When Andy Kennedy returned to his home state in March 2006 to take over as head basketball coach at Ole Miss, he was admittedly facing a formidable task.
Despite some notable spurts of success in the Rebels' hoops history (the 1981 SEC Tournament Championship and 2001 NCAA Sweet Sixteen berth come to mind), it was a program with only seven 20-win seasons and nine postseason victories in its nearly 100 years of existence.
That was before Kennedy entered the picture.
During his six seasons at the helm, the Louisville native has led Ole Miss to five 20-win campaigns and five postseason berths, with seven postseason victories in those appearances.
The Kennedy-led Rebels have also claimed a pair of SEC Western Division Titles (2007, 2010) and made the first two NIT Final Four appearances in school history (2008, 2010). With a trip to the NCAA Tournament at the top of the to-do list, Kennedy's teams have laid a foundation of sustained success from which to launch themselves to the next level.
Over the last six years, the Rebels have gone 125-78, which marks the most victories by an Ole Miss coach in a six-year span. Kennedy is the first to ever lead Ole Miss to five 20-win campaigns and the first to guide the team to five postseason berths. In fact, he's just the sixth coach in SEC history to guide his teams to 20+ wins in five of his first six seasons. He has also guided Ole Miss to more postseason wins (seven) than any coach in school history.
Kennedy has guided the Rebels to 46 wins in SEC play, which is the highest total ever by a Rebel coach in a six-year span.
Along with wins and postseason appearances, Kennedy has brought a renewed passion for Ole Miss hoops founded on an exciting brand of full-court, fast-paced action and lots of twine being tickled. Since Kennedy arrived, the Rebels have set season records in almost every offensive statistical category and several defensive ones, as well. And Tad Smith Coliseum has seen both season and single-game attendance records shattered.
The Rebels' pursuit of championships is largely based on a keen eye for talent and the tireless recruiting efforts of Kennedy and his staff. Each year, they have added to the team's talent level and managed to reel in some of the most highly rated prep players in school history. The staff has brought in 12 players who were ranked among the nation's top 100 high school prospects, including 2010 NBA draft selection Terrico White. Add diamond-in-the-rough Chris Warren to that mix, and it's quite an impressive list.
With the completion of the state-of-the-art Basketball Practice Facility in January 2010 and plans for a brand new arena in the next three years, there has never been more potential for Ole Miss Hoops to explode into the national spotlight. Kennedy has gotten the Rebels into the national rankings several times already, and now he's ready for them to stay.
Kennedy wasted no time putting Ole Miss back on the map when he arrived. In his debut season of 2006-07, he guided an unheralded Rebel squad to 21 wins, a Southeastern Conference Western Division title and a second-round appearance in the National Invitation Tournament en route to 2007 SEC Coach of the Year honors.
After breaking the string of four losing seasons, the internal expectations for Kennedy's team were rising, despite the fact that most media experts again picked the Rebels to dwell in the division cellar in 2007-08.
Kennedy would be counting on three freshmen and a pair of inexperienced sophomores to take over a backcourt that lost all three senior starters from the year before.
After Ole Miss broke out of the gates with a blazing 13-0 start and a No. 15 national ranking, folks around the country started to take notice. In the end, Kennedy took his second Rebel squad to 24 wins, the second-most in school history, and the program's first-ever trip to the NIT Final Four at New York's Madison Square Garden.
The Rebels' 45 victories and back-to-back 20-win campaigns were both program firsts for a head coach in his first two seasons. In fact, Kennedy was just the fourth coach in SEC history with 45 or more wins in his first two years, a list which includes Tubby Smith (63 wins at Kentucky, 45 at Georgia), Eddie Sutton (50 at UK) and Bruce Pearl (46 at Tennessee).
Injuries riddled the Ole Miss lineup in 2008-09, but the Rebels still managed to register a winning 16-15 record and a 7-9 mark in SEC play.
Despite the fact that it was the first time in four seasons as a head coach that Kennedy had not led his team to 20 wins or postseason play, the Louisville, Miss., native was named a finalist for the Clair Bee National Coach of the Year award and tabbed by CollegeInsider.com as the SEC Coach of the Year. Some think it was the best coaching job yet by the rising star, whose résumé was already stock-piled with accolades.
The short-handed Rebels upended nationally ranked Kentucky and SEC East champ Tennessee at home and would-be tourney champ Mississippi State on the road, while Terrico White flourished as the league's freshman of the year after Kennedy moved him to the starting point guard role.
In 2009-10, the Rebels were again among the league's elite squads as they claimed their second division title under Kennedy. They matched the 2007-08 team with a 24-11 record. Ranked in the polls for nine weeks, Ole Miss just missed out on an NCAA Tournament berth before storming through the first three rounds of the NIT with wins over Troy, Memphis and Texas Tech en route to an NIT Final Four trip to New York for the second time in three years.
Led by sensational senior scorers Chris Warren and Zach Graham, the 2010-11 Rebels again reached the 20-win plateau and a postseason berth. Warren garnered first-team All-SEC distinction, ranking second in the league with 19.1 points per game and leading the NCAA in free-throw shooting with an Ole Miss and SEC record percentage of 92.8. He led the way for an Ole Miss team that finished 20-14 and made the first round of the NIT.
