Search Underway

The Southeastern Conference Tournament for women's basketball begins later this week in suburban Atlanta. Ole Miss won't be there. As part of its self-imposed sanctions even before the season began in November, Ole Miss removed itself from the SEC tourney scheduled for Duluth, Ga.

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A dismal season as far as wins and losses were concerned could have been predicted. Already in a rebuilding stage, the Lady Rebel program took a shot to the gut it could not overcome in the short term when head coach Adrian Wiggins, two of his assistant coaches, and two players were dismissed last October due to "impermissible recruiting contacts and academic misconduct."

Here's what athletics director Ross Bjork said then.

"This is a sad day for the University of Mississippi, our profession and most importantly our student-athletes," Bjork said. "We are committed to the values of professional integrity and academic honesty found in the University Creed and the vision, purpose and core values we have established since I arrived at Ole Miss. We expect our staff and our student-athletes to promote and uphold our values, and I am extremely disappointed these events have occurred.

"We learned of possible violations in September and immediately began a vigorous investigation. As we discovered troubling facts, we informed the Southeastern Conference and NCAA and began taking steps to remedy the problems. Although there is no current evidence that Coach Wiggins was complicit in or had direct knowledge of this misconduct, as head coach, he is accountable for the actions of those who report to him."

Maggie McFerrin
Joshua McCoy

Four days later, an assistant that did remain, Brett Frank, was named acting head coach for the season. He is hopeful of being retained as permanent head coach.

There is a process that is already ongoing, and the job has been open for applications for several days on the Ole Miss employment website and also the NCAA website.

Ole Miss lost at Arkansas Sunday to finish 9-20 overall and 2-14 in SEC play. Their two league wins were at Florida and at home against Mississippi State.

Senior Night for Maggie McFerrin and Courtney Marbra was last Thursday in a loss to Kentucky. Frank said those two seniors were a major part of making sure things were held together as much as possible this year.

"This program was in a position where the players could have gone in a variety of directions," Frank said. "I feel like the leadership they provided kept everybody motivated, encouraged, and they really bought into the system of let's go from being teammates to being sisters. Let's make sure we know we're here to support each other for life."

Frank also admitted that during these last few practices and games, thoughts of the end of the season had crept in for all concerned.

"The emotions run high," he said. "I couldn't have asked for more from this group. With everything they've been presented with, they've been as good at responding as any team I've been with when faced with adversity. I'm so proud of them for that. I could not be more pleased with them."

For Ole Miss women's basketball, where life leads now is anybody's guess. Although there have been meetings and the job has already been online, today begins a serious process for finding the right head coach. And there are the self-imposed sanctions the University has done to try to offset any NCAA sanctions that may or may not be coming.

Courtney Marbra
Joshua McCoy

Prior to this season, Ole Miss sanctioned itself with a postseason ban, including the SEC Tournament, for one year. That was for the year 2012-13.

Others, according to Executive Associate Athletics Director/Senior Woman Administrator Lynnette Johnson, are:

They also reduced the total number of scholarships by two – from 15 to 13 – for this school year and for the 2013-14 school year.

They reduced official visits this year from 12 to eight and next year from 12 to 10. They reduced in-person days from 100 to 80 this year. They did a specific no calls to prospects or their families limitation for eight weeks this year. Those were during different times this school year, and the last one of those ends March 23.

"We are still in the NCAA process, and I don't know when they'll conclude that," Johnson said.

The Rebels have no signees so far for this school year. There is another signing period in April, by which time the head coach should have likely been named.

Johnson said she expects Frank to apply and be a candidate.

"Brett has indicated to us and multiple people that's what he will do," she said.

Johnson said it's been a difficult situation since September. But she also said she's been pleased with how the team and staff responded throughout the past six months.

"This team decided they were going to compete for each other and represent the University," she said. "Unfortunately these kids deserved more wins for the effort. But I guarantee you they have given it their all. That's a testament to this group of women that have represented Ole Miss this year and to what Brett and this staff have done this year to hold them together. He was put in a very tough situation, and I think Brett and his staff have done a fantastic job representing our university this year."

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