Managing The Program

Mike Bianco has been evaluating things with his baseball program since the end of the season three weeks ago. He's taken a long, hard look at all areas.

That's not unusual. As a matter of fact, it's the norm.

"We always re-evaluate at the end of the year," he said.

Much has been made among some in the Rebel Nation that there could potentially be some shifting of the coaching staff. After all, with Rob Reinstetle's departure from the staff back in December, there was a lot of movement then that could have been looked upon as a short-term situation given the timing.

Not so, said Bianco. Carl Lafferty, Matt Mossberg, and Rob Francis were his guys then and are his guys now.

"I would not do anything temporary for this program. I did what I did in (December, 2009) with purpose," he said last week. "I think too much of this program and have invested too much time and energy over the last ten years to think anything, especially a month away from the season, should be temporary."

Bianco does not agree with those who felt it was a bad time to make hires, since it came after the first semester of the school year.

"If you're talking about hiring or doing different things like that, even though it was the middle of the year, we're Ole Miss and a lot of people would want to come work here," he said. "Even though it's in the middle of the (school) year, I don't think that hampered me. If there's an implication I could have gotten somebody and didn't do it because it was so close to the season, no."

Bianco making a pitching change

But he knows full well things didn't go this past season as he had hoped, for a number of reasons. The 39-24 final record and falling short at an NCAA Regional on the road isn't the standard at Ole Miss anymore.

"The truth is, there are some things we still need to do to rectify with what happened this year," he said. "As I told Pete (Boone), when you evaluate everything, it's more than recruiting. It is recruiting but there are a lot of different factors. I think the culmination of those factors caused us not to be successful in several areas this year.

"We want to upgrade the recruiting, and we want to do a better job coaching the hitters and coaching the pitchers. There's such a fine line in the Southeastern Conference between being good and being bad. This year, we were on the line. The line is very thin, and rarely can you be on the line. Fortunately the last ten years, we've been on the good part of that line eight or nine times. This year, depending on how you want to look at it, was the glass half empty or half full? I would be the first to admit, the expectations in this program are very high. But they're high because we drove them there, because we want them there. We've never run from the expectations.

"This year we didn't meet the expectations, there's no doubt about that. We weren't good enough this year for Ole Miss baseball."

Bianco said he understands the situation, understands what the problems were, and has gone about making sure they are fixed.

As he heads into his 11th season in Oxford, Bianco said some things will change, but a lot will stay the same. He will still be as involved in all aspects as ever, maybe more.

"It's the way that I learned to coach," he said. "There are different management styles, there are different coaching philosophies. There are coaches who don't have a pitching background, so they let somebody handle the pitches solely. There are people who only know pitching, so they let somebody else run the offense. Fortunately for me with my background of being a catcher and being with the pitchers and working in the system under Coach (Skip) Bertman, that's how he did it.

"The only thing different that I do than what we did as I grew up as an assistant, I actually give the signals physically to the hitters and the baserunners, as opposed to giving them to a (assistant) coach and for him to give the signals," Bianco continued. "This is how I learned. This is our system. I coached third base (as an assistant), but I didn't tell them when to steal. He (Bertman) told me when to tell them to steal. Or when to bunt or when to take or when to hit and run and those things.

Bianco making a point

"Really, we did that at the beginning when I was here. We switched because I was not happy with the flow of the offense in 2004. I was watching a Super Regional with Andy Lopez who I really respect, the former coach at Florida who is at Arizona. He was doing both. From the dugout he was giving the pitching signals and the offensive signals. I said I can do that, and I've done it ever since then. This is what I know. It looks like I'm doing everything, and I think that's unfair to the other coaches on the staff. And they would argue that. If you come to one of our practices, you would see I don't do everything. But I am very hands on."

Bianco said he believes the best way for any head coach to run things is to know everything about a program and to be totally involved in it all. He believes fans want a coach who is so involved.

