Meeting The Family

Five-year-old Payton Bjork, according to his dad named after NFL great and Mississippian, the late Walter Payton, had a collection of SEC mini-helmets he lined up on the floor of the south end zone as the world changed for his immediate family. And for his new one, the Ole Miss family.

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Ross Bjork, Payton's dad, was introduced as the new athletics director at Ole Miss Thursday. Ross will go about the business of helping make sure Ole Miss is competitive with the real, live version of those helmets in an expanded Southeastern Conference.

Sonya, Ross' wife, was there, but the youngest Bjork, one-year-old Paxton, wasn't.

"He'd be climbing from the lights if he were right now," Ross said. "But you'll get a chance to meet the little guy."

They are listeners. That was obvious not only to those they met Thursday, but they listen to each other as a family.

Ross said Payton wanted to name his little brother Payton as well. They were able to get it close.

"We changed the Y to an X," Ross said.

After the family introductions Thursday, what was said was a collection of ingredients to lift Ole Miss where it wants to be. A few points of many that stood out:

"Rebel Nation, thank you so much for this tremendous opportunity, the opportunity to work in the best collegiate environment in America. Ole Miss is the best. While Ole Miss is our spirit and character, we will not forget that we are The University of Mississippi."

And this one:

"We are going to challenge our athletes academically, provide them with life-changing opportunities through sports, and we are going to serve others and the Mississippians by providing them entertainment, service, and competing for and winning championships."

He explained the approach:

"I can assure you that we are going to give the maximum effort and have the right attitude every single day. That will define our success: attitude and effort."

He's here to do what athletics directors who are successful do. Lift everyone and everything around them. Some excerpts:

"Academic excellence. We will never sacrifice the integrity of academics here at Ole Miss. We will always challenge our athletes to do the best in the classroom.

Ross Bjork, Archie Manning
Bruce Newman

"Student Athlete Welfare. We have a job for one reason, students. Student athlete welfare will be the number one priority. We work for them. They are the beginning and the end in everything that we do.

"Integrity. We will never cut corners. We will do things right and do the right thing. Period.

"Integrate with the university. We are not separate from this institution.

"Community engagement. In order to provide the resources for us to compete at the highest level, we have to be engaged in the community. We have to ask people to buy tickets or to do whatever they can do to help. It is our job to visit with people. We cannot do these jobs from behind our desks. We cannot do it alone. We need the support of the Rebel Nation to provide those resources.

"Social Responsibility. We expect our athletes to be good citizens. We are going to make mistakes. We are dealing with young adults. We will face them head on and deal with them appropriately.

"We compete in the SEC. We want to compete for and win championships in the best athletic conference in the country, bar none. When we operate under those core values and do things the right way, there is nothing better than college athletics.

"Coaches and staff will be expected to represent Ole Miss every single day. The logo never comes off. Whether we are downtown, getting out of our cars, or working, the logo never comes off. Our staff will perform at the highest level. Everyone is a compliance officer, academic advisor, a fundraiser and a ticket seller. That has to be our focus.

"Former student-athletes who wore the red and blue are always welcome back here on campus. Former athletes are always welcome back here at Ole Miss.

"My personal challenge will be to wrap my arms around Ole Miss, Rebel Nation, the University of Mississippi and everyone who cares about our student athletes and this institution. I am going to take this challenge to the job every single day."

He asked only a few things of fans and supporters, and of course he wants your attendance at events and will need your financial support. But one he spoke of in particular.

"Anyone who cares about this institution, I ask one thing of you; pull the rope in the same direction, because you all love our kids, and you all love this institution."

On Thursday, Payton Bjork got familiar with the SEC by lining up mini-helmets on the floor of the south end zone.

And Ole Miss people, who waited quite a while for this day, became familiar with Ross Bjork and his vision for lifting Ole Miss athletics.

From every indication, it was well worth the wait.

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