By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat gave loud, clear votes of confidence Monday for football coach Ed Orgeron and athletics director Pete Boone.
Support for Orgeron from the Ole Miss fan base is debatable, but he has two important voices in his corner in Khayat and Boone, the men who hired him to replace David Cutcliffe in December 2004.
“Every sport we play now is competitive except for football the last couple of years,” Khayat said Monday, “and we knew when coach Orgeron came here that he had a major, major, major rebuilding job to do.”
Said Boone: “He will be our coach next year.”
Orgeron is 9-23 overall and 3-19 in Southeastern Conference games in almost three complete seasons. Three of his wins are against Memphis and two more are against sub-Division I programs. He is 1-12 against SEC Western Division teams and has beaten only one Division I team that finished the season with a winning record.
After nine games this season the Rebels are 2-7, 0-6 in the SEC. With SEC games against LSU and Mississippi State remaining, they’re facing the possibility of a winless conference season for the first time since 1982.
Ole Miss plays at home Saturday against Northwestern (La.) State.
Orgeron is under contract through 2010 at $900,000 a year plus incentives.
At his regular Monday press conference, Orgeron said a week ago he discussed the criticism of him with his players.
“We’re right in the middle of something. We played very close to some top teams,” he said. “A couple more recruiting classes, and I know I can get the job done I was brought here to do.”
Orgeron said his relationship with the administration is solid.
“I just feel strongly that I’m on a five-year plan here, that they knew it was going to take a while. I’m only on my second full year of recruiting, and we will have a great class again this year. The administration thought – and you’ll have to ask them, I don’t want to speak for them – it was going to take a while.”
Khayat seems ready to wait.
“Coach Orgeron and I are very close friends.” Khayat said. “I have great admiration for him, and I fully expect him to take this football program to a competitive Southeastern Conference level and his ultimate goal of an appearance in the Sugar Bowl.”
Orgeron has pointed to 2008 as a breakout season. Much of that hope hinges on transfer quarterback Jevan Snead, who played at Texas in 2006. Jeremy McGee, a transfer running back from UCLA, also will become eligible, as will heralded defensive lineman Jerrell Powe – provided he makes the grades on campus this academic year.
Several major programs – such as Rutgers, Kentucky and Mississippi State – are beginning to see success after staying with embattled coaches.
Now in his fourth season, MSU coach Sylvester Croom has the Bulldogs one win from bowl eligibility for the first time since 2000.
Like Orgeron, Khayat and Boone express higher expectations for 2008.
“A program moving forward is going to increase the number of victories,” Khayat said. “I would not suggest a number, but I would expect us to be much more competitive and to win more games.”
Says Boone: “I think we’re all disappointed as far as the wins and losses go. As I look at the program and see the starters and athletes coming back, to me, it’s evident that we have a core group of athletes that have put in a lot of time and that next year will be a significant year for Ole Miss football.”
The chancellor is equally supportive of Boone, who too has come under fire, primarily for the football program’s downturn.
“I am pleased with the performance, the financial stability and the prudent-like management of the Department of Athletics,” Khayat said.
Boone has overseen a department budget that has increased from $8 million to $40 million.
Khayat points to new facilities in most sports and commitments to renovate and expand the baseball stadium and to build a practice facility for basketball.
There also are plans to upgrade the scoreboard and video screen at the football stadium, perhaps in time for the 2008 season.
Boone says he’s heard more criticism of his own performance than of Orgeron.
“I’ve not had to defend him,” Boone said.
But he has had to defend himself.
“I’ve never seen a U.S. president with a 100 percent approval rating,” Boone said. A lot of support “depends on wins and losses in the major sport. I was a pretty good AD during basketball and baseball seasons.
“Usually people do not realize the subtleties of the job and how decisions are made. Most of the time decisions are not something you can put up for debate or public vote. There are a lot of private issues.”
Boone sees the department on an upswing.
“We have gotten things accomplished in the years I’ve been here, not as much as I’d like but not as much as we will. We will press forward.”
Contact Daily Journal sports reporter Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.