Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen made it official on Thursday. Men’s basketball coach Ben Howland will not return for his eighth season in Starkville.
OutKick reported on Sunday via sources that Howland, 64, would not be returning after he coached the Bulldogs in the National Invitation Tournament, and Cohen at the time would not comment on Howland’s status after the tournament.
Mississippi State lost at Virginia, 60-57, in the NIT on Wednesday night.
“We are appreciative of the time and effort coach Howland devoted in leading our men’s basketball program,” Cohen said Thursday. “On behalf of the entire Mississippi State family, we wish them (Howland and his wife Kim) the absolute best.”
Cohen did not mention “retirement” in his statements.
The Bulldogs finished the season 18-16 overall and 8-10 in the SEC for 10th place. Howland, who took UCLA to the Final Four three times from 2006-08 and reached the national title game in 2006, took Mississippi State to the NCAA Tournament just once – in the 2018-19 season when he finished 23-11 and 10-8.
State would have gone to the NCAA Tournament in the 2019-20 season, but it was canceled because of COVID-19 after the Bulldogs finished 20-11 and had their best year in the SEC under Howland at 11-7 for fourth. Howland wept in front of his team after the news that there would be no tournament.
“We thank him for his investment in the lives of our student-athletes and pouring his heart and soul into our program from the day he arrived in Starkville,” Cohen said. “There’s no question he left our program better than he found it.”
Howland, who will be 65 in May, inherited a program that had three straight losing seasons overall and in the SEC under previous coach Rick Ray from 2012-15 – 10-22 and 4-14, 14-19 and 3-15 and 13-19 and 6-12.
Howland gradually and steadily improved the program to 14-17 and 7-11 and to 16-16 and 6-12 before going 25-12 and 9-9 in the 2017-18 season and reaching the NIT semifinals. After the two seasons above .500 in the SEC in 2018-19 and 2019-20, Howland finished 18-15 and 8-10 in the 2020-21 season, but rallied to an NIT runner-up finish.
“MSU owes a debt of gratitude to coach Howland,” Cohen said. “We have the utmost respect for him as a coach and a person.”
Mississippi State is one of five SEC schools looking for a men’s basketball coach since just last week. Missouri, LSU, Florida and South Carolina are the others. Georgia was the first with an opening as of last Thursday, but hired Florida coach Mike White.
Cohen sounded as if he may try to hire a coach known more for offense. Howland tended to have stodgy offenses and very good defenses.
“We are confident we will find a new head coach who will elevate our program and position our student-athletes to compete for champonships while playing an exciting brand of basketball,” Cohen said.