To the south of the site is the parking garage that’s under construction. Where people stood to watch the official groundbreaking Thursday is the location where the Rebel Shop once stood.
C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum was built 50 years ago when the thought sweeping the country was to construct something like the new Astrodome in Houston. The one at Ole Miss built at that time will give way to the wrecking ball in a couple of years.
There’s still a basketball season plus some games the following season to be played inside the Rebeldome, as it was referred to before former athletics director Tad Smith’s name was added. So no final goodbyes yet.
But they’ve started. That was a small part of the message Thursday as the groundbreaking took place for the new home for Ole Miss basketball.
The Pavilion at Ole Miss, it will be called. That is until someone or some company steps up and pays enough for it to bear another name.
The Until-Such-Time-As-That-Happens Pavilion at Ole Miss will be ready by December, 2015. At least that’s the plan. That’s actually not a lot of time from now.
Sean Tuohy, whose family name recently went onto the Basketball Practice Facility after a donation of major proportions, reflected some in his remarks to the crowd gathered on Thursday.
This day was the ceremonial start of life for the new building, but Tuohy also spoke about the old one.
“I thought it might be fitting to talk about the ole fella that we’re leaving,” the point guard for the first Rebel team to win the Southeastern Conference Tournament back in 1981 said after the event ended. “It had a lot of good times. It had its issues, needless to say. But I just wanted to remind people of the success that Ole Miss basketball has had in the Tad Pad. It was kinda fun going down memory lane a little bit.”
Tuohy said the old place was crusty and had passion.
“It is a very passionate arena. People that went there cared about basketball,” he said. “People that went there cared about Ole Miss, obviously. It wasn’t an easy venture, you know. The seats weren’t comfortable. The sight lines weren’t the best.
“I think the Ole Miss basketball fans are unique. They really are passionate about not only Ole Miss basketball but basketball in itself.”
Some might argue that fact if you look at attendance figures. But the bottom line is he’s right that it is a special place when it’s full and the product on the floor is quality.
But Tuohy said that while he recalls a lot of good times in the old coliseum, when he played and before and since, it is time to move on.
“This new place is going to be so nice,” he said. “I just thought it was important to make sure people understood that yeah, (Tad Smith) had its issues. But a lot of good basketball was played there. And there was a lot of success there. But it’s time to change arenas, and probably has been time for many years.”
There were comments from opposing coaches and players through the years on how tough Tad Smith Coliseum could be when it was rocking. And it could absolutely rock.
Eddie Sutton, when he was the Kentucky coach, and Sonny Smith, when he coached the Auburn Tigers, both remarked on occasion that Tad Smith could be as tough a place to play for a visiting team as any in the Southeastern Conference.
Said Tuohy, “My good buddy Sam Bowie (former Kentucky star center) said (Tad Smith Coliseum) was one of the two places in the league he didn’t want to play, along with LSU. They were both similar in a lot of ways, round, loud.”
The new basketball practice facility that opened a few years ago and now bears the Tuohy family name has helped. It’s where the players spend most of their daily time getting ready for games.
Now the new arena is just down the road from the Tuohy Center. It isn’t the first basketball facility with the name “Tuohy” on it.
At Sean’s old high school, the same high school the Manning boys played sports – Newman High in New Orleans – the gym is named for Sean’s father who successfully coached there for quite a few years, winning several championships in Louisiana.
The Tuohy Basketball Center is one piece of an improving complex for men’s and women’s basketball. The Pavilion at Ole Miss is soon to be another.
“It all takes away the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘buts’ and things like that,” Tuohy said of the progress in basketball facilities at Ole Miss. “But you’ve still got to go out and play ball.”
Tuohy and his teammates certainly did that.
“I tell everybody that if we’d have had these facilities, we’d have won a conference championship when we were here,” he said.
“And you know what? We did anyway.”
That 1981 SEC crown came on a three-game run in Birmingham, Ala., with the Rebels beating Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Georgia.
Tuohy reminded people of that and more as the Tad Pad’s life winds down in the months ahead. He also knows Ole Miss people will provide the passion to make The Pavilion a special place as well.
“The arena can’t give the passion,” he said. “It’s the people that have to put the passion in it. Ole Miss fans will do it. It’s important to them. They’ve proved that over and over again.”
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