When Ole Miss named Mike Bianco as head coach of the Rebel baseball program on June 7, 2000, it was with an air of excitement as Ole Miss fans looked to see the Rebels return to prominence.
In the 13 seasons since taking the reins of the program, Bianco has delivered on that expectation as Ole Miss Baseball has become one of the nation's benchmark programs. With 11 post-season appearances in 13 years, including hosting four-straight Regionals from 2004-2007 and playing in four Super Regionals over the past nine years, Ole Miss has continued to rank among the nation's elite each season under Bianco.
The Rebels posted three straight 40-win seasons from 2005-2007 for the first time in school history and have averaged 40 wins a year over the last decade. Ole Miss has also hosted an NCAA Regional five of the last 10 years and advanced to a Super Regional four of the last nine years.
Bianco has also led the Rebels to championships as Ole Miss won the Western Division Title in 2005 and followed that up a year later with the 2006 SEC Tournament Championship. In 2009, the Rebels claimed the overall SEC Championship with a school record 20 wins in conference play.
On the field, Bianco has established a tradition of developing some of the nation's top players as the Rebels have seen a combined 22 selections to All-America and Freshman All-America teams over the past 13 seasons. The most recent additions to the list of All-Americans were junior catcher Stuart Turner and junior right-hander Bobby Wahl following the 2013 season. Turner also was named the Johnny Bench Award winner as the top collegiate catcher in the nation.
The excellence produced on the field has not gone unnoticed over the last 13 seasons under Bianco as the Rebels have seen 75 draft picks by Major League Baseball in that time. Of those 75 draft selections, seven were active in the Major Leagues in 2013.
Bianco's on-field accomplishments have been recognized nationally, as the Rebel skipper was selected to serve as an assistant coach with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team in the summer of 2013.
He also became the all-time winningest coach in Ole Miss history when he passed Rebel legend Jake Gibbs with his 486th win on March 9, 2013 against Lipscomb in non-conference action.
The excitement on the field has spilled over into the stands where fans of Ole Miss Baseball have taken notice and shown their appreciation. Each season under Bianco, attendance has soared as more and more fans clamor to fill Oxford-University Stadium. That frenzy has been characterized as one of the best atmospheres in baseball.
Attendance figures have been shattered with a record 273,000 fans packing the park in 2009 to see the Rebels play. The 2013 season marked the ninth consecutive season that more than 160,000 fans have come to Oxford to see Ole Miss in action, and the 10th straight year with more than 120,000 fans flocking to O-U Stadium to watch Rebel baseball. All-told, more than two million fans have poured into O-U Stadium to cheer on the Rebels during the Bianco era. In 2011, the Rebels ranked second nationally with an average of 8,156 fans per game at Swayze Field, and that trend has continued with the Rebels ranking in the top five nationally for seven consecutive seasons.
With the success on the field and support in the stands, Oxford has evolved into a top destination for fans of postseason baseball under Bianco as the Rebels hosted four straight NCAA Regionals and two Super Regionals from 2004-2007. Ole Miss posted the largest crowds for any NCAA Super Regional in 2005 and 2006 and posted the highest attendance of any NCAA Regional in 2006. The 2005 NCAA Regional in Oxford drew the second-largest crowd among all Regionals.
When the Rebels hosted again in 2009 at the newly renovated Oxford-University Stadium, new attendance marks were again set as the Rebels hosted the largest crowd in school history as 10,323 fans came to see the Rebels take on Virginia in game two of the Super Regional. All told, 29,646 fans came to the Super Regional, making it the most attended Super Regional of the season and the highest attendance for a Super Regional at an on-campus facility in NCAA history.
That single-game attendance record was broken again when 10,851 fans showed up to support the Rebels against Vanderbilt on April 6, 2013 to set a new attendance mark for Swayze Field.
On Monday, June 13, 2005, the Rebels' Super Regional game against eventual national champion Texas was the third most watched television broadcast of a college baseball game in the history of ESPN. It's further evidence that under Mike Bianco, Ole Miss Baseball has truly become a national name.
OLE MISS ENTERS A NEW ERA
Since Bianco took the helm of the program 13 years ago, he has raised the bar for expectations at Ole Miss with each successive season.
After being picked to finish sixth in the SEC Western Division in his first season, the Rebels defied expectations, finishing second in the SEC Western Division with a 17-13 record and an overall record of 39-23-1. The 39 wins was then one shy of the school record for a single season, while the 17 conference wins tied the school record at the time.