Ole Miss against cracked 20 wins with another 20-14 campaign in 2011-12, making another appearance in the NIT. On the back of All-SEC senior Terrance Henry, the team finished 8-8 in league play and advanced to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the first time since 2007.
At 44 years old, Kennedy has established himself as one of the rising stars in coaching. As Ole Miss continues to rise to the elite level of college basketball, Magnolia state fans can celebrate the fact that the Rebels are led by one of their very own.
THE ROAD TO OXFORD
It was a long and winding road for Kennedy to return to his home state, but he was overjoyed when he was announced as the 20th head men's basketball coach in the history of the University of Mississippi on March 24, 2006.
"Who says you can't come home?" Kennedy said at his hiring press conference in C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum. "This is like a homecoming for me. It's been quite some time since I've stepped foot in this facility, and it conjures up a lot of good memories. I think of successful Ole Miss Basketball from Carlos Clark to Elston Turner to Sean Tuohy to John Stroud to Gerald Glass. I know that there have been a lot of great players and a lot of great moments in here, and it is my charge, my duty to bring that back. I assure you that will happen."
Kennedy arrived in Oxford after a successful season, albeit amid less than ideal circumstances, as the interim head coach at the University of Cincinnati.
His accomplishments as an assistant with the Bearcats were notable, so when a year-long struggle between Bob Huggins and UC ended on August 24, 2005, and the four-time National Coach of the Year honoree resigned his post, Kennedy was granted the opportunity to step into those large shoes and make a major career move.
Two days later, Kennedy was tapped with the challenge of steadying a program that had two national championships in its past and a streak of 14 consecutive NCAA Tournaments. The Bearcats were also less than three months away from their first season of competition in one of the nation's strongest conferences, the Big East.
Kennedy's already daunting task became even more difficult with the departure of one incoming recruit, two returning veterans and two promising freshmen, plus the loss of a key three-year starter to a mid-season injury, not to mention playing the fifth-rated schedule in the nation.
Despite all the adversity, Kennedy's Bearcats jumped out to a 13-2 start with road wins over Vanderbilt, Marquette, Dayton and eventual Final Four club LSU. While playing only eight scholarships players, Cincinnati cracked the AP Top-25 ranking, and Kennedy was named Mid-Season National Coach of the Year by CBS Sportsline.
The winning continued in conference play. The Bearcats stunned Jim Boeheim's Syracuse Orangemen in the Carrier Dome 82-65, knocked off Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals 74-68 and upset 14th-ranked West Virginia 78-75.
Perhaps more significant than the victories, Kennedy reignited the fire and belief in Cincinnati basketball. The early-season home crowds of half-capacity were once again selling out Fifth Third Arena and chanting and waving signs of "Hire Andy".
Cincinnati played itself to the cusp of an NCAA Tournament appearance. Kennedy's club finished the regular season with an 8-8 league mark and squared off with Syracuse in the opening round of the Big East Tournament.
The Bearcats erased a 14-point deficit and took a two-point lead with 6.2 seconds left. Orangeman All-America Gerry McNamara took the ensuing inbounds and heaved in a controversial running three-pointer as time expired for the 74-73 SU win.
Whether McNamara had traveled or not, Cincinnati's bubble had been burst, and Kennedy's Cats eventually found themselves in the National Invitation Tournament instead. Despite disappointingly being left home from the Dance, they competed with the same passion they had the entire season and reached the NIT quarterfinals.
When the dust finally settled on Cincinnati's 2005-06 campaign, Kennedy had directed the Bearcats to a 21-13 record, defeated 12 foes ranked in the top 100 of the RPI and played a schedule rated fifth-toughest in college hoops.
National media praised what Kennedy had achieved under such difficult circumstances. The New York Post labeled him the Big East Coach of the Year, and at least one media outlet - Minnesota-based GopherHole.com - even named him their National Coach of the Year.
Despite all of Kennedy's notoriety, Cincinnati administration remained unsure of its future coaching plans and kept the interim tag on his title. As the season drew to a close, Ole Miss' head job became vacant, and Chancellor Robert Khayat and Athletics Director Pete Boone quickly looked north to the budding coaching star from Mississippi.
With the permission of the UC brass, Kennedy spoke with Boone mere moments before setting foot on the court for the Bearcats' NIT quarterfinal bout with South Carolina at Fifth Third Arena. Cincinnati had only a handful of scholarship players available and fell to the Gamecocks 65-62 with chants of "Thank you Andy" echoing through the Bearcat crowd as the final seconds ticked off the clock. A thousand fans remained in the coliseum to continue the chant during the postgame radio show.
Meanwhile, Kennedy graciously accepted the opportunity to be head coach at the University of Mississippi shortly after the game, and in a whirlwind, he was flown to Oxford the following morning for a noon press conference.
RISING UP THE RANKS
Prior to becoming Cincinnati's interim head coach, Kennedy earned a reputation as one of the top assistants in the country during his first four years with the Bearcats, beginning in 2001. In fact, Athlon named him one of the nation's top 10 assistant coaches in 2004, the same year Rivals.com tabbed him as one of the top 20 recruiters in all of college basketball.
