STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State hired former UCLA coach Ben Howland to lead its basketball program.
The university announced Howland’s hiring Monday night. He’ll be introduced at a news conference Tuesday.
The 57-year-old coached at UCLA for 10 years, leading the program to three straight Final Fours from 2006 to 2008. But the Bruins never made it past the second round of the NCAA tournament during the next five seasons, and he was fired in 2013 despite winning the Pac-12.
Howland takes over for Rick Ray, who was fired Saturday after three losing seasons. Ray had a 37-60 overall record, including a 15-44 mark against Southeastern Conference competition.
“I’m just so humble and grateful to be the new basketball coach at Mississippi State university,” Howland said in a statement. “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.”
The Bulldogs do have a recent history of success, making the NCAA tournament six times during an eight-year stretch from 2002-09. Mississippi State played in its only Final Four in 1996.
Howland had a 233-107 record as the longest-tenured coach at UCLA since the legendary John Wooden retired in 1975. He also coached at Pittsburgh and Northern Arizona, leading both programs to the NCAA tournament.
But Howland’s past few years with the Bruins were often overshadowed by controversy. The NCAA investigated the recruitment of star players Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson, with Muhammad eventually suspended three games. There was also a critical Sports Illustrated article published in 2012 suggesting that Howland had lost control of the team.
There’s little doubt the hire is a significant on-the-court upgrade for the Bulldogs, who had fallen to the bottom of the SEC the past three seasons.
Howland built his reputation as a defensive coach before using an up-tempo style at UCLA during his final season. He’ll inherit a veteran nucleus at Mississippi State, including starters Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Gavin Ware and I.J. Ready. Sword was an all-SEC second-team selection.