By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – There’s a meeting coming over at the athletic department’s administrative offices, and wouldn’t you, Rebels fans, like to be a fly on the wall?
The future of basketball at Ole Miss will be discussed.
The Rebels reached the finish line Wednesday night, losing 77-74 in the first round of the NIT at Cal. Ole Miss got a few ineffective minutes from forward Reggie Buckner, who developed flu-like symptoms on the trip out West.
Without a focused Buckner – which the Memphis sophomore hasn’t always been when healthy – the Rebels were unable to successfully defend the post even though Cal was missing center Markhuri Sanders-Frison, its leading rebounder who dislocated a shoulder in practice on Tuesday.
Defending the post starts in the backcourt, and the Rebels couldn’t stop Cal’s Jose Guiterrez from driving or passing inside.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy has brought excitement and wins back to Ole Miss basketball, but he hasn’t brought the success that created passion in the fan base – albeit for a limited time – when the Rebels were relevant in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Because Ole Miss, after an 0-4 SEC start, had played itself out of the NCAA discussion with a couple of weeks remaining, questions arose regarding Kennedy’s future, a five-year timeline that now features four 20-win seasons and a 105-64 record.
Athletics director Pete Boone has affirmed Kennedy but not the current state of the program. The two will meet soon, now that the season is over, to discuss what needs to be done get the Rebels back in the NCAAs.
Kennedy didn’t inherit a trainwreck program with low-character players who couldn’t stay out of trouble.
But he didn’t inherit much talent either. He’s changed that while keeping his players out of trouble, even when he didn’t always stay out of trouble himself.
He’s distanced himself from that Cincinnati incident and has been good leader of the program since then.
He should be credited for making it competitive, but he knows that’s not the rung on the ladder that lets coaches keep their jobs.
Kennedy needs to review his entire process and procedure, including staff, to find what it will take to get over the hump.
You should never change head coaches without a plan to make the program better. Given the state of facilities and the money currently invested in salaries, Ole Miss would not lure an immediate impact coach.
So, what then? Do you get in the game, announce a bold plan for a new building and pump cash into a big name?
If not, your choices are to get behind Kennedy, increase his resources, or simply plan to turn the position over every five years. You look for the “hot” mid-major name going at the time and hope at some point you land a Mark Fox.
Forty-five-year-old Tad Smith Coliseum will remain an issue in any coaching search until it’s either gone or disemboweled and rebuilt to resemble a far more modern arena.
People talk about the lack of tradition, and yes, it’s bleak. But there’s a six-year window where the Rebels won. They were relevant.
They were competitive when the SEC was a stronger league. They went to the NCAA tournament five times in six years.
Tad Smith was packed, and streamers fell from the ceiling before tip-off. There was a 29-game home win streak from January 1997 to January 1999.
Winning has been done, and the game hasn’t changed to the point that Ole Miss can’t win again.
After the AD and coach meet to discuss a season that has already been defined as disappointing by the administration – a feeling certainly not off target given the October NCAA hopes for a team with an All-SEC point guard and a senior backcourt – both parties need to do some soul-searching and find out what needs to happen for the Rebels to reach the NCAA tournament again.
Parrish Alford covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.