As an assistant coach and the recruiting coordinator under Bob Huggins, Kennedy had the duty to help maintain Cincinnati's spectacular run of success and keep the UC talent pool stocked. In his first season, the Bearcats recorded the most wins in school history with a 31-4 mark and the program's first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The squad also experienced success off the court by winning the C-USA Men's Basketball Team GPA Award.
During Kennedy's first three years as the Bearcats' recruiting coordinator, Cincinnati attracted three straight top-10 recruiting classes with the class of 2002 rated fifth in the nation by Bob Gibbons of All Star Sports, the 2003 group finishing seventh by both PrepStars and FutureStars, and the 2004 class rated 10th by All Star Sports.
Overall, Kennedy's four seasons as an assistant on the Cincinnati bench resulted in four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, two Conference USA regular-season championships and two C-USA Tournament titles. He was promoted to associate head coach in 2004.
"Andy has the total package - from recruiting to game preparation to PR - he's one of the great young guys in the business," said Huggins upon Kennedy's promotion. "Years from now, people will see him on TV and remember he was once here."
According to Kennedy, that "total package" is a direct result of his experience alongside Huggins. "I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for Coach Huggins and the University of Cincinnati," he said. "To be able to sit to the right hand of one of the best coaches in all of college basketball and see first-hand the inner-workings of a top-20 program was very educational."
Kennedy began his coaching career as an assistant at the University of South Alabama in 1994. After a year, he took a shot in the commercial real estate business, but quickly realized coaching was his calling and returned his alma mater where he had experienced much success as a player.
Kennedy earned his coaching wings in his five seasons as an assistant at UAB under Murry Bartow, son of legendary coach Gene Bartow, who had mentored Kennedy as a player. Kennedy helped the Blazers compile a 90-66 record and make three postseason tournament appearances while on the UAB bench. The highlight of that tenure came in 1998-99 when the Blazers tied for the Conference USA regular-season title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Kennedy's prowess on the hardwood was evident early in his prep career. As a ninth-grader, he pumped in 28 points in a victorious state championship game.
Three years later, the Louisville High School senior was the state's top talent, receiving Parade All-America and 1986 Mississippi Player of the Year honors. Ole Miss pursued this native Blue Chipper for its own, but Kennedy's eyes were focused on a different place, much further away than the 100-mile drive north to Oxford.
"Growing up in Louisville, I spent the majority of my time trying to find a way out of small-town Mississippi, and I've spent even more time as an adult trying to get back," he said. "As a young player, I fell into the `grass is always greener' mentality, and for me that meant the ACC and North Carolina State."
Jim Valvano's Wolfpack was a mere three years removed from its thrilling national championship season, and as a freshman, Kennedy helped the team claim the 1987 ACC Tournament title.
After a year of playing for and learning from the legendary Valvano, the 6-foot-7 forward made another unexpected decision, transferring from NC State to UAB.
The move took Kennedy from one highly successful coach in Valvano to another in Gene Bartow, whose teams had twice advanced to the Final Four. The move also took Kennedy's game to an even higher level.
In just three seasons at UAB, he became the school's second all-time leading scorer with 1,787 points and an 18.8 career scoring average. The two-time all-conference performer still holds or shares more than 15 Blazer records, including most 3-point field goals (318), highest career 3-point percentage (.437), most 20-point games (43), most 30-point games (7) and the single-game scoring mark of 41 points.
Kennedy, who completed his B.A. in history at UAB in 1991, continued his playing career after college, returning to Carolina to suit up for the NBA Charlotte Hornets. He later began a three-year professional stint abroad, playing in Greece, Holland, Spain and Puerto Rico. With his background under Valvano and Bartow, Kennedy seemed destined to enter the coaching ranks after his playing days were over. That end happened sooner than expected, as he sustained his second ACL tear and subsequent fifth and final knee operation while playing in Puerto Rico.
ANDY KENNEDY FILE
Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
Associate Head Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
Interim Head Coach
21-13/NIT Second Round
20-14/NIT First Round
20-14/NIT First Round
Two-time All-State selection at Winston Academy (Louisville, Miss.) 1983 State Champions
Two-time All-State selection at Louisville HS 1986 Parade All-American, Mississippi Player of the Year
Freshman at North Carolina State, coached by Jim Valvano 1987 ACC Tournament Champions
Three-year letterman at UAB, coached by Gene Bartow 1991 Honorable Mention All-America Selection (Basketball Times) Two-time All-Sun Belt Conference (1990,1991) School's 2nd all-time leading scorer (1,787 points) Still holds more than 15 school records, including season average of 21.8 ppg 1990 Sun Belt Conference Champions, NCAA Tournament 1989 NIT Final Four
Played professionally in the NBA (Charlotte) and in Greece, Spain, Holland and Puerto Rico
Bachelor of Arts, UAB
Born March 13, 1968 in Louisville, Miss.
Married, wife Kimber; daughters Meagan and Kaitlyn
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