Ole Miss has higher aspirations in men’s basketball than what it achieved under Andy Kennedy.
Therefore the Rebels are parting ways with their all-time winningest coach even though there is a good chance his successor won’t be as successful as he was.
Kennedy is expected to announce at a Monday afternoon news conference that he will step down at the end of the season. He will leave underappreciated for what he accomplished at a school with hardly any history of basketball success.
In 12 seasons as Ole Miss coach, Kennedy is 245-154 with nine 20-win seasons, six appearances in the NIT and two NCAA tournament bids. Entering this season, only perennial titans Kentucky and Florida won more SEC games during Kennedy’s tenure than Ole Miss did.
That track record might not get fans in Lexington, Chapel Hill or Lawrence excited, but Ole Miss doesn’t have the resources most power-conference schools possess.
For the first decade of his Ole Miss tenure, Kennedy’s team played in the Tad Smith Coliseum, a 50-year-old arena so obsolete that he was reticent to show it to recruits. The university finally built a practice facility in 2010 and opened a new arena in 2016, but modern facilities can only do so much to boost a program with no obvious recruiting base.
Ole Miss is often second to Mississippi State for top in-state prospects and the Rebels struggle to pry Memphis players away from the hometown Tigers or other schools that recruit the city. It’s simply tough to sell decorated prospects on coming to a program with five NCAA tournament victories and one Sweet 16 in its entire history.
Kennedy’s tenure peaked from 2013-2015 when Ole Miss snagged a pair of NCAA tournament bids behind stars Marshall Henderson, Stefan Moody and Jarvis Summers, but the Rebels have fallen back in the SEC pecking order more recently. They fell a few wins short of the NCAA tournament the past two seasons before staggering to an 11-14 overall record this season and a 4-8 mark in a vastly improved SEC.
With its program having plateaued, its new arena drawing sparse crowds and its fanbase ready for a change, it’s understandable that Ole Miss appears to have decided that it’s time for a fresh start. The Rebels have a right to expect a return on the investment that they made by opening their new facilities.
Even so, Ole Miss should pay attention to what has happened at schools like Wake Forest and Pittsburgh after they forced out successful coaches.
Wake Forest fired Dino Gaudio in 2010 after back-to-back early NCAA tournament exits. The Demon Deacons have landed one NCAA bid since then.
Pittsburgh nudged Jamie Dixon out the door in 2016 after the program descended from Final Four contention to merely making the NCAA tournament most years. The Panthers are now winless in the ACC in their second season under Kevin Stallings.
There’s pressure on Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork to make a shrewd hire so that the Rebels avoid that same fate.
Otherwise they may have a hard time matching the consistent success they achieved during Kennedy’s seldom spectacular but always solid tenure.
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