June 7, 2013
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. - The sun set on the 2013 Ole Miss baseball season Sunday at the NCAA Raleigh Regional, and it was an earlier exit than both Mike Bianco and Ross Bjork had hoped.
As head coach and athletics director, the two visited Thursday for their standard end-of-season meeting, and the goals and expectations for the program remain the same, which is to compete for and win championships.
Under Bianco, Ole Miss has posted 10 seasons with a .500 or better mark in conference play, which is tied with Florida for second-most in the SEC, behind only South Carolina with 13 such campaigns. The Rebels have been above the .500 mark in SEC play in eight of those 10 seasons.
"Mike Bianco runs an unbelievable program in all facets, from academics to compliance, to managing his budget, to being involved in the community and being competitive each year," Bjork said. "We have to give Coach a ton of credit for building on the foundation that was Ole Miss Baseball before he got here and then setting that bar extremely high.
"We know we haven't hit that standard recently, he knows that, our team knows that and our coaches know that. Most importantly, everyone in our program has our unconditional support to get us back to hosting an NCAA Regional, advancing to a Super Regional and eventually competing in a College World Series and bringing home a trophy. That's what we believe in with Coach Bianco."
Bjork said both he and Bianco understand how important baseball at Ole Miss has become over the last decade-plus, from the on-field success, to the $18 million renovation prior to the 2009 season, to attendance that has ranked in the top five nationally for eight straight years.
"What we said is we believe we can compete at the highest level in baseball," Bjork said. "We have the resources to do that. We have made the investment to do that, and we know we have to embrace those expectations of competing at the highest level.
"And so therefore, the last couple of years have been tougher than usual, and we haven't lived up to those high expectations. By being ultra-competitive, we still have a platform of a program that can excel at the highest level, even though we haven't recently matched the expectations. Our program is on solid ground as evidenced by the many accomplishments of Coach Bianco and the program he has created."
Ole Miss finished the 2013 season with a 38-24 record after advancing to the postseason for the 11th time in Bianco's 13-year tenure and 18th time in program history. Ole Miss is one of just 16 schools to advance to 11 NCAA Regionals during that span, which included a stretch of eight consecutive appearances from 2003-10.
Bianco will continue into his 14th year as the Rebels' head coach with the same employment contract as he had to begin the 2013 season, which is a two-year agreement with the same salary and terms. Looking forward, Bianco and Bjork are excited about the immediate future and firmly focused on reaching the high standards established during the Bianco era.
"We're not content," Bianco said. "We've had success, but we want to host a Regional, we want to host a Super Regional, we want to get to Omaha. That's always the goals of the program. And I thought we were very close this year.
"We were in that Regional host talk up until the last week, and we lost several close games the last few weeks that prevented us from hosting a Regional."
Bianco and Bjork agreed in Thursday's conversation that the players have got to take the pressure off.
"I think it's important," Bianco said of the players playing more loose. "And I appreciate Ross' confidence in the program, and his commitment helps. I think the players feel that there's support not only from the university, but also from the fan base. That kind of support lends itself to those kids believing in themselves and believing in one another."
Bjork said Rebel Baseball is bigger than just one season, adding that Bianco has built a great program, and now they have to close the gap between the foundation that they have laid and the goals and expectations.
"My charge moving ahead is to continue to embrace the expectations and also acknowledge that we can all do more to support Mike, our coaches, our student-athletes, and to all live up to those expectations," he said.
"And we have other examples that have happened this year in football and basketball where that's taken place, and baseball is the same thing. We're in it together, and we can reach those goals and aspirations. We all have to do better. We all have to invest at a higher level, and that's what we're committed to doing. Furthermore, our message of asking Rebel Nation to continue to pull the rope in the same direction will continue because of the love for this great University."
In the first day of the MLB First-Year Player Draft, no current Ole Miss player and only one signee -- left-hander Cody Reed from Northwest Mississippi CC -- was selected. Once the dust settles from the Draft, Bianco, the Rebels' all-time winningest coach, said he looks forward to the returning players and evaluating the incoming recruiting class in the fall.
"We're excited about the future," Bianco said. "Of course, we have got to get through the next couple of days in the draft, and that's always an obstacle. We have an outstanding recruiting class coming in, and an outstanding team returning from last year. We can't wait to get started again in August."