UM women's hoops still in good hands

Carol Ross said when she was hired four years ago to lead the women's basketball program at her alma mater that she wouldn't coach here until she was a senior citizen. At 47 now, she certainly isn't that.

But as of today, she is no longer the head coach of Ole Miss women's basketball. And while that day was indeed coming, that it was so soon in her tenure is perhaps surprising.

The Rebels are coming off their best season in 15 years. Elite Eights were once fairly common for the program. From 1985-92 there were four of them. Not until this season was there another.

The Final Four has always been the elusive dream for the Ole Miss women's basketball program. Getting there now is in the able hands of Renee Rutland Ladner.

I like the fit. For starters, Ladner, 48, has one of those personalities that might be called magnetic. Media, fans, players, and I'm sure recruits are completely at ease from the moment they meet her. That's a good start.

Obviously winning in the Southeastern Conference has to be about more than that. Ladner has the resume' to succeed as well.

No, she has never been the head coach of a women's team in college. But in the Mississippi high school ranks, she was very successful as a head coach.

The high school teams she coached at St. John High in Gulfport were 215-99 over 10 years with a state title in Class 2A in 2000. That's when she accepted the challenge of becoming an assistant on the collegiate level.

Ross invited her to become a part of the Gator staff at Florida. Ladner, who had basically spent her whole life in Mississippi, headed with her family to Gainesville to see what coaching at that level was all about.

Good move. It got her where she is today – as the head coach at her alma mater. When Ross was hired at Ole Miss in 2003, Ladner joined her in Oxford.

So did another former Lady Rebel player, Peggie Gillom. None of the three was more excited to get back to Oxford than the Lafayette County native. Gillom had left Ole Miss with Van Chancellor in 1997 to become an assistant with the Houston Comets. When the Texas A&M head coaching position opened up a year later, Gillom was hired.

She remained there until Ross called her to come home to be the associate head coach. Ross said she wouldn't have taken the job as head coach at Ole Miss without Gillom.

So the question has been asked by some, why not Peggie? I just think she didn't want to be a head coach again. She has married since she returned to Oxford, the wife of Anthony Granderson, and I think at 49 she's comfortable in her role on the staff.

It was a special day for Ole Miss women's hoops on March 18, 2003, when Carol and Peggie came back home to lead the Lady Rebs. When Ladner, who played for Chancellor at Harrison Central High and at Ole Miss, joined her two former teammates 13 days later, the homecoming was complete.

Even with Ross gone now to whatever she decides for her future, the Ole Miss women's basketball program is still in good hands. Renee Ladner and staff will make sure of that.

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