Commentary

Several coaches from Ed Orgeron's original staff are no longer on board at Ole Miss. That higher-than-normal turnover ratio caused some concern for some fans, but if you look at the current staff and the guys who replaced those who are now departed from Ole Miss, progress has been made. Read about it inside.

I can count on one hand, and have fingers left over, the number of Ole Miss coaches I simply have not personally liked in the past 25 years of covering Rebel athletics. The number would rise a little about ones I didn't think were capable mentors, but not by much.

Being a "homer" in the ranks of journalism, being the kind of person who tries to give everyone I meet the benefit of the doubt, and being naturally inclined to put Rebel coaches on a pedestal, it's not surprising I like them all.

It also hasn't hurt that sentiment that all but two or three through the years have been extremely accommodating to my cause of bringing you the best information on Ole Miss athletics we at The Spirit are capable of producing.

Knowing all that, I am not going to single out any coaches who have left here - either by force or by choice - in the past year as incompetent. I will leave those judgments to whoever wants to make them. That simply is not my style nor my belief.

But I will say all of the ones who have left during Ed Orgeron's short tenure probably needed to go - for a myriad of individual reasons - and I feel he has definitely upgraded his staff with their replacements.

My thoughts and conclusions have very little to do with visible productivity, or lack of same, of the ones who are departed. Again, I leave those assessments to the critics. Successful coaching is many times a matter of circumstance and a guy who does not cut it here may go on elsewhere and be a shining star.

No, this deal is about fit, as Coach O stressed the whole time he was looking for an offensive coordinator to replace Noel Mazzone, an OL coach to replace George DeLeone and more recently an LB coach to replace Shawn Slocum.

The bulk of the original staff, for various reasons, simply did not have the right chemistry for what Orgeron is trying to accomplish, either philosophically, intensity level, recruiting acumen, lifetstyle, compatability and so on. So be it.

The useless bashing of those who are no longer here is counterproductive and really solves nothing as it relates to Ole Miss football. They simply did not fit into O's plans or wanted to be elsewhere. Big deal. Let's move on.

The relevant question, which partially remains to be answered, is how are the new guys stacking up? That is what is pertinent to our cause, not whether so-and-so who was here was a bad coach.

The focus should be on who is here now, not who is gone.

To this point, I believe O has made some terrific replacement hires.

Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner is a seasoned veteran who has successfully plied his craft in the big-time arena of Miami Hurricane football. True, he was fired at The U. What coach hasn't been at one time or another in their volatile, what-have-you-done-for-me-today profession? As the old saying goes, 95% of all coaches end up with that fate at one time or another in their careers.

Werner comes to Ole Miss with the highest recommendations in his profession, he has communicated a viable plan for the Rebel offense, and he got this job after a painstaking and thorough interview process with Coach O before O gave Dan his stamp of approval. That, coupled with him being an extremely personable man, is good enough for me.

Some armchair QBs want to critique his offense. Some have predetermined, after watching Miami score nearly 30 points a contest and win nine games last year, that it is not innovative and doesn't have a Steve Spurrier flare or a West Coast look. I submit productive offensive football is less about schemes than it is about players who are athletic enough and smart enough to successfully run the schemes.

Werner's approach is tried and true and fits the SEC. Despite fans wanting an aerial show and lots of bells and whistles, aka Texas Tech and some other pass-happy offenses, historically that does not win championships and it certainly does not win in the SEC. Some will throw Spurrier's offense out for consideration that I am wrong, but they fail to admit that when Spurrier was winning titles at Florida he always had a solid running attack that had to be accounted for as well as that dazzling passing game. Defenses could not load up on stopping one or the other without paying the price.

Werner is balanced in his approach, and balance - actually being able to run and pass - is what wins in the Southeastern Conference, no matter how "boring" some people think that is.

In my humble opinion, Dan Werner fits what Ole Miss needs and Coach O wants.

Werner's Miami running mate Art Kehoe has taken over the offensive line. I've asked a lot of coaches about Art and the answer is always the same - he's as good as any OL coach in America and better than most as the complete package of teaching, recruiting, relating and motivating.

Kehoe inherits a group that did not achieve what was needed last season and is likely to be thin again in 2006, but with his energy, enthusiasm and plan, which is as close to O's similar attributes as anyone I've seen, the Rebel OL will improve from sheer Kehoe willpower. Again, a talent upgrading will be required to see Kehoe's true expertise and impact, but that's coming.

Both Kehoe and Werner will also impact recruiting in a positive manner in the seasons to come. When a coach says "I was at Miami for 27 years," recruits listen. A great door opener for sure.

The promotion of Hugh Freeze from Director of Football Operations to Tight Ends Coach/Recruiting Coordinator is already paying dividends. Freeze might be a bit green in the college arena, but he's bright and also matches the energy level and tempo Coach O sets. He has also shown he can handle pressure situations when he was thrown into off-campus recruiting in mid-stream last December. He had never recruited on this level before and came up aces in his results. Freeze and O also seem to have a special working relationship with each other, which will be good for both. Complete trust is vital, and sometimes rare, in this business and it appears to be something O and Freeze have in each other.

I was a big fan of David Saunders when he was here the first time around under David Cutcliffe as the on-campus recruiting guy. His dedication to getting more talent - which is the name of the game - on campus will be matched only by O. His personal friendship with Orgeron will be good for both - Saunders can be one of his best confidants.

In terms of his ability to coach the linebackers, I have no doubts. David's always been a defensive coach, he was raised in and believes in the 4-3 defensive philosophy and he's the beneficiary of one of the best linebackers, Patrick Willis, in the country. Look for succcess, and even greater cohesiveness of the staff, with Saunders manning an oar in the Rebel boat.

All the returning guys proved their mettle to me last year when some were doubting their experience and readiness for the SEC. WR Coach Matt Lubick, RB Coach Frank Wilson, DL Coach Ryan Nielsen and Assistant DB Coach Tony Hughes now all have a year of SEC battles under their belts and will be that much more seasoned in their quest. They are loyal, bright, driven and effctive coaches and recruiters.

Lubick and Neilsen will have their work cut out for them due to the graduation losses they had at their respective positions, but I believe they are up to the task.

DB Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Chris Rippon took some peripheral heat last year due to our placekicking woes, but if you look at the structure of the special teams and the secondary, you would have to objectively say the foundation of what they were trying to do was sound. A few more successful field goals and several dropped balls that should have been picks and Rippon would be hailed a hero. Look for that to happen in 2006 with his secondary being experienced and, hopefully, the PKs and punters over their first-year jitters. (Remember Jonathan Nichols' first full year of kicking and how much he improved his second year?)

Certainly, this whole piece is conjecture, but people ask me all the time about my "gut feeling" on certain issues.

My "gut feeling" about the staff is that O has it just about where he wants it now and you will see the results of the right fit and better chemistry.

I'm already getting subliminal reports that offseason workouts have been more upbeat, without sacrificing intensity level and effort, and more productive with this staff. I'm already getting better feedback about the chemistry of the staff and the cohesiveness between the staff and the players.

We'll see, but from my perspective it's all systems go with the "new" football staff.

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