Coaching changes, hoops practices, football

Florida situation, men's and women's hoops, defense gets ready for Auburn

Chuck wanted to talk about him earlier in the week. Now I do.

Jeremy Foley. Strong-willed, highly-visible, modern athletic director of Florida. He's always in the news a lot because many of his programs are highly-ranked all the time.

Florida. One of the Sunbelt's fastest growing states of the past 30 or 40 years.

The University of Florida. Largest enrollment in the SEC. Strong athletic history and tradition. Lots of money and resources (available high school and junior college talent among them). For the past 15 years or so one of the premier football programs in the country.

That was with Steve Spurrier. Before he came on board at his alma mater, the Gators had won the SEC in football only once – 1984 – and that title was stripped from them due to NCAA probation.

Ole Miss has a winning record in football against Florida in 21 meetings. The series had been tied since the last game between the two in 1995 until Rebel wins in 2002 and '03 gave Ole Miss an 11-9-1 lead.

In terms of football though, the Gators are still probably only third in their state the past 15 years behind Miami and FSU. Now they are actually a distant third, even though the Seminoles aren't quite what they used to be. Miami rolls on at this point.

So Ron Zook's team lost at MSU Saturday. It wasn't the only thing that got Zook canned, just the last straw.

Every time a college coach is fired before a season is over, like Jack Crowe at Arkansas after The Citadel beat the Hogs to open the 1992 season or when Terry Bowden got the ax at Auburn in 1998 (and our head coach at the time would later get the job), I think of our situation more than 30 years ago when Billy Kinard got the boot as head coach. A lot of you remember it. Some of you may actually know many of the details.

I've always thought we might have knee-jerked a little bit back then, although time and place always have something to do with a situation. The Rebel program in 1973 was Florida. For 25 years only two or three college football programs in America had the success of Ole Miss in that era.

Then came a .500 season in 1972 and no bowl for the first time in 15 seasons. Then a loss to Memphis State early in 1973 and a 1-2 start.

Kinard – gone. Brother Brusier, the AD and an Ole Miss legend if ever there was one (our first football All-American), gone too.

Who can't recall (at least those old enough to remember) the excitement and drama of the game with USM in Oxford when Coach Vaught returned later that week. The Rebels won 41-0.

But the way things were handled starting with Vaught's retirement in 1970 and probably even for the next decade, we may still be paying for today.

Just like Florida fans, it seems most Ole Miss fans back then felt a change was necessary. Sometimes, however, there is a price.

At Ole Miss, in some ways, we've been digging out of the hole we dug then for more than 30 years. I look at the new IPF and know that we are at least digging on a much more positive course now.

Some of it back then could have been handled better. Some of it was unavoidable, I guess.

Earlier this week, Foley sent Zook packing and then told him and his staff to conduct practice that day and coach the rest of the season. Reminds me of a USM friend of mine at the Oxford Eagle when I worked there who had several calling-card sayings and expressions to get people to laugh.

"Hey, (fill in blank with name)," he'd say. "You're fired. Now get back to work."

Guess that's what Foley said to Zook and staff.

Strange things sometimes happen in athletics. Always have. We were right in the middle of some of that back during the Vaught-Kinard-Vaught saga of 1970-73.

Arkansas has been there. Auburn has. Florida is now. There have been others and there will be others.

The reaction of the Florida players – one was quoted as saying Foley basically ripped the heart out of the team – was understandable. It would have been an unsettling situation had Zook and staff been asked to leave totally at this point (who would have coached?), or if Zook had been asked to leave now and one of the assistants been named interim coach and the staff remained for the rest of the season.

Probably the best thing for the players would have been to wait until the season was over before doing anything. It would have been more respect to them. But losing to State hastened things, and that was that.

There is no right thing or best thing in a situation like that. What Foley did made most of the Gator fans feel better, it seems. It made most of the players want to stage a mutiny against Florida, it also seems.

At some point, if you follow this thing called college athletics long enough, we'll all go through in some way, shape, or form what Florida is going through right now.