Ole Miss would rise in the national spotlight that season, breaking into the top 10 in the national rankings for the first time since the 1972 season. The Rebels closed out the year with a trip to the NCAA Regional in New Orleans as the No. 2 seed.
Four Rebels earned spots as All-SEC selections on either the first or second team, while outfielder Burney Hutchinson earned second team All-America honors from Baseball Weekly. It would be the beginning of a steady climb to the top for Ole Miss.
The Rebels again found themselves in the national spotlight in the 2002 season as Ole Miss climbed as high as No. 6 in the national rankings following a series win at then No. 2 Alabama. It was the highest national ranking for the Rebels since finishing the 1969 season ranked No. 6 by Collegiate Baseball. Ole Miss would also see its first Freshman of the Year in the SEC as outfielder Seth Smith earned the honor from the league.
The 2003 season again saw Ole Miss in the postseason as Ole Miss earned a berth in the Houston Regional. Bianco's Rebels, led by a pitching staff that saw five freshmen throw more than 60 percent of the innings on the season and led the SEC in ERA at 3.45 for the year, hit the 35-win mark for the third straight season on the way to the postseason. The appearance in the NCAA Regional was the second in three years for Bianco's program and only the fourth for Ole Miss since the 1977 season.
One member of that pitching staff, two-way player Stephen Head, would be named SEC Freshman of the Year and also named national Freshman of the Year along with All-America honors.
The groundwork was laid for the future as the Rebels would reach even greater heights in the coming years.
BACK-TO-BACK SEASONS OF FIRSTS
Ole Miss set the stage for the move to the next level in 2004 as the Rebels earned another berth in the postseason, marking the first time in program history that Ole Miss would reach an NCAA Regional in back-to-back seasons. But, things were different this time around.
Instead of heading on the road for the postseason in 2004, the Rebels were selected as one of the 16 host sites for an NCAA Regional. It was the first time Ole Miss had ever served as a Regional host, but it wouldn't be the last.
On the way to the postseason, Bianco's Rebels notched a school-record 18 wins in Southeastern Conference play on the way to an overall mark of 39-21. The Rebels were also ranked in all four of the major college baseball polls each week of the season, including eight total weeks in the top 10 in at least one of the polls. Ole Miss was in the top 10 for six-straight weeks from March 22- April 26, moving as high as fourth-nationally in the March 29 edition of the Collegiate Baseball rankings.
Stephen Head, now a sophomore, would earn All-America honors for the second-straight season, becoming the school's third two-time All-American in 2004. He also was named Co-Player of the Year in the SEC and was selected as one of five finalists for the 2004 Golden Spikes Award, amateur baseball's most prestigious award. It was the first time a Rebel player had ever been a finalist for the award. Head also brought home to Oxford the first "Boo" Ferriss Award, given to the top baseball player in the state of Mississippi.
Not satisfied with the accomplishments of the previous season, Ole Miss added to its list of firsts in 2005 as the Rebels built on its earlier success. The Rebels hosted a second-straight NCAA Regional and advanced to an NCAA Super Regional for the first time, playing host to the eventual national-champion Texas Longhorns. The Rebels broke the 40-win mark for the first time under Bianco, setting a school record with a 48-20 record on the season and claiming the SEC Western Division Championship.
Ole Miss also saw the second-straight "Boo" Ferriss Award come to Oxford when Brian Pettway was named as the award's recipient as well as being named an All-American for the first time in his career. He joined Stephen Head, who became the program's first-ever three-time All-American when he earned the distinction again in 2005.
CONTINUED CHAMPIONSHIPS AND SUCCESS
Not one to be content with the success of previous years, Bianco's Rebels used the achievements of 2005 to springboard into the 2006 season.
The Rebels posted a 44-22 record marking the first time in history that Ole Miss had turned in back-to-back 40-win seasons. Ole Miss also claimed the 2006 Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship on the way to hosting its third-consecutive NCAA Regional as well as a second-straight Super Regional against the Miami Hurricanes.
The Rebels would again see two players gain national recognition as Zack Cozart and Cody Satterwhite were named All-Americans and three Rebels would gain All-SEC honors.
With the conclusion of the 2006 season, Ole Miss found itself holding a spot as one of the top teams in the nation and atop the Southeastern Conference. The Rebels were the only team in the SEC to post a winning record in conference play each of the previous four seasons. Ole Miss also posted more wins in the SEC than any other program over the same time frame.
