I don't believe in "now or never" scenarios when it comes to athletics.
That's too extreme because in this arena almost anything can be corrected or changed, and, as we saw yesterday, overnight it seems. It may take years to overcome some things, but that's not "never."
But what Ole Miss is faced with now, after the sudden dismissal of Ed Orgeron after his third dismal year at the helm of the Rebel program, is very close to now or never.
No, I'm not an alarmist, but it is very apparent to me that another "mistake" cannot be made in hiring a new leader for the football program.
Our leaders know it. While the term "pressure" is a bit harsh, they - AD Pete Boone and Chancellor Robert Khayat and whoever else become the "players" in this deal - know the importance of the right hire.
Why is this one any different than any of the others? Why is it more critical?
It doesn't take a lot of brainpower to figure that out, but I'll list my thoughts just for the heck of it.
One, the fan base is splintered, fractured and withdrawing support in the form of less ticket sales yearly. Support means dollars. Dollars mean being able to do business in a highly-competitive market. Without a unifying, dynamic, exciting, universally-accepted hire - the kind that makes the hair on your neck stand up, the fan base will approach how they spend their money with continued skepticism. It costs a lot of money to "support" and if fans feel their dollars are not being well-spent, they will find elsewhere to spend it.
Two, our leaders have done so much for this university. You can see it everywhere. Virtually everything is thriving - except the bell cow, the face, the passion of Ole Miss, the football program. As Khayat told me yesterday morning standing outside the shiny, new athletic department, "Everything is fantastic, except our football program." His eyes sunk because he understands how big an "except" that is. "I don't want to overstate this, but a losing football program affects thousands of people here (Ole Miss), in Oxford, in Lafayette County and in Mississippi. We have to do whatever we have to do to fix it."
Three, for some reason I have never been able to completely figure out - it just is what it is - a large portion of Ole Miss alumni and fans draw a big portion of their esteem and pride in their school on what their Rebels are doing on the football field. It's like that at other schools as well, but it is certainly prevalent here. While some will suggest it's not that big a deal, it is in these parts and to minimize it is not looking at the truth of the matter.
Four, I know nobody wants to hear this, but I'm going to say it anyway. Ole Miss is not Tennessee or LSU in regards to resources. If they lose 5,000 supporters, there are 10,000 waiting in the wings to buy those tickets and give that lost revenue. Our biggest asset is our people, but when it's watered down by dissension it becomes our biggest liability. Our togetherness and single-minded purpose is the only way to survive in our situation. Before anyone goes off the deep end, I am not suggesting anyone is better than us or that we fight an uphill battle or we can't win or we can't do better. On the contrary, I think we are the best and can do anything anyone else can, but we have to understand what our resources are and act accordingly. Our strength is our people - unified and in lock step. The new hire has to get us back to that mindset.
Five, we have everything in place for someone to succeed here in a day and age when there is a facilities arm's race going on everywhere. For the first time in my lifetime, we can look at our bricks and mortar and not take a back seat to anyone. Our IPF is still new enough to draw awed looks from recruits. Our Fed Ex Academic Center is second to none. Our new athletic department is absolutely state-of-the-art. Our stadium needs a few things - a real jumbotron to replace our outdated minitron would be a good start - but those are on the way. Our whole football plant is under one roof, so to speak, with the stadium, IPF, practice fields, coaches offices, meeting rooms, training center and academic center being within a stone's throw of each other. There is nothing any of our competitors can offer that is glaringly better than what we can offer, period. But we have to take advantage of that window of opportunity now. The Floridas of the world will not sit still with facilities. While ours are equal or better, we have to make hay now so we can generate more money and stay abreast with their ilk. We cannot afford to lag behind like we did 10-20-30 years ago again. The catching up process takes too long once you are behind. We have to capitalize on what we have now so we can continue to stay on equal footing in the future.
Six, there's no excuse not to be good in football. We have everything a student-athlete could need or want, we have good budgets for coaches to operate under, we play in arguably the best conference in America and we have the tools for a good coach to succeed. If there is not success, in my opinion, it's because the wrong person is in charge.
To me, the importance of this hire cannot be measured. The right one is a must. This one cannot be an "experiment" or a "training ground" hire. It's got to make us shiver and make our opponents raise their eyebrows in disbelief. It's got to make a strong statement about our intentions to compete and, as Khayat says, "not accept mediocrity."
So, maybe pressure is the right word as to the task ahead for Boone and Khayat, who said he'll try to stay out of it, but I dont' see how he can, truthfully.
It's still very early in the process, but I have been assured by both that they will not rush the deal, they understand what is at stake and they know they cannot afford another miscue.
Neinas Sports Services was contacted last night to consult in the search. Chuck Neinas helped connect the dots with Florida to Urban Meyer, Georgia to Mark Richt, Les Miles to LSU, Dennis Erickson to Arizona State, Bobby Johnson to Vanderbilt and many, many other happy coach-school marriages.
I think that is a prudent move.
Lots of names are being tossed around by fans. Some are valid, some are not. Boone is starting files and making contacts as you read this on Sunday afternoon.
Pete and Robert understand the urgency and importance of getting this right for the future "harmony" of the fan base and the general health and well-being of the university as a whole.
They say they have the resources to get the right guy and are willing to spend what is necessary when that guy surfaces.
They know they will be held accountable.
It's not "now or never," but they know that threshold is just around the corner.
They have been challenged from many different angles.
Now it's your turn to accept a challenge.
For the sake of the future of Ole Miss football, put Ed Orgeron, David Cutcliffe, Tommy Tuberville, Billy Brewer and Johnny Vaught in your rearview mirror. With all due respect to all of them, their time is done.
Rehashing those programs will not change a thing and will only be a cause for more splintering.
It's not "now or never" for the fan base either, but we are staring that in the face as well if we don't approach the new coach with a different mindset and leave the past behind.
That's the only chance the new guy will have.
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