By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
A year ago the message was “wilderness” as Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, preparing for his first season, laid out his interpretation of the football program he was inheriting.
When the Rebel Road Trip made its Tupelo stop on Wednesday, the message was about the “journey.” It’s far from complete, Freeze and athletic director Ross Bjork told a standing room-only crowd at the BancorpSouth Conference Center.
Tupelo was the second of three stops on the day. Morning storms delayed the group’s arrival as it traveled up from Philadelphia. The traveling party left Tupelo bound for Atlanta.
The week-long tour concludes Friday with visits to Memphis and Corinth.
“The foundation has been laid, and we like where we are. We’re confident about that, but it’s still being built,” Bjork said. “What people should expect of us is that we will maximize our effort, and we’ll have the right attitude. We have to continue on the process, the journey. We’re not where we want to be yet.”
Bjork just recently completed his first year on the job. Freeze has just a few months’ head start on him as an Ole Miss employee.
Those in attendance Wednesday were shown a video highlighting the successes of the past year including a football win over rival Mississippi State, a BBVA Compass Bowl victory before a bowl-record crowd of predominantly Ole Miss fans, an Olympic gold medal for Brittney Reese and an SEC tournament championship and NCAA tournament win for men’s basketball.
In other news, the athletics department has raised $82 million toward a goal of $150 million in a capital campaign that was announced in the late summer of 2011.
The project’s primary purpose is to fund a new basketball arena. Bjork said he hopes to announce the location of the arena later this summer and that it is on track to open for the 2015-2016 season.
The momentum from a winning football season and a consensus top 10 recruiting class is showing up in season ticket sales which are 7,600 ahead of last year’s pace. Bjork said the ticket office has taken 2,800 new orders and that the UMAA Foundation has received 1,000 new contributions since March 1.
With all the excitement around the football program, Freeze made an effort to manage expectations.
“Expectations that are unreal can produce frustration, he said. “Our job this year is to continue to create a great enthusiasm among our fan base and players and to keep increasing the expectations for where we all want to go.”
Freeze told those in attendance what they can do to aid the cause, particularly through social media.
“I know you can tweet out something good about the Ole Miss Rebels. I know you can say something good about them at church. That helps us so much in selling our product.”