If anyone believes Mike Bianco's decision to remain at Ole Miss as the baseball coach of the Rebels was an easy one, think again.
The LSU program had a lot of appeal and history to him, and you could hear it in his emotional voice yesterday when Jeff Roberson and I talked to him about his choice of staying put at Ole Miss.
LSU Athletic Director Skip Bertman has been Bianco's coach, advisor and, most importantly, trusted friend for many, many years. In Bianco's playing/assistant coaching days at LSU, the two had gotten back-to-back in the trenches and slugged it out with whoever dared to show up, normally coming out on top. They have always had each other's back and each one knew their hind side was covered by the other.
That, in itself, made Mike's decision a difficult one.
Then there is the mater of Bianco and his wife Cammie not only being graduates of LSU, but having spent over a decade of their young adult lives in South Louisiana. Friends and family are behind every bush for the Biancos. A bulk of Cammie's family lives in the Red Stick area.
That doubled the difficulty of Mike's choice.
On the other side of the ledger, Ole Miss had a lot to offer too. Certainly a bigger contract was required, but that was not the most significant factor.
The Biancos have established Oxford as their home where they are rearing five young children in a "user-friendly" environment. Not that Baton Rouge is not that way, but there's a certain level of comfort in living in the safety of Lafayette County, a comfort the Biancos have grown to cherish and trust.
The Ole Miss administration has also proven their desire to retain Bianco in the commitment they have made not only to him personally, but to his program in terms of stadium improvements, budget improvements and compensation packages for his valuable assistants. Mike's coaches are part of his family too and taking care of them was essential to closing the deal.
This was not a half-baked attempt at keeping Mike and company in Oxford. Every angle has been exploited, but he had to show Athletic Director Pete Boone that he wanted to stay in order to get that type of commitment.
In the end, it's a win-win for the Biancos, the program and Ole Miss. If my facts and figures are correct, he's accomplished some milestones the past four years that have not been matched in the SEC, despite the fact that the crowning jewel of going to Omaha has not been reached. His winning compares to, if not betters, every other coach in the SEC in that time frame.
In other words, he's a solid investment, a proven investment. And Ole Miss has been a solid investment for him as well. With that kind of mutual benefit, success is bound to follow.
OK. That's the nuts and bolts of the deal. And this time, by the skin of our teeth, it worked out for everyone on the Ole Miss side perfectly.
And how important is that? Huge.
This is not a "take that" to LSU. It would be dumb to go there as much admiration, history and love as Bianco has for that institution and what it has meant to him and his family.
But it is a pat on the back to the psyche of Ole Miss and its followers.
How many times have I heard in the past the inferior musings of some fans stating "don't get too happy - as soon as Bianco is offered by LSU, he's gone."
And you can understand, to a certain extent, that inferiority complex based on past dealings with Tommy Tuberville and Rob Evans. Both bolted when more money and, in their eyes, a better commitment to their programs was offered.
Well, maybe the Bianco deal will go a long way in changing that mindset.
We can compete for coaches against anyone, if we put our minds to it.
We can retain bright stars against "bigger" schools when we take the right steps.
We can produce a winning environment that coaches want to be a part of and won't run from when a so-called "better" job surfaces.
We don't have to have an "inferiority complex" when these situations pop up. We have just as much to offer - in a lot of ways - as anywhere, when we dig in and lay all the cards on the table.
Kudos to the decision-makers - Pete Boone, Robert Khayat, et al - for their attention to this urgent matter and for making it work in Ole Miss' favor. They had to take a big bite at the apple and did not hesitate to do so when hesitation might have been fatal.
Congratulations to Mike Bianco for going with his heart and finding in it a big chunk of Ole Miss.
But perhaps just as importantly, a signal has been sent to the Ole Miss faithful that we will not take a back seat to anyone.
The fact that Mike Bianco chose "us" over "them" with all the ties and opportunity he had down "there," has to tell all of us something we all yearn to believe.
Ole Miss is indeed special, can be a "player" on a national level and there is no need to think otherwise.
It won't always work out this way. There will always be wins and losses in the effort to keep excellent coaches in the house, but as long as we are secure in knowing the effort is there, I can live with the outcome.
And I can also say, without hesitation, "You want our guy? You better show up with the deal of the century."
That does a lot for my Rebel psyche.
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