Summer meetings build toward football season

JACKSON - Nothing promotes interest and enthusiasm toward football season like one of the alumni/fan gatherings held this time of year.

From small towns where supporters gather to large get-togethers in the cities, it's all Ole Miss from the time the doors open until folks are dismissed.

The two largest pockets of Ole Miss fans – Jackson last night and Memphis tomorrow night – are getting a chance to see and hear the head coaches in several sports. That's not always the case. The meetings, yes. That head coaches in football, men's and women's basketball, and baseball are all attending at the same time, not as likely.

Tuesday night as an estimated 1,200 (or more) got into the spirit of the upcoming football season at this event sponsored by the Ole Miss Alumni Association, the Central Mississippi Ole Miss Club, and the Rebel Club of Jackson, they also got a chance to hear from four head coaches.

Mike Bianco said it was a first for him.

"I've been to meetings here during other times of the year, but never in the summer," said Bianco, entering his eighth year as head baseball coach. "We have camps this time of year, and July is a big recruiting month for baseball. So it's good to be able to be here this year."

Bianco talked at length about his seven-year tenure and the success of the program. He also was direct about what he thought of next year's team.

"Last year was the most trying season, the most draining season I've had," he said. "It was totally exhausting, and I know it was for a lot of you. But I've never been as excited in mid-July as I am now. I believe next year's team will be the most talented team we've had."

That's saying a lot. There've been some talented baseball teams at Ole Miss recently.

Bianco said the baseball stadium expansion plans are still very much on.

"I'm very excited about that. It is going to happen. We sell more tickets now than we have seats. With the new expansion fans won't have to cut the legs off their chairs and sit on the hill."

It will likely take a little longer to complete, like over two whole seasons instead of one. The plans are being reviewed and there'll be another bid process. Bianco said he hopes there will be some construction going on at the stadium this fall.

Obviously it was Renee Ladner's first Jackson summer meeting. The former Lady Rebel player and assistant coach moves into her first season as head coach with lots of enthusiasm. But that's something the personable Gulf Coast native has always had.

She exudes enthusiasm and is proud that she is a former Lady Reb player and a Mississippian. I've never actually heard her say this was her dream job, but it appears to be.

She talked about recruiting. "We can get to the Final Four and win a national championship with the talent in the state of Mississippi."

No doubt about that, and it would help if all would qualify academically, which often is the biggest challenge.

Andy Kennedy was his usual candid, colorful self.

"I didn't mean for you to stop," he quipped as the crowd began to sit at his first "thank you" from its standing ovation as he was introduced. "I was just saying thanks."

He talked about the progress made in year one and the challenges of year two. He said it was amazing how the attitudes changed during the course of that first season.

"We had three players who graduated (Todd Abernethy, Bam Doyne, Clarence Sanders)," he said. "Nobody thought they were very good before last season. Now everybody wants to know how we're going to replace them."

He didn't get specific on those replacements but said they'd try.

"I have a great staff that is helping us build this program and compete for a national championship. If that is not our goal," he said as he's said many times, "then we're wasting our time. We've just taken the first step. We've still got a long way to go."

Coach O was last. The head football coach always goes last. Well, maybe not at Kentucky. Ed Orgeron was excited and confident that the Rebels will be an improved team this season.

"We've got to win those close games," he said. The Rebels lost to Alabama and LSU, both on the road, by three in OT, to Georgia by five, and to Auburn by six.

"We'll put the best quarterback on the field that will help us win games," he said. He added that Seth Adams had the best spring and that Michael Herrick and Brent Schaeffer will have to beat out Seth to win the job. He mentioned Billy Tapp is back at QB. He said he likes the competition in the mix for the QB spot, that it's good for the team.

He mentioned that Josh Shene would be improved in the PK department, and that Rob Park was back as the punter, although he said the door was open as far as the punting situation.

He mentioned the fact that the Rebels have 19 commitments at this point and that his staff is dominating the state of Mississippi and will continue to do so, which obviously drew a nice round of applause.

He said the O-Line averaged 270 when he arrived. This year it will average around 320.

He expects Ted Laurent and Chris Strong to be in camp but not A.J. Jackson and doesn't think he will enroll this year.

He said he loves his staff and introduced the ones there – Hugh Freeze, Art Kehoe, Dan Werner, Tony Hughes, and John Thompson.

At the request of a fan from Hattiesburg, Coach O led a rousing Hotty Toddy to wind things up.

That's what these type events are all about – information, enthusiasm, and building some excitement toward the football season and beyond. Tuesday night, that was clearly the case.

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