COLUMN: Color me stunned. . . .

For anyone to believe the firing of Dan Jones is “good for Ole Miss,” well, it’s just not so.

Color me stunned. . .

I was in the middle of burying my sweet mother-in-law Friday when my phone started blowing up.

The messages were pointed: Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones’ contract would not be renewed by the IHL board.

My initial thought – this has to be a bad joke.

Shocked would not be the right word because anyone paying attention knew there was/is friction with the IHL board and Dr. Jones and there was always that minute possibility of a parting of the sheets, so to speak, but I always believed in my heart his performance would weather that storm and those issues could be worked out among the men/women entrusted to make the best decisions for our system of higher education and Ole Miss.

Color me foolish. . .

Dan followed the footsteps of Robert Khayat, who I thought did a lot of great things for Ole Miss. Like Robert, I didn’t always agree with Dan, but leaders never completely please all their constituents all the time and the good far outweighed the questionable, by a landslide.

When Dan was named, many accused him of being Robert’s puppet. Admittedly, I thought that could be a possibility as well because of my firm belief Robert had influence on Dan’s selection, but quickly I came to realize Dan is his own man, not afraid of tough decisions, not one to mince words and one willing to fight for what he believed was best for Ole Miss.

I’m in a somewhat unique position. I’m not on the front row of everything that goes on at Ole Miss, but I’ve got an unencumbered view and am very close – personally and professionally – to many of those who are.

This I can say without any hesitation whatsoever – the leadership team at Ole Miss has never been stronger and the adoration every one of them, to a man/woman, has for Dr. Jones is unanimous. To say those people are shocked and disheartened about this IHL board decision is a gross understatement.

To drive that point home more emphatically, many are here because of Dan Jones and have passed up career-advancing opportunities to remain in the trenches with Dan. That is how much they believe in Dan and his mission as Ole Miss’ leader. They not only trust his vision, they genuinely love the guy.

I have no doubt some of them will now leave Ole Miss, and who can blame them?

Why this adoration? Dan is the type of boss anyone would want to work for. He hires people to do a job and lets them do it without micro-management. Do it right and you will be rewarded. Do it poorly and you’ve made your own bed with the consequences.

Free rein with accountability. Isn’t that what any professional desires?

Dan asked his people to go hard and wanted people he had to rein in every once in a while versus people he had to prod. His team is comprised of those personality types.

So what was the basis for this decision?

Some say it was political – pointing fingers at Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and his ilk. Some believe it was a power play by some supporters with enough wherewithal to make things happen who feel Dan has an agenda too liberal for them to condone. Some even have the notion it was about bringing back some old “traditions.” Certainly, all of these factions had their stingers out for Dr. Jones.

But the slippery slope got harder to navigate for Dan when he bucked the IHL board on medical school matters, most importantly the right to choose a new leader for the med school.

The med school is under the University of Mississippi chancellor’s umbrella and, by every standard of measurement, it has blossomed under Khayat and Jones’ – mostly Jones - direction. Yet the IHL board saw things differently and they ran into a leader in Jones who was not willing to give up what was rightfully his and what he believed was best for Ole Miss.

To have a leader who questions/disagrees with government appointed officials, officials with little or no background in education, much less running a medical school, is considered unpardonable by this group who is in charge of higher education in our state? Pompous at best, outrageous for sure.

Color me perplexed. . .

It goes without saying I am a simple person.

While I am of the belief that Ole Miss is bigger than any one person and she will survive this decision, what I know to be fact is that Ole Miss is in a boom time – financially, with fundraising, with enrollment, with building, with enthusiasm, athletically, with national exposure and recognition and everything that measures a university’s performance.

National article after national article bragging on the virtues of Ole Miss.

The face of Ole Miss – athletics – is also climbing into prominence as the only school in the last calendar year to be in the College World Series, a top tier bowl and the NCAA hoops extravaganza.

If you do not believe Jones gets his share of credit for being the leader of this boom, I don’t know what to tell you. While it can be stated Khayat got the ball rolling, most of this happened under Dan Jones’ watch.

Again, from the simpleton, this decision is like firing a football coach who just went 11-1 and to a major bowl game because they didn’t win the national title. Outsiders will be mocking us for this move.

Ole Miss will carry on. With the momentum that has been built in the last few years under Dan’s guidance, she will even continue to thrive.

But for anyone to believe this is “good for Ole Miss,” well, it’s just not so.

Color me stunned. . . .


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