Commentary: AK staying put

Ole Miss Men's Basketball Coach Andy Kennedy told The Ole Miss Spirit yesterday that he has no interest in the Arkansas job. He also had some other relative comments. Read them, and an opinion or two, inside.

When the phone rang at The Ole Miss Spirit offices Saturday morning, with the Grove Bowl and the baseball series rapidly approaching, we were surprised to hear Rebel Men's Basketball Coach Andy Kennedy's voice on the other end.

He said he had something to say to the Ole Miss family and that is what prompted him to initiate contact with us.

The meeting in his office that morning was educational, to say the least.

"There is a lot of speculation out there that has kind of taken on a life of its own," said Kennedy, his 6-7 frame squeezed into an easy chair. "I am not a candidate at Arkansas. I am not interested in Arkansas. I have never been contacted by Arkansas.

"Are there third-party feelers out there? Sure, but I am committed to Ole Miss. This is where I want to be, and as I just explained to Chancellor (Robert) Khayat and AD Pete Boone, as long as Ole Miss is as equally committed to men's basketball as I am, I want to be the basketball coach here. Certainly, I understand that has to be mutual - I have to hold up my end of the bargain of moving the program forward, but I'm not looking to move anywhere."

Andy has peers in his profession who have told him national prominence is not something that is going to happen at Ole Miss in men's basketball. He does not agree.

"You can't do it there, Andy, they say. I do not believe that. I believe the strides are going to be taken to allow us to compete on a level playing field and that's all a coach can ask," he continued. "You have to have the chance to compete with the people you are trying to beat, and we are trying to beat the best in the country in our conference.

"If you are not competing each and every day to win a national championship, then you are wasting your time because everyone else in our league is, in all sports. We live in a day and age where the SEC is winning national titles. We want our share of that right here at Ole Miss. Anything less is not my goal here."

Kennedy said he believes, with all his heart, the administration at Ole Miss wants the same thing - to give their coaches a chance to fulfill those lofty goals.

"I'm committed to be here because I am on the same page with the administration," Andy stated. "I am confident the changes that need to be made in relation to the facilities and student housing are going to happen. I have that commitment and believe in it."

There's little question Kennedy is a rising star in the college coaching ranks. There's little question his name will be mentioned when most prominent coaching positions open up.

Good. We're glad. That's an acknowledgment Kennedy is doing what he set out to do here, not something we, as fans, should fear. Who desires a coach who isn't coveted by others? Nobody who has big dreams for their school's athletic programs.

"Ole Miss has been more than fair to me. This isn't about dollars and cents. It's about trying to establish something here. It's about quality of life. It's about the seamless transition my family had here and how the Ole Miss family has embraced us," he explained. "It's about our ability to bring back, or create, some magic in Tad Smith Coliseum."

Last season, Kennedy took the Rebels to a 21-win season. Fans who had been apathetic about the program in previous years came back in droves.

"That was just step one. If we stay the course, in all areas, we are going to be able to say soon that we are a challenger in the SEC year-in and year-out. If you do that, you are a player on the national level because there's no better league. That's our goal, our vision and what we are committed to doing," he added.

The administration has repeatedly told us the Basketball Practice Facility will be a reality. There are drawings and plans, and there is now an opportunity to raise funds toward that cause.

The goal, according to Kennedy, is to be turning dirt by late summer or early fall of 2007. That means by late fall of 2008, the BPF should be nearing completion.

"I know the Chancellor and Pete are committed to doing this and doing it as quickly as possible. I'm in - I am willing to help with the fund-raising and share my vision of the program with Ole Miss supporters," AK noted. "We have also discussed getting Tad Smith Coliseum as player and fan-friendly as everything else on this dynamic campus."

For a lot of years, true or not, basketball coaches have had to overcome a "they are not committed to basketball" dialogue on the road from rival recruiters.

The Class of 2007 has been sold on a vision by Andy and his staff. This may be the last year Kennedy can sell that vision without something tangible happening.

"Once we start moving dirt, we don't have to sell the vision any more. Seeing is believing," he explained. "To get the type of players we need to reach our goals, we need tangible things. Carol (Ross) needs tangible things now. We are going to get those things. I have the utmost belief and respect in Chancellor Khayat and Pete. They say it's going to happen. It's going to."

The bottom line is that what Kennedy and Ross accomplished last season was done by sleight of hand and some excellent kids who believed and bought in. There are no more rabbits to pull out of the hat.

For Kennedy to get the type of players he needs to compete in the SEC, he has to have the tools he has been assured he will get. Ditto for Carol Ross.

To hear Kennedy speak of the commitment of the powers-that-be, and from hearing it from them as well, tells one they understand AK can't do this by himself, nor will he have to.

Kudos to all involved. To Andy for making his commitment and intentions clear to all. To Khayat and Boone for understanding the urgency of a) upgrading the hoops facilities and b) making the commitment to do so.

In the humble opinion of this writer, Ole Miss has two jewels leading our hoops programs. We need to take every step to keep them at Ole Miss and help them reach their goals.

Personally, I'm relieved and elated to hear the decision makers feel that way too.

Andy Kennedy is not a Hog. He's a Rebel. Let's keep it that way.

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