"As far as being a micro-manager, I think that's just a perception," he said. "I think it's a good managerial philosophy to know what's going on in everything that happens. So I know what's going on as far as the marketing and I know what's going on as far as the business and our budget. I think those are good things. I'm not doing anything different now than when I got here in the summer of 2000. If anything, I'm probably doing a little less.

"So when people say that I do that, I think they just look at the game and see me doing the signals and things like that and say he's doing it all. But I'm not coaching that guy how to hit. I'm making comments to Matt (Mossberg), just like I'm sure if Coach (Houston) Nutt doesn't like the way we're covering a receiver, I'm sure he's going to talk to Tyrone Nix on Sunday when they review the tape and say what can we do to make things better? To me it's all about communicating, and that's what I've always done here."

Bianco said he absolutely listens to his assistants, and they in return listen to him. It's all a part of the communication within his program.

"No doubt I allow their input," he said. "It's the system that I played in. It's the system that we brought here. Coach (Skip) Bertman did that when I was there. I coached the pitchers, but so did he. Carl (Lafferty) has done a terrific job here. So you get some of that because it looks like I'm doing everything. Do I allow their input? No doubt. Because I'm not with those (players) all the time. So there's a lot of communication."

But Bianco insists that as far as making sure the program has Omaha within its grasp, as it has many seasons he's been here, he knows there is more he can do.

"When I evaluate this year and how we can improve, one of the things I'm disappointed in myself is that I wasn't even more hands on myself," he said. "I should have been more involved and wasn't."

Some of that is because there was indeed transition the past six months that couldn't be avoided.

"Carl becoming the recruiting coordinator and the pitching coach, that's something we've never really done here," Bianco said. "Matt became the hitting coach, and in our energy and enthusiasm to try to become a better offense, we neglected some things and got away from some of the things we've always done here. Not because the philosophy was different. It was because, and speaking to Matt, it was my fault and I should have said we're straying a bit from what we do, the basis and foundation of our offensive system. When we met on Monday before the Regional (at Virginia), we said we've got to do something."

10 years of success with his system

That was when the Rebel offense was as inept as it had been in a long time.

"We tried to go back and do things the way we used to do them," Bianco said. "We weren't getting good swings off. We didn't look aggressive. We did not do the type of things that made us what we were earlier in the decade. In Matt's passion to be in this system as a player and an assistant coach and to watch, like we all do, and say if I ever become the hitting coach I want to do this or that, it was tough to do coming in three weeks before the season.

"Here's a program that used to attack the fastball. Here's a program that used to be very aggressive. We swung differently and we swung aggressively and we brought this attitude about being offensive. We didn't have that this year."

So rather than wholesale changes as far as philosophy or coaching, Bianco looks back. Way back to the early part of the decade when the Rebels made their move and laid the foundation to become one of the SEC's best programs year in and year out.

"You go back to that. Everybody wants to hear we're changing something, like in football we're going to the spread or we're bringing in a wide-open, fast-break offense. Everybody wants to hear something like that. We tried to tweak a little bit this year, but at times we got away from what we do. And when we started to struggle, we kept getting further and further away from what we do offensively.

"When it's 1-0 and a guy throws a fastball, we don't hit it. We don't get a good swing off. We were very tentative, unsure. There were too many at-bats that looked like the guy was throwing 95 and he's throwing a great curve ball and he's really not. There were too many at-bats that looked like we were 0-2 and were actually 2-0 and we should be getting good swings off but we're not. We're either not swinging or we're fouling it off or we're getting a weak swing.

"And that's not us. We've never been like that."

So how do they fix it? Without delving into so many of the ins and outs and technicalities of it all, the veteran head coach said it will indeed get fixed.

"Part of it is to go back to who we are and what we do as a basis of the program," Bianco said. "Again, that's going to get too technical now. But we got away from our offensive system this season, and we are already working to correct that."

(Editor's Note: It has been learned Director of Baseball Operations Justin Dedman will not return. That position is now open.)

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