2006 was an interesting year for the Ole Miss Rebel athletic department.
There were highs - see baseball and men's tennis, and lows - if you care to look back, men's basketball and the football season, with an asterisk.
Chronologically, the men's hoops season was forgettable. Coach Rod Barnes' program had run its course, unfortunately.
One of our favored sons, in the end, just didn't get it done and, as badly as I hated it for one of my beloved Rebels, it was hard to question the decision to go in another direction.
There's no need scarring Rod further. I don't want to replace the good memories I have of Roderick - a good man and a good Rebel, but I had no major qualms with his dismissal.
At the same time all of that was going on, the Lady Rebels were not having the year they envisioned or hoped for, but Carol Ross' program did make postseason play in the WNIT, the future looked good and there was vitality and visible growth.
The sting of men's hoops being in turmoil was offset by the enthusiasm and results of a recruiting campaign in football that was ranked in the Top 15 in the country. Call me easily pleased if you wish, but I'll take Top 20 in anything, any time and never look back. And lest we forget, Coach Ed Orgeron and the remnants of his assistants did their thing shorthanded with the staff in a bit of upheaval.
Needless to say, right after Signing Day, most Rebels had given up on men's hoops and turned their attention to baseball.
Coach Mike Bianco and the Rebels did not disappoint, getting all the way to the Super Regionals for the second year in a row before falling to Miami, setting attendance records and putting in motion a major addition/overhaul to the stadium. Bianco was also secured for the future with a lucrative contract extension and raise in pay.
Bianco's right hand man, Dan McDonnell, who was instrumental in the Rebel recruiting efforts since Mike had been the captain of the baseball ship, took over the Louisville baseball program, but Mike hired recruiting ace Rob Reinstetle to take his place and the wheels were once again greased and running smoothly toward future success.
Meanwhile, Orgeron hired four new coaches who impacted the season favorably - OC Dan Werner, OL Coach Art Kehoe, TE Coach Hugh Freeze and LB Coach David Saunders. Even though there were rough spots - as there always are with a 4-8 campaign, most observers saw progress in those areas and began to feel some stability in Coach O's program.
While the baseball team was clicking - winning the SEC Tournament title in Hoover, AL, and then the Regionals in Oxford - the men's tennis team was cruising toward more titles and continued excellence. We often take the job Coach Billy Chadwick does for granted, but his "old hat" habit of winning never gets old.
In track, Coach Joe Walker produced some outstanding individual efforts, but his teams struggled when placed against SEC competition. With Florida, Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas - annually national powers - as his competition, the odds are long against winning a conference championship from a team perspective, but Walker continues to turn out individual champs regularly.
The men's golf team showed improvement under the guidance of Ernest Ross. His task is of the long-haul variety. The University took over the maintenance of University Golf Course from the athletic department and hoped for improvement there will help Ross' cause.
In the mix of actual spring seasons being played, a huge hire was made to replace Barnes atop the men's hoops program. Native Mississippian Andy Kennedy was brought in after a successful season as the interim head coach at troubled Cincinatti.
Immediately Kennedy caught the imagination of the Rebel fan base as he began his quest to resurrect a wayward program.
Unfortunately, to this point, Rebel fans have not responded from a game attendance standpoint, but the tale will be told when the SEC season begins next week. Kennedy and company are making good strides and deserve for us to bury the bitter taste of the past two or three seasons and begin anew with our support.
The quiet of summer gave way to the anticipation of fall and football.
Here's where my asterisk comes in. Coach O, rightfully, classified the season as a disappointment because the object of games is to win, but there were signs - some subtle and some not so subtle - that everything was moving in the right direction in his second year as the head man.
Most keen football observers knew the grid campaign would not be an easy one. Too much youth, a late-arriving QB, unpredictable injuries, a tougher than anticipated early schedule, and learning a new offensive system all led to a poor 1-4 start, but the Rebs hung tough and laid everything they had on the line each week.
The results weren't what were hoped for in the win column, but thinking fans could see progress, cohesiveness and maturation in the program. To tag a 4-8 season anything but a "low," would be stretching the imagination, but within there was a turn for the better in attitude, effort, coaching, team management, cohesiveness, togetherness and will.
Also during the year, the soccer program was doing its usual good job with a winning season, volleyball got its first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament and softball made the SEC Tournament for the first time. Women's tennis also showed they are on the comeback trail to prominence, and both the men and women's golf teams had good fall "seasons."
The calendar 2006 year is being capped by what should be another Top 20 football recruiting campaign, which will further stock a shorthanded squad.
In facilities growth, the baseball stadium is getting part of its expansion now with outfield terracing and coaches' offices, the Fed Ex Academic Center is nearing completion, the new UMAA is underway and moving along nicely, and there is serious planning going on for a Basketball Practice Facility and gradual improvements to Tad Smith Coliseum.
The prospects for 2007 give reason for hope if the bell cow - football - can continue to make progress, which is anticipated.
Men's hoops is a work in progress, but the optimism for its advancement is evident. Baseball is expected to continue flourishing.
While 2006 wasn't what we wanted it to be in some respects, there was a definite air of moving forward in most areas. Progress, improvement and positive change were the key words.
Will 2007 be better? That's the guess here.
The Year in Review
OM Spirit Top Stories
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