What did we learn about the Rebels?

Ed Orgeron faces some bumps in the road as he tries to build the Rebels into one of the premiere programs in the SEC and country. It all starts with recruiting.

And what did we learn from Ole Miss' loss to Tennessee? We learned we're too small, too slow and lacking in skilled players at too many team positions to win against the UT's of the college football world.

We've learned that for the third consecutive year our talent level at the cornerback spots and the defensive secondary cannot stop the other guy's passing attack.

We've learned the defensive line has no concept about how to pressure opponent's quarterbacks. I can't remember a game in which the other team's QB had as much time to think things over before deciding what to do with the football. Most of the game it appeared Tennessee QB Rick Clausen was wearing one of those stand alone colored jerseys that warns all defensive teammates during a scrimmage not to hit him. Except this wasn't a scrimmage. It was a real live game.

We've learned our linebackers are the strength of the Rebel team and the offensive line is showing improvement. We've also learned RB Mico McSwain has enormous potential but our quarterbacking is still inconsistent, and our pass receiving without Mario Hill on the field is equally so.

We learned the offensive line has work to do, but I think most everyone understood that from the results of the first three games.

We learned the 2005 season under Ed Orgeron will not be one of achievement but the start of an effort to rebuild the Rebel program—again.

Just as it was under David Cutcliffe in 1999.

Just as it was under Tommy Turberville in 1995.

Just as it was under Joe Lee Dunn in 1994.

Just as it was under Billy Brewer in 1983.

Just as it was under Steve Sloan in 1978.

Just as it was under Ken Cooper in 1974.

I often wonder whether David Cutcliffe was hired not because he was the best available coach at the time but because he was the best available coach with a chance to recruit Eli Manning based on his friendship with the Mannings. The possible theory was Eli could win for the Rebels and his presence would act like that of the Pied Piper of Hamlin whose very presence would attract the state's best players because of the opportunity to play alongside him.

If that indeed was the theory, and I have no proof that it was, it only half worked. The Rebels finished above .500 every year Eli wore the red and blue, climaxed by the 10-3 Cotton Bowl championship team in 2003. But last year's sorry 4-7 season proved the recruiting part either didn't work or Rebel coaches failed to take advantage of its possibilities and Cutcliffe was gone.

We have many pluses on our side. We have a chancellor in Dr. Robert Khayat who played football, loves football, understands the role of football and gives it his maximum support. No one could ask for more.

We have an athletic director in Pete Boone who also played the game at Ole Miss and who I think is a financial genius for somehow finding the money to upgrade the school's athletic facilities to be as good or better than any other school without 100,000 seats to sell. I don't know how he does it—but he does.

We also have a devoted group of fans that are second to none. They come to the games win or lose. They respond to calls for financial support. They complain very little in view of the fact they have not had a championship to brag about and support since 1963 when the Rebs went 7-0-2 after an undefeated 9-0-0- record in 1962. That's 43 years but our people still believe that could be the Ole Miss of today—but it's not. Patience is indeed a virtue but believing yesterday is right around the corner is not realistic.

So let me tell you where I stand. The public's major problem is believing that high school football in Mississippi is at the same level as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee. It is not. How many McDonald's high school All-Americans do we have in our state year in and year out in comparison with the other mentioned? Very, very few. There are not Division I players at every high school in this state, standing on every street corner, sorting out come-on letters from our state universities to wear their colors.

And what ever the number is, there is a three-way split in our state for the available talent. Only Florida and Tennessee have that problem as well but they have far greater numbers from which to choose.

And most of all I am peeved with these end of the season "Top 40 Players in the State." lists. The truth is such a list may measure athletic ability but does not match it with academic skills. At least half of the kids on that list cannot, and will not, qualify for a college athletic scholarship based on today's NCAA rules. The schools recruit them, sometimes for show, sometimes in hope of an academic miracle and they loudly proclaim the player's name when the youngster announces his choice. But the school knows they only thing they can do is find a junior college to which the player can be sent with the hope he will devote enough attention to the books to qualify and enough loyalty to stay with his original choice if he does.

And the tougher the NCAA makes the qualifying standards, the fewer Mississippi athletes will reach those standards.

So as we begin the latest effort to restore Ole Miss' now over 40 year old tradition as a winning program, the question is not whether or not Ed Orgeron can coach. The question is can he live up to his reputation as one of the country's best recruiters? Can he find enough players with Division I athletic skills and NCAA academic ability to match?

Coaching is the easy part. First of all you have to find somebody to coach.

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