Heading Toward Football

Not too many years ago there was quite a bit of time between July 4 and things like SEC Media Days. That event in Birmingham begins two weeks from today. Ole Miss is on stage Friday, July 23.

Good thing football is here. It's been a stormy June and early July. Most of the major news, until three football commitments were added on Independence Day, was Mike Bianco's baseball program, the making of a mascot, and Pete Boone. Pat Patterson's dismissal, although negative news, gets some football talk going.

The Spirit's message boards are a place to go to discuss a variety of topics. These three - Bianco's program, the mascot, and Boone - were far and away the most prominent.

It is good football season is almost here. We do need practices and games.

The last baseball game was June 6 in Charlottesville. You've read and heard what Bianco and staff are doing to fix some things to make sure the program is among the nation's elite where it's been for most of a decade. Twelve teams have been to NCAA Regionals the past eight years. Ole Miss is one of them.

The Rebels have hosted Regionals five of the last seven years, been in Super Regionals four of the last six years, hosted super Regionals three of the last six years, and have the winningest SEC record the past six seasons combined. That's 104-76 in league games. (In case you're wondering, MSU is 12th at 64-111.)

Ole Miss fans have vaulted the program to top three in the nation in attendance the past two seasons, and top five in the country the two seasons before that. For those numbers to stay there, things have to improve on the field. And they need to get to Omaha. The coaches have set about doing that.

The next couple of seasons appear to be important for a lot of reasons. There's a lot of "what have you done for me lately?" involved. Even though 2009 was arguably the best yet, with a Super Regional host and an SEC crown, this year was a step back. They've admitted it was a struggle and you witnessed it.

From the end of baseball we moved full speed ahead into mascot month. Whether June and July are supposed to be that, we've lived it.

It's been a pleasure to see the way the students have gone about the situation. It should give you hope for Ole Miss' future. They've handled it better than some of those older in Rebel fandom.

Phase III now ends and Phase IV begins. "The best ideas will be selected and will be sent to an artist to develop artwork." That's the description of Phase IV on the Ole Miss mascot website. Phase V will be this, according to the site: "Artist renderings will be returned and reviewed by the Mascot Selection Committee."

Then Phase VI: Students, Faculty/Staff, Alumni Association members and season ticket holders will be polled again and these results will be made public.

(In other words, you'll get another chance to have your say soon.)

Then Phase VII: A decision will be made based upon poll results and a mascot will be selected.

After having two meetings with the co-chairs of the mascot selection committee, Ty New of Olive Branch and Margaret Ann Morgan of McComb, and after viewing the terrific explanation video on mascot.olemiss.edu website (also on YouTube entitled "A message from the Rebel Mascot Selection Committee"), you should be proud of the way these Ole Miss students have gone about this thing.

They've approached it just the opposite so many others appear to have – that it's a significant charge they've been given and they want to have a positive impact on Ole Miss' future.

"We're just so focused on what we're trying to do right now," Morgan said. "We're trying not to get intimidated by the whole project, because it's obviously a big deal. It's going to impact (Ole Miss) for a long time. We want to create something that's long-lasting for the University. It is exciting."

"Of the (final 11 choices), we were talking the other day about one of those being it," New said. "It's definitely ground-breaking stuff we're involved with."

And then there's Pete Boone. Just finished his 12th year as AD over two tenures (four years the first time; eight years currently), Pete was hired when Ole Miss sports was at one of its darkest hours of the post-Vaught years. Probation and massive scholarship reductions were announced when he got here, and the road back appeared bleak.

There was the loss of 24 football scholarships over two seasons including bowl and TV bans (don't see the latter anymore, not with the contracts of today). Those made the sanctions, according to the NCAA rep we listened to via teleconference 16 years ago, the most severe handed out since SMU got death for two years in the mid-1980s.

The Mustangs have never recovered. Ole Miss has. It hasn't been easy, and there've been mistakes along the way.

Pete was hired to right a ship in troubled waters and began the process right away. If you look around, there's been a lot done, especially with facilities. But much more is needed. Except for video boards, ribbon boards and new turf, Vaught-Hemingway is essentially the same as it was eight seasons ago. The SEC landscape won't allow that to remain the case for long.

The deficiencies of Tad Smith Coliseum as compared to other SEC and NCAA basketball venues need not be pointed out. You've seen them, heard about them, and read about them for years. There has to be a plan for the future home of basketball games, and soon.

Pete won't retire from Ole Miss having been known as a guy who could deliver a speech with evangelical fervor. He knows that, and I think he's comfortable letting his head coaches in public forums and the players on the field and courts do that.

When he retires, he won't be known as the people's AD. Too many fans made up their mind long ago.

However long he remains, it's up to him to make sure Ole Miss is set for the next AD in all areas. And really it's up to supporters to be on board. Otherwise Ole Miss suffers.

You have to make up your own minds whether you'll back Bianco's program, get behind the efforts of Margaret Ann and Ty and the others working on the mascot project, and support Pete's efforts. Most of you will.

For some, it's a tough call on any of the three. My thoughts? Try to keep the main thing the main thing.

And that's Ole Miss.

And on one thing we can all agree. We need some football games soon, or at least preseason practice to begin.

It won't be long now.

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