Forward Together

Somehow I can picture C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum folding its arms, shrugging its shoulders, and maybe even shedding a tear or two Tuesday evening. If it were human, that is.

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If the old place, born in the era of the Astrodome and known to some early as the Rebeldome and to others later as the Tad Pad, wasn't sure of its impending demise, now the message is clear.

"It's obvious with Tad Smith, there is limited time left in its life," said A.D. Pete Boone after announcing Ole Miss' $150 million capital campaign for athletics. "It needs to go to pasture."

The home of Ole Miss basketball since the mid-1960s isn't quite done yet. That's because a bright, shiny, new arena to be built just east of the current one and right behind the Turner Recreation Center won't be finished for at least four years. The goal is for teams to be bouncing balls and making baskets before the public by the 2015-16 season.

So rest easy, Tad Pad. There's a little bit of prime time left for you yet.

The fun so many have had in there. I visited with Keith Carter of the UMAA Foundation before Tuesday's big announcement. Has anybody ever been more loved by fans than Carter was when he played?

Those gathered watch the presentation
Bruce Newman

Sure, that's an arguable point. As for the teams Carter played on from 1996-99, there is little debate. Unless it was the Stroud-Tuohy-Turner-Clark years of Bob Weltlich basketball 30 years ago.

Tuesday wasn't about looking back, though. It was all about looking ahead. And moving "Forward Together," as the name of the campaign states.

"This campaign calls for us all to come together in support of Ole Miss athletics," said UMAA Foundation Executive Director Danny White.

"We are so excited and confident that every season ticket holder, alum, and fan will step up and support the Forward Together campaign. We've had lots of conversations with current donors about the details of this campaign. Every single one of them was inspired by the vision and, more importantly, confident in the plan for success."

This isn't something that's been put together the last few weeks or even months. Officials say they've been serious about it for longer than that.

"This has been a long process," said White, whose brother, Michael, now head men's basketball coach at Louisiana Tech, was on those successful Rebel teams with Carter late last century. "We've been strategizing and formulating the nuts and bolts of this campaign for over a year now."

Obviously they couldn't have moved ahead at all without the blessing and backing of Chancellor Dan Jones, who just completed his second year as the leader of The University of Mississippi.

"We are committed to being competitive at every level," said Jones, who before leading Ole Miss statewide led Ole Miss in Jackson – the world-renowned University of Mississippi School of Medicine. "We're committed to winning championships, and this is what it takes."

Jones, a native Mississippian, made things perfectly clear.

"Athletics are critically important in the American culture," he said, "and they're sure dad-gum critical in Mississippi. This is what people want and what people deserve, and people are going to support this."

There's a lot more to support than just the new arena, although that is the lead facility in phase one of the project, along with football stadium renovations. There's a phase two which involves bowling in the north end zone of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium to mirror the south end zone.

The future VHS
Ole Miss

The campaign includes six main goals:

* Replace the current arena with a modern, first-class basketball facility (10,000 seats)

* Provide for necessary renovations and improvements to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium concourse areas

* Upgrade existing premium seating areas to enhance functionality and comfort

* Expand the north end zone of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium to accommodate the increasing demand for premium seating and improve the overall aesthetic look and feel of the stadium (70,000 seats)

* Create a Hall of Fame and Museum area in the new arena to showcase the Ole Miss Athletics history

* Provide for improvements to the Gillom Sports Center


It's hard to say just who the people are that will benefit the most from a new arena. Arguably the two head basketball coaches are at the top of that list.

"This is obviously an exciting day in the history of Ole Miss athletics," said Andy Kennedy, entering his sixth season with the Rebels. "It projects a vision and it has a plan to continue to move Ole Miss athletics forward. It gives us an opportunity to remain competitive on a national scope. As a coach, that's ultimately all you can ask for."

Danny White and Andy Kennedy
Bruce Newman

Kennedy said it's good for his program and it's also good for supporters.

"It creates a unique gameday experience for our fans," he said of the new arena and all that it will bring to the sport of basketball, which hasn't had a Grove like football or an outfield terrace like baseball. "This immediately addresses that, and it obviously gives us something to sell to future Rebels as it relates to giving them everything they need to be successful."

"What a great day for the Rebels," said Renee Ladner, a former Lady Rebel player in her fifth season as head coach. "This is what we've needed. The top recruits today want to play in the best facilities. They want to play where there's a commitment. They want to play where the surroundings are unique. We now will have everything in place."

White has taken much of the lead on this project. Boone agrees on that.

"If you listen to Danny, we're going to raise more than 150 million," he said. "And I don't doubt that. But the faster the pledges and the support we get, the faster we can move on all of this."

And move on to greater heights for Ole Miss athletics.

"This initiative is the cornerstone of future championships for the flagship university of this great state," Boone said.

Even ole Tad Smith Coliseum - if it could, of course - probably broke into a bit of smile with a charge toward tomorrow like that.

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