One among them, as for likely all Ole Miss people, is the early October football weekend against Alabama this season.
That day started with ESPN’s televised live show Game Day on campus for the first time, and it continued with a 23-17 Ole Miss win against the Crimson Tide. Goalposts made their way through the Grove and to the Square following that one.
“You go through so many great moments,” Bjork said. “If you look at this year, even after Alabama, we talked a lot about expectations. Our program now, hey we’re a top 10, top 5 program. There’s no need to even rush the field anymore. We should have people rush the field against us, like LSU did when they beat us. That’s what it should be, not the other way.
“And I was really proud when we won the Egg Bowl against a highly-ranked team. Our fans said ‘We should expect this.’ I love the attitude of ‘the new normal’ our players started talking about even before the season started. We beat Alabama, then we beat a team that was destined for the playoffs and knocked them out. It’s our rival game and it’s important. It lasts a whole year of celebrations. And we handled it the right way.”
So this football season - in its entirety - could be deemed a defining moment for Ole Miss in this era.
And now the Rebels move on from here with a Big Six bowl game, as the Peach, Sugar, Rose, Cotton, Fiesta, and Orange are now called. And they build on all those type ”moments” throughout the athletics department.
How does it continue? One major factor is a form of just that - continuity.
There are some examples around the country where athletic departments, specifically football programs, have had that staying power. Look no further than the Ole Miss foe in Atlanta on Dec. 31 – Texas Christian University.
Years ago thought to be a football program whose best days were behind it, Gary Patterson took over after Dennis Franchione left to become head coach at Alabama following the 2000 season. Patterson coached the Horned Frogs in the Mobile (Ala.) Bowl against Southern Mississippi that December. Since then there have been 12 additional bowls on Patterson’s resume’ including this year’s Peach, as well as a Fiesta and a Rose in the last decade.
“The big piece of it is continuity,” Bjork said. “You look at Gary Patterson. You look at Virginia Tech and the continuity with Frank Beamer. You look at Missouri and Gary Pinkel. That’s why you look at the investment we made in Coach (Hugh) Freeze. We believe he’s the guy for that long term success and continuity that is so important. And when you do have a dip - and it happens in athletics - you can overcome it faster because you do have a belief system, a structure, a foundation in place. You can overcome that because of the leadership.
“You look at the academic support. That’s a continuity piece that is so important to make sure we have the right academic support structure in place to graduate these young men and women. That’s important and a great example to be balanced in all your support pieces – sports medicine, weight training, academics, facilities. It’s a continual investment in growing.”
So there remains one question not often asked as coaches and their staffs are “taken care of” in college athletics.
Who is taking care of the AD? Who is taking care of Bjork?
Who is making sure that he has what he and his family need to remain as the athletics director of the University of Mississippi and continue to lead Ole Miss sports into a growing future?
“We have great leadership with Chancellor (Dan) Jones,” Bjork said. “Obviously he is battling an illness right now. But he’s fighting strong and he has a great attitude. Every time I talk to him, it’s ‘hey I’m going to beat this and I’m going to come back to work.’
“So I’m taken care of by our Chancellor. He does a great job. We’re extremely happy, and this is a long haul deal for us. That’s how we look at it. Our family’s grounded here. We love it here. Our kids (Payton, 8, and Paxton, 4) love it.”
Bjork shows a picture of the oldest, Payton, who at the Rebels’ last home game against Coastal Carolina is on the front row behind the goal with some other kids, cheering and making noise in support of the cause against the Chanticleers.
“He’s moved into the student section at basketball games, so he’s into it,” Bjork said. "Those are the things that make it enjoyable for us, and that’s when your family is happy.
“We have a lot of momentum, and we don’t want to lose that momentum. So I’m taken care of by our Chancellor and his leadership. He’s my boss and the leader of the University. He knows how important athletics is, and we’re grateful for that leadership. He is there when we need him and is supportive, and he pays attention to what is happening in athletics. But he lets us make decisions, and he’s involved when we ask him and we need him. He’s there every single time. It’s a great balance and perspective. I love working for him.”
In addition to Ross, his wife, Sonya, and their two sons, several other extended family members have made their way to Oxford to live, to send their kids to schools here, and to Ole Miss. Not only the immediate Bjork family but others have joined them as citizens of Oxford, Lafayette County, and Rebel Nation.
Bjork is at the top of his game, so to speak. He is at a Power 5 conference university that is succeeding in athletics, being supported in record numbers by its alumni and fan base, and has become a highly visible sports program throughout the country, especially this autumn with football and last summer with baseball in the College World Series.
There are job openings and there always will be year after year. Currently some of them include the athletics director positions at Michigan, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh. All of them have positives, and all of them have negatives.
So does the Ole Miss job. But it is one that Bjork and his family have embraced, and they have become a part of its fabric as Rebel Nation looks toward its second trip to Atlanta in four months for a major college football game. And, once again, the nation will be watching.
“There’s a cycle of situations, just like in coaching,” Bjork said of job opportunities in the athletic director world. “You have people retire. You have people, like Oliver Luck (at Luck's alma mater, West Virginia) who just took a job with the NCAA. You’re going to have those moments where those things come up.
“But my agent – my wife – says we’re locked in. She’s the agent, and she’s happy. We’re happy here. It’s great.”
(More from Ross Bjork Wednesday as Christmas week continues.)
More of The Message
OM Spirit Top Stories
Offensive Line Starting to ClickEven though he's just a sophomore, Ole Miss Right Tackle/Center Sean Rawlings - along with fellow sophs Javon Patterson and Jordan Sims - are some of the leaders in the offensive…
OM SpiritYesterday at 10:00 PM
Friday Focus: Ole Miss vs. Memphis#16 Ole Miss takes on Memphis on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CT on ESPN 2.
OM SpiritYesterday at 4:29 PM
Magnolia Ties for 4-Star DT Noah EllisNoah Ellis out of Highlands Ranch, CO., is well under way in his senior season. The 6-foot-4, 325-pound defensive tackle knows that he'll have make a decision where he's going to…
OM SpiritYesterday at 11:44 AM
Georgia a Positive Step for Reb DefenseDave Wommack popped on the film of the Georgia game and saw a lot of improvement over the Alabama game the week before, but what he said after the contest with the Bulldogs - "we…
OM SpiritYesterday at 5:00 AM
Jones Pleased With Competitive CB PlayOle Miss CBs coach Jason Jones has been pleased with the effort from his corners and is noticing progress.
OM SpiritYesterday at 5:00 AM