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The Ole Miss men's and women's basketball teams continue to practice. Saturday they will both open their doors for the fans.

The Lady Rebels will actually practice twice – from 9 a.m. until 11 and then again from 3 p.m. until 5.

The Rebels will practice from 12 noon until 2 p.m. A reception for Tipoff Club members will follow in the coaches' offices. Fans can join the club at that time. Membership is at various levels with a $20 level for adults (6th Man Club) and a $15 level for children 12 and under (Rebel Kids Club) available. A family (up to four people) may join for $35.

The Lady Rebel Roundballers are sponsoring a bus trip to Birmingham for the Lady Rebels' season opener at UAB on Sunday, Nov. 21.

The bus will depart University Florist on Jackson Ave. E. in the Oxford East Shopping Center at 9 a.m. that day with a stop at the Belden Truck Stop (just west of Tupelo at the intersection of McCullough Blvd. and Highway 78) at 9:45 a.m. to pick up additional fans. The game is at 2 p.m. and the bus will roll back to northern Mississippi immediately after the Lady Rebel victory.

The cost of the trip, which includes a lunch and a game ticket, is $35. For more information call Judy at University Florist at 800-844-6045 or 662-234-6044.

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Keith Carter and his wife, Jill, were married the day Ole Miss played Auburn in Oxford in football in 2000. This weekend when the Rebels host the Tigers in football again, Keith and Jill are set to welcome a new baby boy into their home, their first child.

The Carters call Oxford home now as Keith is still playing basketball in Europe and giving the NBA one more shot, maybe two.

The Class of 1999 of Rebel hoops is almost back intact in Oxford right now, which is an amazing thing for an amazing class.

Keith has lived here a couple of years; Michael White is back coaching with Rod Barnes; and Jason Smith is here this semester finishing up his degree. Hunter Carpenter is in Little Rock and doing well in the business world and gets back to Oxford often.

Sounds like a story there for another day to me. Look for one on the men's basketball class of 1999 in the weeks ahead.

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Ole Miss senior linebacker Rob Robertson says he knows Auburn is bringing one of the nation's best offenses to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday night. He believes the Rebels, with an open date last week, will be prepared.

"We've put a lot of work in to get ready," said Robertson, one of the Rebels' team captains this fall. "Auburn is a talented team. Their quarterback (Jason Campbell) this year is playing so well and adding a new dimension to their team. He has made their offense even more challenging for a defense to prepare for. This year their offense can beat you a bunch of ways."

Robertson said the Rebels' season so far has been one that has hung in the balance with every game. Each contest has been close, even the 28-7 loss at Alabama could have gone the Rebels' way if they'd capitalized early on some breaks.

"We knew there would be a lot of tough games," he said. "Defensively we knew we would have to play well every game. We knew our offense would have some adjustment period from the past couple of years."

Robertson said last week was good for the troops.

"The open date helped in a lot of ways," he said. "Having three days off in a row is something we haven't had since early August. It's helped get everybody energized and ready again. Preseason practice and then with seven games in a row is quite a stretch. We've worked hard to get ready for Auburn. We know it will be a huge challenge this weekend."

UM defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach said the Rebels used the open week to prepare for a lot of things, not only for this weekend but also the rest of the season.

"We got healed for one thing and are about as healthy as we've been," he said. "We went back and did an awful lot of base fundamentals. Last week we got a chance to work on Auburn two of the three days we worked."

Driesbach says Auburn will bring an impressive offensive team to Oxford.

"They have a great offense. They have great backs. Their quarterback is playing as well as anybody in the country. They have big physical receivers that are playmakers. Their offensive line is outstanding. They mix all that in with a tremendous amount of multiplicity."

Kickoff on Saturday is set for 6:45 p.m. on ESPN. The Rebels will walk through the Grove on their way to battle between 4 and 4:15 p.m.

The Rebels have beaten Auburn two of the last three times the teams have met in Auburn. However in Oxford Ole Miss hasn't won since a 45-21 victory in 1992. During that span the Tigers have rolled off five straight wins here over the Rebs.

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