Kennedy Leaves Ole Miss Better Than He Found It

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By Brian Scott Rippee,

One of the first things Andy Kennedy said on Monday afternoon following the announcement that he would step down at the end of next season is that he felt a sense of calmness and peace about this imminent reality. 

Last Saturday afternoon in the hours before Ole Miss lost 82-66 to LSU in Baton Rouge for its 5th consecutive defeat, Kennedy got the opportunity to catch up with former LSU head coach and current Tiger radio broadcaster John Brady, a man who has known, supported and mentored Kennedy since he was in high school. 

Brady asked Kennedy if he was alright, knowing the weight of a disappointing season can carry. That's when Kennedy realized there was an "ominous cloud" forming over his future and the future of the program. He woke up Sunday morning with a sense of conviction that it needed to be addressed. After a conversation with Vice Chancellor for Collegiate Athletics Ross Bjork, a decision was reached that this season would be Kennedy's last in Oxford.

"The thing I love about Andy, he is a realist," Bjork said. "He is not afraid of expectations. He is not afraid of reality... We met again on Friday and discussed the last few weeks of this season and then he called me on Sunday and said he was ready to step down at the end of the season. We both agreed it was best for the program.

These final six games of the season will mark the end of a remarkable 12-year-run in which Kennedy brought stability to a program that had never felt consistent success. He arrived in 2006 to an old, gloomy office inside an outdated building in which the team practiced and played its games in. He'll leave behind a 51,000 square foot practice facility and a $96 million arena.

If those two buildings aren't enough of an indicator of Kennedy's remarkable success, his on-court accolades speak pretty loudly as well. He's the all-time winningest coaching in program history and is responsible for a quarter of Ole Miss' NCAA Tournament appearances. Kennedy compiled nine 20-win seasons in his tenure. In the 96 years before his arrival, the Rebels had a total of seven. He owns a winning recorder over 10 of 13 SEC schools and only two SEC schools have won more games than Ole Miss during Kennedy's tenure-- Florida and Kentucky. It's worth noting that while the Rebels sit third in the SEC in wins in the Kennedy era, its resources and assistant-coaching salary pool rank towards the bottom.

Ole Miss Basketball looks a lot different both internally and externally now than it did a dozen years ago. Kennedy laid a foundation for success at Ole Miss and faced an uphill battle the majority of the way.  He no longer feels that's the case and thinks the program is ready to take the next step forward. He raised expectations amongst the fans and that is part of what led to this crossroads.

The only mention of regret was that he won't be the guy to help the Rebels make that leap.

"The landscape has changed and I think, honestly, the foundation is set. It is ready to take that next step.," Kennedy said. "I am regretful that I couldn't get it there, but I am also accountable for that. I want to see it get there and I think that it can."

Kennedy has always been honest, up front and self-aware about things, and that is largely what drove this decision to happen now. He felt as if it was becoming a distraction for his players and the program and that a sense of tangible sense of clarity regarding the future was the only way to address that. 

"I have always prided myself on being direct and being accountable and with that I would like to address this ominous cloud that seems to be hanging over this program," Kennedy said as he opened the press conference. "I woke up Sunday morning with a true conviction that there needed to be some clarity as it pertains the future of Ole Miss Basketball."

Bjork spoke about what is next for the program is it tries to take that next jump forward and acknowledged some things will need to be addressed in order for that to happen.

"We are going to ask donors to invest in this program," Bjork said. "That is obviously resources, money, we now that the salary pool needs to be increased. We are going to look at what the market is telling us. Money is a part of it, but also mentality. We need our fans to continue to make this a home court atmosphere.

Kennedy took the program on quite a ride and one of the benefits of going in this direction in Mid-February is the ability to reflect on his 12-year journey over the final weeks of the season.

"Whether he likes it or not, we will walk down memory lane these next few weeks and thank him," Bjork said. "He deserves that."

Kennedy won 21 games in his first season in Oxford and posted 11 straight winning seasons after Ole Miss had endured four consecutive losing seasons before his arrival. He was a two-time SEC Coach of the Year and won an SEC title as part of a 27 win season in 2013.  

He reached the the NCAA Tournament twice with the help of some prolific scorers in Marshall Henderson and Stefan Moody, along with the school's all-time leading shot blocker in Reginald Buckner and all-time leading rebounder Murphy Holloway. Those were exciting and entertaining teams that helped the program reach one of its highest peaks of success, with Kennedy's vibrant personality and sharp sense of humor at the helm.

When asked if he would like to coach next season, Kennedy didn't want to venture too far into the future and his joking nature surfaced once more.

"I would like to coach today," Kennedy said. "I am going to coach today. Ross just made me put a jacket on."

He didn't want to reflect on the past on this day either, but said there will be a time and a place for that. Whenever that moment is for Kennedy, whenever it is he does decide to take a moment to look back on his 12-year run, it will consist of mostly fond memories of a run of consistent success that hadn't been achieved before, making that sense of peace easier to maintain.

"I have been truly blessed to have the opportunity to be a head coach in the Southeastern Conference in my home state for 12 years," Kennedy said. "That is a true blessing, this I know."

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    Tiffany J. Moore said:

    This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!

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    Fiftyyears fan said:

    How can you have five straight top 25 recruiting classes and look as bad as Ole Miss has this year. Easy lack of coaching fundamentals. Look at Mason at Vandy, nothing but 2 and 3 star recruits out of high school and he developers players that want to win. Hugh freeze has 3, 4 & 5 recruits and he expects them to win because of what they were in High School. Mr. Freeze you have not been teaching the fundamentals of football or winning in life. Mr. Freeze you have quit on your players because you have some false expectations of what they are instead of what you can develop in them. Either do your job or quit. Oh yea, please quit running your smoke and mirrors offense, everyone has figured it out. Run a physical offense that can open up holes for your running backs and then your pass attack want require 12 are 14 four and five star receivers. Mr. Freeze you have problems and you need to know that you are not smarter than the rest of the coaches in the SEC.

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    Karen Holden said:

    Not every pass can be caught. Too low, too short whatever. Not every Kelly pass is perfect. Records were broken by receivers also. But they sre not going to catch every ball thrown. The loss to Auburn was not one players fault. You win or lose as a team.

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    Trent browning said:

    Hey I was just wandering if these are the only 2 olemiss players signing. If there are more signing please respond to me ASAP. Also wondering if neil everett will sign any autographs. Thank you very much

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