OXFORD – Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone says he and men’s basketball coach Andy Kennedy are on the same page about how to move the program forward.
That page does not include a contract extension following a 20-14 season, although Boone expresses complete confidence that Kennedy is the man to continue to grow the program.
The page also does not include a mandate that the Rebels reach the NCAA tournament in 2012, what will be Kennedy’s sixth season as head coach.
“I think he’s the man for our job,” Boone said.
Then Boone added: “What I need to make sure everybody understands is how I evaluate things, and I think to a certain extent, whether it’s my fault or just the way communications go, some people think the NCAA is the end all, be all. That’s not how we measure it.”
Boone made an effort to halt any speculation on Kennedy’s future during the SEC tournament in Atlanta when he met with media and said he expected Kennedy to return as head coach unless something unforeseen, from Kennedy’s end, came up during their end-of-season evaluation.
Kennedy has three years remaining on a contract that pays him $1.3 million a year. If the school chooses to end the relationship after next season, it will owe him $2.6 million.
Kennedy is 104-64 in five seasons at Ole Miss. He’s 38-42 in SEC regular season games, twice sharing the Western Division title with rival Mississippi State.
In the last five seasons the Rebels have reached the NIT four times, including this season’s 76-73 loss at California. Ole Miss hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2002.
“I look at what he’s done here. He was the fastest to get to 100 wins. The coaching staff has had four 20-win seasons. Ole Miss has never had that. So if you look at the body of work that he’s done, I think it’s been outstanding,” Boone said.
Boone also cited the graduation rate of Kennedy’s players and the APR (Academic Progress Rate) ranking for men’s basketball, which scored a 922 on the latest release of numbers last summer.
“The NCAA tournament needs to be in the context of perspective. It is certainly a criteria (for coaches) and one that is very well-publicized, but not the only criteria,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said he is currently evaluating all phases of the program, including the coaching staff and players.
He did not say he would initiate staff changes, but said he does expect turnover on his roster beyond the two seniors, Chris Warren and Zach Graham.
Kennedy said he has not had individual meetings with players yet and did not speculate on which underclassmen may not return.
“The difficult part is making sure all the pieces fit together, that old chemistry word, making sure you have a good mix of experience and youth, making sure you have balance in your classes,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy called his meeting with Boone “very productive” and said his present focus is on improving the program. The next logical step in growth is the NCAA tournament.
Kennedy said getting there is “about making sure we have all the pieces of the puzzle. That means identifying the needs of the team, addressing them aggressively through recruiting and player development and putting players in position for the best chance to be successful through game strategies and semantics.”
He also believes moving forward without a contract extension – state employees can be under contract for up to four years – is in no way a hindrance to moving the program forward.
“We both had a very frank discussion of contractually where we are,” Kennedy said. “He made the decision. I support his decision. He has to make decisions in the best interest of the department. I have enough stability and security to do my job effectively.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal