By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Because it’s women’s basketball, perhaps the breaking news that came during an Ole Miss football open date does not qualify as a bombshell.
This much is clear, however.
The news that one of his programs had run afoul of the rules in ways so serious as possible recruiting and academic violations was like lighting a string of firecrackers under Ross Bjork’s desk.
The new Ole Miss athletics director leaped into action and made swift and decisive moves by firing two assistant coaches, and, for all intents and purposes, firing head coach Adrian Wiggins too.
Technically, Wiggins is on paid leave through March 31, a decision made by Bjork to give Wiggins and his family a measure of financial footing in a time of transition.
When football is king, some look at women’s basketball news and roll their eyes. There’s a group not rolling their eyes right now, a group that includes every head coach at Ole Miss.
All has not come to light in this ongoing NCAA investigation, but Bjork calls Wiggins “a good man” whose only mistake may have been not knowing everything.
Being a good man carried no extra weight with Bjork when the school’s integrity was at stake. It’s a high standard to which the Rebels’ new athletics director is holding his coaches: Know everything. Be transparent.
It’s a 1-strike policy that adds to the pressure that can consume coaches in high-profile sports.
“The ultimate responsibility in managing staff and understanding the magnitude of the academic side is the reason we had to take this action at the severe nature that we did,” Bjork said.
Plausible deniability does not exist in Bjork’s world. The new sheriff in town stresses continuing education for his coaches, and sometimes the rules change.
New NCAA legislation will soon be enacted where coaches will have “presumed responsibility” in an ever-increasing focus on compliance.
Bjork says Ole Miss coaches attend monthly meetings where they discuss nothing but NCAA compliance.
“We’ve done a great job in my mind of educating our head coaches about the expectations,” he said.
‘He knows everything’
Bjork held up football coach Hugh Freeze as an example of someone running his program the right way.
“If you look at coach Freeze and what he does … He’s checking class. He’s checking study hall. He knows everything about everything, and I think that standard has always been there. Here at Ole Miss it just took another step up based on what happened,” Bjork said.
Bjork didn’t say the standard was easy or fair. It’s just what the standard is.
Could a program run on auto pilot when good assistant coaches who do the right things are hired? For a time, perhaps, but too many people are involved with the recruitment of players to feel good about that approach for the long haul.
The standard offers a small amount of assurance that recruiting and program-building is done in the proper manner. It also allows Ole Miss to say to the NCAA we’ve done all we can do.
And Ole Miss is who Bjork is trying to protect.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.