September 29, 2011
At some point in the midst of Ole Miss' ongoing, eight-game SEC losing streak, a handful of UM fans decided what's really holding the Rebels back isn't geography, resources or a 48-year-drought since their last conference title. It's not even head coach Houston Nutt, not really. It's the guy who hired him: Athletic director Pete Boone, who also hired Nutt's oft-mocked predecessor, Ed Orgeron, after presiding over the firing of Ole Miss' most successful coach in decades, David Cutcliffe. A group calling itself Forward Rebels! has taken out full-page ads in local newspapers after each of the Rebels' last two losses declaring "The Ole Miss Administration is the problem," a sentiment that spread to the home crowd Saturday during an ugly, 27-13 loss to Georgia.
But according to a letter e-mailed across campus this morning by chancellor Dan Jones, the campaign has gone a lot further — and gotten a lot nastier — than a few slogans:
Dear Ole Miss Family,
The Ole Miss Creed begins: "The University of Mississippi is a community of learning dedicated to nurturing excellence in intellectual inquiry and personal character in an open and diverse environment. As a voluntary member of this community, I believe in respect for the dignity of each person; I believe in fairness and civility."
These words say a lot about who we are as a university family. ... These words represent important Ole Miss values. Robust debates and disagreements always have taken place at institutions such as Ole Miss. The current controversy in athletics has gone beyond that.
Many are aware of anonymous, malicious and public attacks on athletics director Pete Boone. The Ole Miss family may not be aware, however, that as a part of this orchestrated campaign, I have received threats, promising that if I do not remove Pete Boone, "It is going to get real ugly," and threatening to expand the attacks to other athletics employees.
Whatever else you have to say about Houston Nutt, you have to give him this: His presence in any football-obsessed state always makes for great press.
Jones' reaction to the "threats": He's not going to give the thugs the satisfaction. "I will not react," he wrote. "I cannot and will not engage in any sort of review in response to a public campaign" against Boone or Nutt, at the risk (or so Jones says) of threatening the university's accreditation on top of (or so Jones says) his personal sense of professionalism. Have you no decency, sirs?
The chancellor's stand for civility is an admirable, and one that frankly seems a lot easier to make in September than it will in a month or two at the current rate. As it stands, even rebounding Saturday at Fresno State is looking like a long shot (the Bulldogs are 3½-point favorites); after that, it's a bye week ahead of consecutive dates with Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn, all likely losses. If bowl eligibility is already off the table by the time Ole Miss goes to Kentucky on Nov. 5, anonymous lurkers who apparently still read print newspapers aren't going to be the only ones leaning on Jones to make a change. When the guys with bank accounts start picking up the phone, their "campaign" tends to move to the top of the agenda.