By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Perhaps the only thing faster than the way Andy Kennedy went from interim coach to head coach Thursday, will be the style of play for his Ole Miss Rebels next season.
Kennedy's hiring as the replacement of former coach Rod Barnes was made official late Thursday.
Kennedy was a college star at Alabama-Birmingham, and former Blazers coach Gene Bartow expects to see an Ole Miss team that forces tempo and pressures opponents into mistakes.
“I think they will push the ball, take the fast break and look to run at every opportunity,” Bartow said. “It won't be a wild running situation. They will be very deliberate. They will play a lot of man-to-man and will be a solid defensive team.”
And they could win in a hurry, said the former UAB, UCLA and Memphis State coach.
“I think Rod had some good players in there, and Andy will get some good players in there also. I think they will be competitive quickly,” Bartow said.
A native Mississippian from Louisville, Kennedy becomes the 20th men's basketball coach at Ole Miss.
He will be introduced at a noon press conference today at Tad Smith Coliseum.
Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone confirmed the interim Cincinnati coach around 8:30 p.m., ending a near three-week search that began March 3 when Boone announced that Barnes would not return for a ninth season.
Boone released his list of four finalists for the job Monday. They included Kennedy, Murray State coach Mick Cronin, South Alabama coach John Pelphrey and current Rebels assistant Tracy Dildy.
The finalists survived the cut from a list that included “10-12” candidates at its broadest point, Boone said.
“That's 10-12 that we were really interested in. Of course, then we had to find who was interested in us,” Boone said.
Kennedy the choice
The choice of Kennedy began to become clear as the dominoes fell Thursday afternoon.
Pelphrey withdrew from consideration and accepted a raise and contract extension at South Alabama.
In the early evening Dildy confirmed that he would not be hired.
Around 8:30, Cincinnati named Cronin as its coach, and Ole Miss named Kennedy in announcements released within minutes of one another.
Cronin, 69-24 in three seasons at Murray, is a Cincinnati native and a former UC assistant who had great recruiting success there.
Kennedy had previously interviewed with the private firm hired by UC athletics director Mike Thomas to assist in his search to replace Bob Huggins, who stepped down in August.
Kennedy was promoted to interim coach then, but never seemed a frontrunner to keep the job, even though he had the support of many fans after leading the Bearcats to a 21-13 mark. Their season just concluded Thursday with a 65-62 loss to South Carolina in the NIT quarterfinals. UC was 8-8 in Big East Conference play this year.
Kennedy, 38, will sign a four-year contract worth $600,000 and heavy with incentives.
Boone long stressed the importance of head-coaching experience. With the exception of Dildy, Kennedy has less than the remaining finalists.
But the situations he faced in one season as an interim easily trumped any concerns of inexperience.
“He had three or four years of experience in his one year,” Boone said. “If you go and look at the things he had to do … he had to dismiss players, had to dismiss a coach. So many of the things he had to do, a lot of coaches go two or three years without having to do. I think he has done an admirable job in growing at such a fast rate.”
High school, college star
Married with two children, Kennedy was a Parade All-American at Louisville. He signed with the late Jim Valvano at North Carolina State, then transferred to UAB where he finished his career.
The 1991 UAB graduate had a career scoring average of 18.8 points. He still owns or shares 20 UAB records, including 3-point field goals attempted and made.
He played professionally for four seasons, one with the Charlotte Hornets, then three more overseas.
He began his coaching career at South Alabama. He spent a year in commercial real estate, then returned to UAB and began to carve a niche as a top-flight recruiter.
He took on the title of recruiting coordinator for his last two seasons at UAB, a title he held when he joined Huggins' UC staff in 2001.
During Kennedy's first three years as recruiting coordinator at UC, the program attracted three consecutive top 10 classes.
Kennedy's hiring ends a whirlwind two days in which the Ole Miss search team of Boone, chancellor Robert Khayat and associate AD John Hartwell interviewed Pelphrey, Cronin and Kennedy in three cities over a span of about 24 hours. The out-of-town tour began in Mobile and ended in Cincinnati with a stop for Cronin in Wichita, Kan., in between.
The interview process concluded when the group spent about an hour with Dildy in the conference room near Boone's campus office Thursday afternoon.
Andy Kennedy bio
Background: Native Mississippian was the state's player of the year and a Parade All-American at Louisville, signed with North Carolina State under late coach Jim Valvano and transferred to UAB. Was a two-time all-conference player, still owns or shares numerous school records including 3-pointers made and 3-pointers attempted. Career scoring average of 18.8 points. Played professionally briefly with the NBA's Charlotte Hornets and then overseas.
Assistant coach: Served at South Alabama and spent five seasons at UAB before joining Cincinnati staff as recruiting coordinator in 2001. Took on larger role in preparing game plans after head coach Bob Huggins suffered a heart attack in 2002. First three UC recruiting classes ranked in the top 10. Spent a year in commercial real estate between South Alabama and UAB jobs.
Head coach: Named UC interim coach on Aug. 26 following Huggins' resignation. Team finished 21-13, losing in the NIT quarterfinals to South Carolina. The team likely lost an NCAA tournament bid when it lost to Syracuse, 74-73, on a buzzer-beater in the first round of the Big East Tournament.
Personal: 38 years old. Married with two children.