Ole Miss extended that streak in 2007 as the Rebels posted a fifth-straight winning season in SEC action and continued to lead the league in wins over the same time period with 86 conference wins over the previous five years. The Rebels also set a new mark with a third consecutive 40-win season as Ole Miss advanced to the Tempe Super Regional and posted a 40-25 mark on the year. The Rebels became one of only two schools to have hosted an NCAA Regional each of the previous four years and one of only four schools to have advanced to Super Regional play three-straight years.
Several players pulled in honors in 2007 as Ole Miss added a third SEC Freshman of the Year in Jordan Henry and Rebels took seven slots on All-SEC Teams. Cozart was named an All-SEC First Team selection, while Henry, Lance Lynn and Cody Satterwhite were named to the Second Team. Henry also joined Nathan Baker and Zach Miller on the All-Freshman team. The trio also pulled in Freshman All-America honors, marking the first time the Rebels earned the honor for three players in the same season.
The honors continued to come in for the Rebels in 2008 as Ole Miss advanced to a sixth-straight NCAA Regional, playing in Coral Gables at No. 1 Miami. The Rebels advanced to the Championship game before falling to the top-ranked and top-seeded Hurricanes. Scott Bittle brought home the program's third Ferriss Award as the state of Mississippi's top collegiate player and also earned First Team All-America honors.
Ole Miss continued to pull in the accolades in 2009 as the Rebels claimed the Southeastern Conference Championship for the first time since 1977 with a 20-10 record in conference play. The 20 wins set the school record for wins in SEC play and helped Ole Miss secure a seventh straight berth in the NCAA Tournament, hosting for the fifth time in Bianco's nine years. The Rebels advanced to an NCAA Super Regional for the fourth time in the last five seasons, becoming one of only six schools to advance to at least four Super Regionals in that time.
In 2010, the Rebels again made an appearance in the post-season with an eighth consecutive berth in an NCAA Regional at the University of Virginia. With the appearance, Ole Miss became one of only 12 schools nationally to advance to eight straight NCAA Tournaments. Left-hander Drew Pomeranz claimed SEC Pitcher of the Year honors, becoming the first Rebel to claim the award since its inception, and also garnered All-SEC and All-America honors. Right-hander Brett Huber also claimed post-season accolades as he was also named an All-SEC selection and earned Freshman All-America honors. Pomeranz became the highest draft pick in school history when he was taken fifth-overall by the Cleveland Indians and led a group of five Rebels drafted in 2010. The left-hander also became the fourth Rebel to claim the Ferriss Trophy, giving Ole Miss more winners of the award than any other program in the state.
In 2011, the Rebels continued to bring in post-season accolades as Alex Yarbrough was named an All-SEC selection. Ole Miss also continued the trend of sending Rebels to the pros with six players selected in the 2011 MLB Draft.
The 2012 season saw the Rebels advance to the NCAA Tournament for the 10th time in the Bianco era as Ole Miss advanced to the Regional Championship at the College Station Regional hosted by Texas A&M. The Rebels defeated the eighth-ranked Aggies on the way to the program's sixth Regional Championship game in an eight year span, a feat accomplished by only 15 teams nationally at the time. Yarbrough was tabbed as an All-SEC and All-America selection at the conclusion of the season and was one of six Rebels drafted in the 2012 MLB First Year Player Draft.
The 2013 season again saw the Rebels advance to the NCAA Tournament with a berth in the Raleigh Regional hosted by N.C. State after a 38-win season and advancing to the third day of play at the SEC Tournament. Stuart Turner and Bobby Wahl became the most recent All-SEC and All-America honorees, while Turner was named as the recipient of the Johnny Bench Award as the top collegiate catcher in the nation. Ole Miss also continued the trend of sending players to the professional ranks with five players drafted, marking the 10th consecutive season with at least five players taken in the MLB Draft.
EXCITEMENT LEADS TO RECORD CROWDS
Ole Miss' success on the diamond under Bianco has led to the Rebels being successful at the box office. Ole Miss has ranked among the nation's top 25 attendance leaders in all of Bianco's 13 seasons at Ole Miss. That streak also includes nine consecutive years ranked in the top 10.
Proof of the excitement and success surrounding Ole Miss Baseball can most clearly be seen when looking at the numbers. Ole Miss has gone from almost 60,000 fans coming to Oxford in the 2001 season to the record-shattering 273,111 fans that made the trek to Oxford to see Ole Miss play in 2009. That figure ranked second nationally in attendance. With more than 231,818 fans coming to Oxford in 2010, the Rebels ranked in the top three for attendance for the second straight season.
