Burning Topic

Andy Kennedy is the fastest coach in program history to reach 100 wins. He now has the school record for the most by one staff in a five-year span with 102.

But there is a glaring omission from Kennedy's coaching resume.

He has yet to lead an Ole Miss team to the NCAA Tournament, and is in serious danger of missing it again with the Rebels 17-11 overall and 5-8 in Southeastern Conference games after a road loss to South Carolina Tuesday.

Kennedy met the media Thursday afternoon, acknowledging trips to the Big Dance as the barometer in which head coaches are ultimately judged. Ole Miss hasn't experienced NCAA Tournament play since 2001-02.

"That's the way college basketball coaches are judged at the end of the day. At the end of the day, it comes down to, ‘Did you get to the dance? Did you not get to the dance?' That's really been amplified tremendously over the last five or six years," Kennedy said.

"It's all about the tournament. You got guys that are making a lot of money making terms such as bracketology and bubble watch and this and that. It becomes the en vogue thing to talk about. For our team to not have been in the conversation this year, certainly as a coach, is frustrating."

Andy Kennedy is the fastest coach to 100 wins in program history
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
Ole Miss hosts Alabama Saturday at 4 p.m., after consecutive losses to in-state rival Mississippi State, the second of the season, and South Carolina.

With where they stand today, it appears the Rebels' only hope of snapping their NCAA Tournament drought is to run the table in next month's conference tournament.

Kennedy was asked if NCAA Tournament appearances were a fair metric for weighing the success or failure of a head coach. His answer was quick and resolute. Kennedy said it doesn't matter if he thinks it's fair or not.

"That's our goal," Kennedy said. "That, for me, is the next step for the program. I'd love to be able to tell you that we were going to do that tomorrow. Unfortunately, we have not been able to. But I assure you we're going to continue to work towards that."

Kennedy is the third coach in school history with 100 career victories, trailing only B.L. "Country" Graham and Rod Barnes on the school's career coaching victories chart. However, his career .626 winning percentage is significantly better than Graham's (.462) or Barnes' (.564).

Kennedy is 123-74 in his sixth year overall as a head coach, which includes one season at Cincinnati.

"I don't want to be a political pundit and talk about all the things that you guys in the room know as it relates to where we were (when Kennedy arrived) to where we are. I think that's self-serving, and no one wants to hear that, so I'm not going to say it," Kennedy said.

"But I think obviously the program has moved forward."

Ole Miss Athletics Director Pete Boone, when reached by phone this afternoon, said that he and Kennedy will get together at the conclusion of the season to discuss the program. Where the program stands and where it's headed will be among the topics discussed.

Boone said he will meet with Kennedy at the end of the season
Courtesy: Associated Press
"I would have to say this has been a disappointing season," Boone said. "Our goals were to compete for the (SEC) West Division championship and to get an NCAA berth. It's now apparent that's not going to happen. So certainly it's been disappointing. But that is just one season, and it's not the whole program. So all those things will have to be taken into the evaluation."

Kennedy's current salary is 1.3 million a year. He has three years left on his contract, meaning it would cost the full remainder of the contract to buy him out.

"What people have been asking about and what it eventually gets to be is ‘What is the status of Andy?' That's the bottom line," Boone said. "I try to have an even keel during the season, and also when I evaluate the season and evaluate the program. I do that every year for every program -- football, basketball, baseball.

"I don't think there's any question that we have a more competitive team than we've had in years past. We have more talent. And we've got some pretty good talent coming in. The key is what is keeping us from taking that next step? That's what year-end evaluations are for. That's why you sit down and have a discussion with the coach. It's all really just good communications about what's best for Ole Miss."

With each loss, message boards and blogs have been filled with criticisms of Kennedy. Kennedy isn't blind to that criticism. Fans are passionate, as he is well aware. Criticism, he said, comes with the territory of being a head coach in the SEC.

"I can't control (criticism). Fans are passionate. You want that passion when things are going good, and you can't turn it off when things aren't going as well as you would have hoped," he said. "It comes with the territory. I understand that. No one likes to be criticized, but at the same time, I honestly try to put my energies on things I can control, and that is dealing with the day to day realities of this team and continuing to try to give perspective to our group.

"We know we have three games leading into Atlanta. There's still opportunity there. What are we going to do with it? That's the question. Now, honestly, is not the time for me to reflect and say, ‘What should we have done?' That time will come. Right now, it's really trying to prepare this team to play arguably the best team in our league Saturday."

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