I have to admit it. I’ve been a pro-A.K. guy. Andy Kennedy has been the coach at the helm through some of the most exciting times in Ole Miss basketball history. He is the all-time winningest coach in Rebel history. I’ve watched that team seemingly do the impossible at times.
However, the lack of trips to the NCAA tournament combined with the disappointing current season ushered in the end of the A.K. regime. The change here will take some getting used to. It has been a while since we had a new face as the representation of the basketball program.
This will make the second head coaching position Athletic Director Ross Bjork has had to oversee during this athletic calendar year. Bjork made previously football interim coach Matt Luke the official head coach at the end of November.
Although football will always be the cash cow and most important part of the athletic department, this basketball head coaching vacancy is extremely important. In fact, this hire is more important than the football head coaching hire.
Stakes Are High
Ross Bjork has been spending a lot of time dealing with all the dumpster fires surrounding the football program. So the focus has been fixed on what he was going to do with the football program. However, whoever he chose was going to have a hill to climb the next couple of years. Currently there is a bowl ban still hanging over the program’s head. Reduction of scholarships and official visits have made recruiting more difficult.
So the decision to hire Matt Luke was a safe choice. It may be a homerun hire but if it is not the NCAA has provided the Ole Miss administration with an excuse. They can choose to take another direction in future and everyone would understand. No one is expected to have success in conditions like this.
The basketball coaching hire is a different story. There is nowhere to hide if this coaching hire is a disaster. Ushering out the dean of SEC coaches is a big boss move. Therefore, you must be ready to make a big boss hire. AK is well respected among the other coaches in the league, so everyone is watching to see what the Rebels will do.
The administration has to get this hire right because this coach will have access to more than any previous Ole Miss coach. This coach isn’t coming into a program shrouded in controversy. It appears Kennedy ran as clean a program as could be expected. This coach isn’t coming to a program with outdated buildings. There was no expense spared on The Pavilion at Ole Miss. This coach isn’t coming to a program devoid of talent. There are gifted players on this team.
Everything is in place for this team to succeed. This new coach needs to succeed and succeed quickly. Let’s be honest. When it comes to basketball, our fans will support a winner. Or at the very least, a team with character and a character, i.e. Marshall Henderson. If a coach can come in and build a team that gets to the NCAA tournament on a regular basis, the Ole Miss faithful will be supportive.
The administration has to get this right. Hopefully, they will allow Bjork to have a strong say on the hire. This can’t be left to the influence of boosters. This needs to be done by someone who will have to feel the consequence of the failure. If Bjork is going to take the blame, he at least should have say in the hire.
The Rebels can’t afford to fall behind in this SEC race for basketball relevance. The fans won’t stand for it. We have too many assets for the new coach to fail. The administration needs to get it right.