'A Very Sad Ordeal'

Ross Bjork met with the media Monday to address the women's basketball situation at Ole Miss. The following is a story from that press conference.

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Ross Bjork said he'd never been through anything quite like this before. You have to know he hopes to never go through anything like this again.

The first-year Ole Miss athletics director entered the IPF team meeting room Monday to address the media. Many of his athletics staff were there as well.

So many times the past six months Bjork had been spreading the good news of Ole Miss in settings like this. This time, however, it was to address a situation unfathomable prior to Saturday's announcement that women's basketball head coach Adrian Wiggins had been placed on administrative leave. The first four paragraphs of Saturday's press release read like this:

"The University of Mississippi announced today that women's basketball head coach Adrian Wiggins will no longer serve as head coach and has been placed on administrative leave while an investigation continues over impermissible recruiting contacts and academic misconduct committed by members of his staff.

"These staff members, which include assistant coach Kenya Landers and director of basketball operations Michael Landers, have been terminated effective immediately. Wiggins hired the Landers couple six months ago shortly after he joined Ole Miss as its head women's basketball coach.

"The allegations and findings that led the University to this decisive and swift action are now being further examined jointly by the University and the NCAA.

"In addition, student-athletes Kay Caples, a transfer from Trinity Valley Community College, and Brandy Broome, a transfer from Pensacola State College, are ineligible to compete at the University after failing to meet NCAA transfer eligibility standards."

On Monday we learned more. And, of course, there were many questions. Not just media in attendance but also fans and other interested parties to Ole Miss women's basketball and Ole Miss sports in general.

Here are some of them:

Q: When did Ole Miss become aware of this situation?

Bjork: "We were notified by the (Southeastern) Conference office that there were some allegations. It is their duty to notify us. It is our duty to follow up. So we launched a very quick and decisive investigation. The more we uncovered, the more mounting evidence that was available to us. We took the decisive action that we took last week. Early September was when were notified by the conference office."

Q: What more can we know about the situation?

Bjork: "We really have to keep it general in terms of recruiting contacts, impermissable recruiting contacts, and academic misconduct. We've really got to leave it in that vein, because it is an ongoing investigation."

Q: Were any of these improprieties from before they were hired at Ole Miss?

Bjork: "The conduct that we have discovered is since those employees were hired at Ole Miss."

Q: Is there a chance Wiggins will be head coach again at Ole Miss after the investigation is completed or at any point?

Bjork: "No, he will not coach here at Ole Miss. The ‘leave' situation is ongoing investigation. He was not culpable in the direct action of those two employees. We felt from a transition point of view, that was best for Ole Miss and best for Coach Wiggins and his family to have a transition period based on the findings we have and his knowledge of what happened and his lack of involvement in what happened. But to answer the question directly, no, he will not coach here."

Q: What is the contract situation now?

Bjork: "The contract is terminated with cause, so there is no buyout provision based on the cause action. We've decided to pay him through March 31st at his state salary, which is $250,000. His total salary contract was $400,000. We eliminated the (UMAA) Foundation portion and will pay him his state salary of $250,000. That's an annual salary, so he will get paid monthly until March 31st."

Q: When did Bjork and Wiggins meet about this situation?

Bjork: "On Saturday morning I met with Coach Wiggins and informed him that he would no longer be our head women's basketball coach, and we would place him on leave pending the continuation of an investigation in our program."

Q: Was Coach Wiggins involved in the improprieties?

Bjork: "As our statement indicated, we have no findings at this time that Coach Wiggins was involved in our violations. However, ultimate responsibility rests with each head coach in all of our programs, and we discovered and determined that more could have been done."

Q: Who is investigating?

Bjork: "This is a joint investigation with the University and the NCAA, and it's moving forward. We will continue to cooperate at the highest level. The actions of those few individuals are severe in nature, and we want all the answers as soon as possible so that we can move forward and understand the magnitude and also start the healing process for our program."

Q: Who is in charge of the team currently?

Bjork: "Until we make a final decision about the structure and leadership for 2012-13, (other staff members) Coach (Brett) Frank, Coach (Rebecca Kates-)Taylor, and Coach (Taja) Edwards will operate our program and lead our team."

Q: When will an interim head coach and staff be named?

Bjork: "Once our leadership team is in place for this season, we'll announce that to our team and then ultimately make a public announcement."

Q: How much should a head coach know in all situations, and what is expected of them in that regard?

Bjork: "In the high profile world that we sit in in the Southeastern Conference and the highest level of the NCAA, the important lesson is that we know everything about everything and we do as much homework as possible. That was the standard we applied in this case."

Q: Is there a chance of NCAA sanctions?

Bjork: "There will be a process we go through with the NCAA that will identify potential violations. We will look at self-imposing some violations as we go through the process here and as we learn more. There will be a formal notice of allegations from the NCAA that will come to us when the investigation is completed. Then there will be a process through the committee on infractions or there could be another process that we could go through. Those things are really yet to be determined. So we don't know when it might end right now."

Q: What was the procedure to hire Wiggins at Ole Miss?

Bjork: "I was named (AD) on a Wednesday, March 21st. Had a press conference on a Tuesday. There were three candidates that were visiting campus that week. I met with all three of them. I actually met with Coach Wiggins Saturday in Bowling Green, Ky. We got him up to see me on Saturday. The recommendation from the committee was that Adrian was the choice, and I agreed with that. So I made the final decision to hire Coach Wiggins ultimately. We did our background checks on him in terms of compliance matters and also on the staff that was hired. And nothing came up in this case."

Clearly nobody wins in this situation, and that is evident when anything like this happens.

"This is a very sad ordeal for the entire university, and especially our student-athletes in our women's basketball prgram." Bjork said. "I've had a chance to be around them the last couple of days, and they are a strong group of young women.

"Ultimately in athletics we serve them," he continued. "Most of you were there on March 22 when I got hired and talked about how are student-athletes are the beginning and the end. That's why we have jobs in athletics."

Bjork said the student-athletes in the program have helped him get through this, beginning with his first meeting with them Saturday to address the situation.

"We asked them to focus on academics, on athletics, and their social behavior and try to maintain a normal schedule the next few days as much as possible. I'm so proud of them for their resiliency and how strong they have been. We interacted again late Saturday afternoon and again at practice on Sunday. And I can see they were being strong and fighting through this situation. We know there are still a wide range of emotions involving our team right now. But they've vowed to our coaches and to myself that they're going to stick together and be the best they can be from here on out. We have ulitmate faith in all of them."

Bjork said it has been a difficult time for so many.

"The tough part about all of this is Adrian Wiggins is a good man," he said. "And we hope the best for him and his family as he moves forward."

Ole Miss women's basketball will survive and thrive as it eventually moves through one of its most painful periods of all. It is one of the winningest Ole Miss sports programs, despite some rough patches the past couple of seasons and only a handful more through the years.

Bjork is conferring with many of its products as he decides how to move forward immediately, and that includes who will serve as interim head coach for this season.

"The great thing about this program is we have great history we can rely on, great hall of famers," he said. "We're talking to as many people as we can, and that includes the current staff (those who remain)."

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