In 2011, the Rebels hosted 261,006 fans through 33 home contests, averaging 8,156 fans per contest. That total was second nationally as Ole Miss continued to rank among the nation's elite in attendance. The Rebels have maintained that trend, with a total of 239,099 fans coming to Oxford in the 2012 season and increased again to 239,909 fans in 2013 to put Ole Miss in the top five nationally once again when it comes to attendance.
Every one of the top 20 crowds at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field have come during Bianco's 13 years, including the largest crowd in program history when 10,851 came to see the Rebels play Vanderbilt on April 6, 2013.
In the 2005 season, 170,152 fans filled O-U Stadium, including 26,074 fans for the Rebels' three-game Super Regional with Texas. That number was shattered a year later with the more than 184,000 fans who traveled to Oxford in 2006, including another crowd of more than 26,000 for the Super Regional against Miami. The Rebels again shattered their post-season attendance record in 2009, when almost 30,000 fans attended the NCAA Super Regional against Virginia.
The Rebels have taken that crowd support and turned it into a distinct home field advantage. Ole Miss has won 72 percent of its home games under Bianco, compiling a 329-125-1 record at Swayze Field.
In addition to the outstanding winning percentage, the demand for seats has led to new renovations and additions at O-U Stadium/Swayze Field.
Grilling areas, picnic pavilions and terraced seats have been added beyond the wall in left field in the Oakes Pavilion. Beyond the right field wall, new terracing along with more grilling areas and picnic pavilions have been added in the area heavily populated by Ole Miss students.
Additions to the grandstand including skyboxes and additional grandstand seating were completed in 2009 as O-U Stadium expanded to accommodate the standing room only crowds that have become a mainstay for the Rebels under the leadership of Bianco. Prior to the 2011 season, the Rebels added a new HD video board to the outfield that measures 23'x36' in size to enhance the game day experience.
Not only have fans and the media covering college baseball noticed Ole Miss' resurgence under Bianco, some of the top talent in the country is also taking a close look at the Rebels.
Ten of Bianco's 13 recruiting classes at Ole Miss have garnered top-20 national rankings, including five that have placed in the top-10. His first recruiting class was rated as one of the nation's 10 best by both Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America, including a No. 6 ranking by Collegiate Baseball.
The 2003 recruiting class was ranked No. 10 by Collegiate Baseball, while the 2011 class was ranked third nationally by Collegiate Baseball and fifth by Baseball America. It marked the first top-5 recruiting class for Bianco at Ole Miss.
The Rebels have had seven first team Freshman All-Americas, two second team Freshman All-America and two honorable mention Freshman All-America selections in Bianco's 12 seasons at Ole Miss.
Ole Miss also had back-to-back SEC Freshman of the Year winners in outfielder Seth Smith (2002) and left-handed pitcher/first baseman Stephen Head (2003). In addition, Head earned National Freshman Player of the Year honors, and second team All-America honors. Jordan Henry became the third SEC Freshman of the Year under Bianco when he earned the honor in 2007.
Head and Smith were also members of the USA National Team that captured the silver medal at the 2003 Pan American Games. Zack Cozart was selected to compete for the USA National Team in 2006, while right-handed pitchers Lance Lynn and Cody Satterwhite were selected to compete with the USA National Team in 2007 in the Pan Am Games.
Pomeranz became the sixth Rebel selected to compete internationally with USA Baseball in the summer of 2009 when he served as the ace of the USA National team at the World Baseball Championships, helping the United States claim the gold medal.
Ole Miss added to the list of award winners in 2013 when the Greater Wichita Sports Commission named junior catcher Stuart Turner the winner of the Johnny Bench Award as the nation's top collegiate catcher.
FOUNDATION OF SUCCESS
Bianco's winning ways can be traced back to his playing days. After spending two seasons at Indian River (Fla.) Community College, he played two seasons for Skip Bertman at perennial national-power LSU in 1988 and 1989. He was the starting catcher and team captain for the Tigers' 1989 team that finished third at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. He homered in LSU's 6-3 win over Miami (Fla.) in the 1989 CWS to help advance the Tigers to the semifinals.
While working behind the plate for LSU, Bianco caught major league pitchers Ben McDonald, Russ Springer, Curtis Leskanic, John O'Donoghue, Chad Ogea and Paul Byrd.
