Ole Miss Press Conference On The Adoption Of A New State Flag

Feb. 8, 2001

Ole Miss head football coach David Cutcliffe

During our recruiting and spending time visiting a lot of people and families, I felt it was an important issue from a national image standpoint. I know from my personal standpoint, being a Mississippian, I am proud to be a part of this state, and I think the adoption of the new state flag would be such a positive for Mississippi. I think it will be a great thing for the people of the state of Mississippi, and I just wanted to take this opportunity to make that statement.

Q: Coach Cutcliffe, I know that, under (former football head coach Tommy) Tuberville, students were encouraged to no longer bring Confederate flags to the football games. Is this press conference another step in fighting the stigma of the association between the University and the Confederate flag?

A: I think this is a state-wide issue. From traveling as a Mississippian and being in all parts of the southeastern United States and also from a national standpoint, I think it (the adoption of a new state flag) is a real positive situation and a positive opportunity for the entire state of Mississippi. I think the adoption of the new state flag is a step in the right direction for the entire state.

Ole Miss head men's basketball coach Rod Barnes

First of all, I would like to say I am glad to be here and thank God for giving me another opportunity to express my feelings as a sports representative for this University.

Being a native Mississippian and growing up in this state, I am definitely in agreement with Coach Cutcliffe in support for the adoption of the new state flag. I believe it is a positive thing not only inside the state of Mississippi, but it will be positive for the state throughout the Southeast and the entire country. But, most importantly, my position is strong because I want our state flag to represent the entire state of Mississippi, and we want only positive things to happen. We are living in a new millennium, and it's time for us to make progress. I think this is one area that, if we're going to move forward, we need a new state flag to represent all of us. When the new flag is adopted, we won't be in situations where we are having to defend ourselves not only at the University of Mississippi, but also our state in general. We will be able to represent ourselves confidently, knowing that what is going on in our state is positive. Right now, we have people coming from all over the country to this university and our state, and we want a flag that represents the entire state.

We don't want to support anything that is offensive to anyone-regardless of what issue or symbol is. I think the most important thing is that we all feel good about the state of Mississippi, and no one feels offended by anyone or anything because of what has happened in the past.

Q: Talk about as coaches your unique situation in having to deal with recruits, and the fact they seem to associate a lot of negatives with the Confederate flag.

A: Ole Miss head track and field coach Joe Walker: I have been doing this (coaching) for about 32 years, and we are probably one of the most misunderstood universities and states and everything else in the country. I agree with what both David and Rod have said. This (adoption of a new state flag) is a chance to be positive. I am excited about the progress we have made since I went to high school in Mississippi and when my children went to high school. I think we have done a lot of good things and this is our opportunity to step forward and be one of the first southern states to do the right thing and do it right now. I am excited about it.

Q: Did any of you run into recruits who actually because of the stigma of the (Confederate) flag, the state, "Mississippi Burning" and things like that?

A: Ole Miss head track and field coach Joe Walker: I know I have. I said in my previous statement that I believe we (the University of Mississippi) are misunderstood. And it is not just African-American families, it's all families. It's families of every situation. I've recruited in Michigan, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, you name it. We're very often misunderstood. But once, we get people on this campus, get people to look us in the eye and see what's in our hearts, then it's a very good thing. But, when you have to start off your recruiting by having to overcome something negative, it is not always easy, at least it has not been for me. It may be different for other sports at Ole Miss, but this has been my experience.

Q: Coach Barnes, as someone who has played basketball at Ole Miss at a time when the Confederate flag probably had more presence on campus than it does today, talk about the effect it had on you as a student-athlete and a player, and how things have changed over time.

A: You can take what Coach Walker said. We have made a lot of progress. This is not only an issue about Ole Miss, it is also an issue about this state. Like Coach Walker, I think the University and state are misunderstood. When I was a student-athlete, I had the same opportunity to go to other places, but when I came up here and talked to people, looked in their eyes and the things they told me, I believed them.

It is even better now for the student-athletes who are here than it was when I played. But, we want it to be better in the next 5-to-10 years than what it is right now. We all deal with the challenges of recruiting that Coach Walker mentioned. But again, we are not only dealing with this perception from an athletic or university standpoint, but our state is also looked at in that way. I talked to a young lady just a few minutes ago, and she talked about her daughter being in dance class in New York, and every time they brought up Mississippi, she brought up the issue of the Confederate flag and the movie "Mississippi Burning." That is what we are trying to get past. I think this is a great start to something that has already been going on on the Ole Miss campus and in the state of Mississippi. But now, we have a great opportunity to make more of a stance. In the past, we have always waited and been reactive instead of proactive. Now, we have a chance to be one of the southern states to be proactive, and that is why we are here today.

Q: Especially in light of Georgia's recent action to change their flag in their legislature, is there a fear that Mississippi could be dead last in this issue if we don't vote for the new flag?

A: Cutcliffe: I'm not in fear of being dead last. Timing is the issue we're involved with now. We are making a statement, and there are many people across the state who certainly feel the same way. It's an image thing. We have a great state. We have a great university and a great state, and we want people to see us in that light. This is what this is all about, this is a new age and a new time. If we do get people to visit, they find out real quick what great people we have throughout the state.

Q: This is a two-fold question. Do you know of other coaches from other schools who use the flag against you in recruiting, and if the state does not vote to get a new flag, do you think it could be even worse in upcoming years?

