Necessary Change

It was a normal day, nothing out of the ordinary. Local media convened in the basketball practice facility, nestled nicely on a corner of Coliseum Drive.

Six or seven of us ink-stained wretches filed in, each picking a chair surrounding one of a handful of round tables in the belly of the building.

In walked Andy Kennedy, the sixth-year head coach casually dressed for a rather laid-back end-of-the-year meeting. Ole Miss had just wrapped its season. The Rebels finished 20-14, their final game a loss at California in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

Again, this was nothing out of the ordinary. Such meetings are customary following a season, reporters asking questions of a head coach about the past, present and future of a program.

Kennedy, as he always had, spoke open and honestly. One leg crossed over the other and leaning back in his chair, he all but guaranteed changes to his program. When asked if he anticipated any shakeup of his roster, he answered simply. "Yes," he said with a wry smile, without delving into specifics.


Holloway is still awaiting word on his eligibility for next season
Associated Press
What occurred in the days, weeks that followed were significant. Kennedy had acted calm before the storm. Two months later, his coaching staff is brand new, Kennedy replacing Michael White, Owen Miller and Torrey Ward with Al Pinkins, Bill Armstrong and Sergio Rouco.

His roster is drastically different, too. Seven players have been added since November.

Jarvis Summers, Jamal Jones, Aaron Jones and Ladarius White were signed in November. Jelan Kendrick, a former McDonald's All-American, left Memphis for Ole Miss in January. Murphy Holloway was brought back from South Carolina earlier this month. Maurice Aniefiok joined the team in April, signing a national letter of intent.

The man who had alluded to change on a normal day in a casual setting months before has delivered on his word. And each move he has made was necessary.

I've been asked before and I'll be asked again. People are eager to know if Andy Kennedy is going all-in, if this is it, a do-or-die year for his tenure at Ole Miss. My answer is always a cop-out. I don't know any more than you do.

In full disclosure, I like Kennedy both personally and professionally. He is as accessible a coach as you will find. Plus, when you think about it, what he has done at Ole Miss borders on astonishing.

This is Ole Miss, you see. This isn't Duke. Or North Carolina. Heck, it isn't even Vanderbilt in terms of basketball respectability. This team plays in an eyesore of a coliseum. There is little to no tradition to fall back on. Fan support is stagnant at best, and that may be putting it nicely. The operating budget is at or near the bottom not only in the conference, but in the country.

Let's get real for a minute. This is an unattractive job. Feel free to disagree, that is certainly your right. But when one weighs this job to others across the country, I find it hard -- if arguing fairly and with no bias -- to view this as anything other than what it is: unattractive.


Andy Kennedy
Bruce Newman
And Kennedy has four 20-win seasons under his belt.

This isn't the "little Ole Miss" argument. Oh, how I hate that argument. This is a plausibility argument. Is it plausible to expect more when many -- from the administration to the fans -- expect so little?

Me? Well, I consider the whole, look at a program inside and out. Andy Kennedy in no way should have been fired after last season. And he shouldn't be fired next year should the team fall short again.

Basketball has to matter at Ole Miss. When it does, I'd be interested to see what Kennedy could do with it without restrictions.

Because despite the opinions of some, the man is a helluva recruiter. Ole Miss hasn't recruited this kind of talent in its history. Does he have his coaching limitations? I won't act as if I'm educated enough on the topic to argue one way or the other. But, hey, four 20-win seasons at Ole Miss have to mean something, right?

Rouco was the hire that should appease those who clamored for a grey-headed former head coach on the staff. But what this program upheaval came down to was the NCAA tournament, in all honesty.

Ole Miss has to get there. It has to, and sooner rather than later. And Kennedy knows it. He knew it when he decided to change things up. He knew when he signed the players he signed, and hired the assistants he hired.

Otherwise, basketball will continue to be second if not third fiddle at Ole Miss. And it shouldn't be. Basketball should matter. Kennedy has tried to make it matter, his many wins one of many examples. Maybe he is a victim of his own success, but that is a discussion for another day.

He had to make changes. Fans called for it. Pete Boone called for it. And the man who calmly sat in a chair surrounded by media in a casual setting on a normal day delivered.


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