His time behind the plate as a player would later benefit him as he would serve as LSU's pitching coach during three world series championship teams in the 1990s. Bianco would also work with the pitchers during his three years as head coach at McNeese State, and continues to serve in that same capacity with the Rebels.
Following his playing career, he joined Jim Wells' (former head coach at Alabama) coaching staff at Northwestern State, where he served two seasons from 1991-1992 as a graduate assistant. He helped coach Northwestern State to a 1991 Southland Conference (SLC) championship and an appearance in the 1991 NCAA South I Regional.
He then returned to Baton Rouge where he joined Bertman's staff at LSU. In five seasons at LSU from 1993-1997, the Tigers advanced to the College World Series four times and claimed three national championships. LSU also won three Southeastern Conference crowns and two SEC Tournament titles in that five-year span.
After the Tigers' 1997 College World Series title run, Bianco was named the head coach at McNeese State in July of that year.
BIANCO EARNS HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE
After seven seasons as an assistant at Northwestern (La.) State and LSU, Bianco received his first head coaching opportunity, taking over the reins of McNeese State.
He quickly displayed his abilities to develop a competitive program. In his first season with the Cowboys in 1998, he engineered an 11-game improvement from 1997, posting a 30-26 record - the first of three 30-win seasons. The 1998 season also saw the Cowboys rise to third in the conference standings and qualify for the SLC Tournament.
Following a 31-25 campaign in 1999, Bianco's 2000 team produced one of the most successful seasons in McNeese State history. The Cowboys finished 39-20, including winning a school-record 20 SLC games en route to claiming their first conference title since 1988, and making their third-ever appearance in the NCAA Regionals. In recognition, Bianco was named the SLC's Coach of the Year.
Bianco's 2000 McNeese State team raked in the individual postseason awards. Four Cowboys were named to the SLC's first team, including the conference's Hitter and Newcomer of the Year in Chris Williamson, and the SLC's Pitcher of the Year in Chris Howay.
Power hitting was the Cowboys' trademark under Bianco, as they hit 212 home runs in his three seasons, including a school-record 81 in 1999. His 2000 team batted .305 and set a new school standard for hits in a season with 600.
COACHED 20 MAJOR LEAGUE PLAYERS
In his 23 years as either an assistant or head coach at Northwestern State, LSU, McNeese State and Ole Miss, Bianco has coached 113 players who have gone on to sign professional contracts, including 50 pitchers. Among those 113 players, 20 have made Major League rosters, including 10 Rebels in the past 12 seasons.
T.J. Beam (New York Yankees) was the first to be called up in 2006, followed by Seth Smith (Colorado) in 2007 and Matt Tolbert (Minnesota) in 2008. Chris Coghlan (Florida) was named the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year, while Matt Maloney (Cincinnati) made his MLB debut that same season. Alex Presley (Pittsburgh) became the sixth Bianco-coached Rebel to get the call to the majors in 2010.
Right-hander Lance Lynn (St. Louis), shortstop Zack Cozart (Cincinnati) and left-hander Drew Pomeranz (Colorado) became the next crop of player to make their Major League debuts, getting the call to the big leagues in 2011. Those call ups gave the Rebels eight players active in the Majors in the 2011 season, the second most of any Southeastern Conference team that season. Seven players appeared on Major League rosters in the 2013 season.
Most recently, right-hander Phillip Irwin (Pittsburgh) made his Major League debut on April 14, 2013.
In his 13 years at Ole Miss, Bianco has coached 35 pitchers who have gone on to the professional ranks. Over the past eight seasons, Rebel pitchers have accounted for 75 draft selections in the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft - including fifth-overall pick Drew Pomeranz in 2010 and five pitchers who were taken in the top 100 picks of the 2005 Draft.
Bianco has also tutored 14 catchers that have gone on to sign professional contracts. In 2013, Stuart Turner became the most recent Rebel backstop to be drafted after Minnesota selected him in the third round.
Bianco, 46, was born May 3, 1967, and is a native of Seminole, Fla. He is married to the former Camille Marquette, and the couple has five children: sons, Michael, Benjamin, Andrew, and Samuel, and one daughter, Catherine.
Bianco was inducted into the Indian River Community College Hall of Fame in 2003. He was also named to the All-Alex Box Omaha Era Team by LSU in 2008. In 2010, Bianco was inducted into the Seminole High School Hall of Fame.
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