won the Pac-12 title.
“It’s something I should have done much earlier in my career,” he told USA Today. “That is a regret, because I thought it really helped us. [Arizona coach] Sean Miller told me this fall it was really tough for them to deal with how much we pushed the ball. We beat them three times that year. That’s something — pushing the tempo — that I’ll always do moving forward. It really helped.”
Beyond style of play, it would appear recruiting and talent development are high on Howland’s list of priorities as he’s had over 20 of his players go on to the NBA, including the likes of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Darren Collison and Jordan Farmar. Twice at UCLA (2008 and 2012) his recruiting classes were ranked as No. 1 in the country by 247Sports.
Howland’s hire brings a level of excitement to the MSU basketball program it hasn’t seen in quite some time, a fact not missed by MSU President Mark Keenum.
“I am impressed with Coach Howland’s resume,” Keenum said in the school’s official release. “He has been successful at the highest levels of college basketball, and I have every confidence he will bring that same proven, winning formula to Mississippi State as well. I know the MSU family will embrace Coach Howland and his family and will fully support his efforts to put our Bulldog basketball team in position to compete for championships.”
As for the immediate future, Howland will have a press conference open to the public Tuesday afternoon at 2:30 in the Humphrey Coliseum and I’m told he has plans to meet with current players as soon as they can all be brought together.
MSU returns four out of five starters from the 2014-15 season, including the leaders in nearly every statistical category.
“I’m just so humbled and grateful to be the new basketball coach at Mississippi State University,” Howland said in the release. “I’m elated and excited about the opportunity to build a consistent winner here at State. I know we have some of the greatest fans in the country and I look forward to making them proud of our team and our efforts. Hail State.”
We’ll update here as more information becomes available.
Just for fun, here are the reactions on Twitter from some national media on MSU’s hire of Howland.
Dick Vitale, ESPN: “Ben Howland will bring a winner’s mentality to the SEC. A good move by Miss. State Bulldogs.”
Brad Evans, Yahoo! Sports: “Miss State’s hire of Ben Howland is extraordinary. Proven winner in different locales. Worked w/ him. Can tell you the fire burns brightly.”
Paul Finebaum, SEC Network: “Ben Howland is an extraordinary hire for Mississippi State.”
Jeff Borzello, ESPN recruiting: “Ben Howland has proven he can win at multiple spots, he’s landed big-time talent from different areas, and he’s willing to change styles.”
Jeff Eisenberg, Yahoo! Sports: “He’s a hard worker and outstanding tactical coach who has proven he can win with all sorts of players in all parts of the country. There’s no reason to believe he won’t do the same for Mississippi State.”