PARRISH ALFORD: Kennedy conundrum: Lots of wins, no dances

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – I’ve never really considered “North Dallas Forty” a Hollywood classic, but I can’t help but recall that turbulent inside look at a late ‘70s NFL locker room when pondering the current state of Ole Miss basketball.
In one scene, a player yells this to his coach: “Every time I call it a game you call it a business, and when I call it a business you call it a game.”
He was right on both counts – and while a lot of things have changed through the years, a lot of things have not.
The business end of amateur athletics may soon come into play for Ole Miss. Athletics director Ross Bjork could find himself in the unique situation of deciding whether to retain a coach that only weeks ago became the winningest in school history.
After the Rebels’ 63-62 loss at South Carolina, Bjork told the Clarion-Ledger that his focus was on the team, both coaches and players, and he has held fast to that topic.
This is the final week of the regular season, but the Rebels basically removed themselves from the NCAA tournament discussion – short of winning the SEC tournament next week in Nashville – with their 73-67 loss at Mississippi State, like South Carolina, a sub-200 RPI team.
For all that Kennedy has accomplished, he has not made the NCAA tournament, and that’s one of the most important measurements of success in his chosen profession.
It’s not an unreasonable expectation for Ole Miss, even with the school’s meager history in the sport.
Ole Miss fired football coach Ed Orgeron in 2007 the day after a failed fourth-and-1 attempt played a role in a comeback win by Mississippi State.
Many focused on that play, but the wheels were no doubt set in motion three weeks prior against Northwestern State. That’s when they opened the gates at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and attracted only 23,283 fans.
You can’t do that. It’s embarrassing and unprofitable.
Two of Bjork’s last major decisions as AD at Western Kentucky before taking the Ole Miss job involved the firing of basketball coaches, both men’s and women’s. Circumstances were different, but a common theme in both decisions was fan support for the program.
Like most programs, attendance and atmosphere are both better when things are going well – as evidenced by the string of sellouts and the 6-0 SEC start. A statement on the level of current support may be made this evening in today’s 8 p.m., tip against Alabama.
Also factoring into Bjork’s decision will be support in the ongoing fund-raising push for a new arena.
Most people would rather focus on the one shining moment aspect of March Madness than on the business end of college basketball.
The Rebels’ likely absence from March Madness may intersect with the support issue to make Bjork focus on the business end.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.