A: Cutcliffe: I think everybody has the same problem in that other coaches certainly bring that up, but that is a dead issue here on our campus. This is a state-wide issue at this point, and it's time that the Confederate flag is not a part of who we are or what we are doing at Ole Miss. Yes, it does continually come up, but more importantly, what we are talking about right now is a state issue. This was an opportunity to make a statement about our position and to let those in the state and across the nation know how we feel because we travel and deal with people all over the Southeast and the United States. We certainly think this (the adoption of a new state flag) will create a positive image, and will be something we're not always trying to defend. As Rod said, we have an opportunity to be proactive, and I think that is the important part of this.

Q: Talk about what the implications might be if the new flag is not passed.

A: Cutcliffe: Well, I am going to tell you personally how I would feel if the new flag is not passed. I'm more of a positive thinker. I don't think about what we do if we can't make the first down or whatever. I really think something positive is going to happen, and you deal with whatever you have to on a day-to-day basis. But right now, we're just focused on how positive it can be for the state if we adopt the new flag.

Q: Have you talked to any of your players about this issue, and if so what is their mentality about this?

A: Cutcliffe: I have not visited with the players on this issue. I don't think Rod and Joe have visited with their student-athletes either. We have not visited with any of our student-athletes on this.

Q: What are your thoughts on the possibility of the NCAA boycotting the state if the flag is not changed in the state of Mississippi?

A: Cutcliffe: I haven't thought that far ahead. I know that it could occur, but I haven't thought that far ahead.

A: Barnes: I have seen articles about that situation (NCAA boycotting) in Georgia, but this (today's press conference) is not about that. This is about much more than just athletics. We're just representing our stance. We (coaches) are out on the road, and we go to more places than most of the general public in the state. We see what happens out there, and we want what we see and hear about the state of Mississippi to be positive. That's why we're involved in this. But, as Coach Cutcliffe said, I've read about it (NCAA boycotting Mississippi if new flag is not adopted), but my main issue is to make sure we take advantage of an opportunity to start something very positive.

Q: Coach Barnes, how much did you think about the image of the flag when Ole Miss was recruiting you?

A: It's an issue still today. It's at your high schools, at your churches and in my home. That was one of the biggest challenges I had to overcome in coming here. Fortunately, I had a great mother and father, and we made the decision on what we thought was best for me. We made the decision not for athletics, but because we felt like it was the best place for me to go academically and a place I could mature as a young man. I also wanted the experience of being close to home, and we felt Ole Miss was the best place. I couldn't even express to you in two or three minutes some of the issues I went through back then, but again that was in 1984. It's better now but there are still issues, and that is what we are trying to correct. That's why we are trying to move forward.

Q: Coach Cutcliffe, we did a poll recently that showed a large percentage of Mississippians want to keep their current flag. What part of your message is not getting through to those people?

A: Cutcliffe: I don't know that I can comment on that because I haven't followed their comments because we have been so heavily involved in our recruiting season. I would be commenting on other people's opinions without knowing the full story. But, the stance we are taking, from our perspective, is that this (adoption of a new state flag) would be a very positive thing for the state of Mississippi as a whole. This isn't about Ole Miss, this is about the state of Mississippi, and we are certainly proud to be Mississippians. As I said, we've got a great state and we would like for everybody else to know that. This would be a positive step and a very proactive step on our part to take this measure and adopt the new flag.

Q: Do you think if you had the opportunity to take these people with you on an out-of-state trip and see how the flag affects the perceptions of this state, would that change minds?

A: Cutcliffe: Again, I can't speak for other people. I can only speak from personal experience. As I said, I know the adoption of a new state flag would be a very positive thing for all the people in the state of Mississippi.

Q: Do you guys plan to talk, or have to talked to any other coaches from other institutions of higher learning in the state about this because you are in such high profile position?

A: Cutcliffe: I haven't talked to anybody else. I've been talking to prospects, and that's who I've been talking to for about two-and-a-half months. I really haven't had time to talk with anyone else, but I'm sure most people in our position have run into the same things.

Q: Tough question. You're (Ole Miss men's basketball team) 18-4 for the first time in school history. You (Ole Miss football) just had arguably the best recruiting class in school history. How bad an affect (the current state flag) can it be if everything is going that well?

A: Cutcliffe: Rod and Joe put it best. When people come see us and we get people on campus, we are going to be very successful (in recruiting) because we are good people. Ole Miss is a good place, and Mississippi is a great state. But, it is much easier to start (recruiting) from a positive standpoint and to be proactive rather than reactive. There may be people along the way who we may never get to come see us because of the image we have. We have to get them here, let them see who we are and what we're really all about. That is the stance we're taking. Let us start on even terms from the very beginning, and that is what Joe was saying. He has battled for so long here, longer than Rod and I have, and I think it just puts us on better ground to begin with.

A: Walker: We'd be ranked higher today if there wasn't a kid from Mississippi who is running for South Carolina right now because he felt he had had a rough history in Mississippi. We're not talking about Ole Miss, we're talking about Mississippi. I think it's just a great opportunity for us to reach out, shake hands with a black hand, a white hand, an Indian hand, or whoever lives in this state, and let's be unified and do the right thing at the right time. I feel very strongly about it, and I've lived in Mississippi all my life, except for three years in Florida.

A: Barnes: I guess it would be easy for me to rest on what we have done. I could have stayed at the office today and took the 18-4 record and felt very good about it. But, we're about more than that, and that's what we're trying to get to. We've got to set a different example. It's great to be 18-4, it's great to be ranked, but there are still things we can do better as Coach Walker said. If there is a prospective student-athlete out there who wouldn't come here for a particular reason or I missed out on a recruit because of something such as a symbol, not necessarily the state flag, I want to make sure I address that. We want to make sure people understand what the state of Mississippi is all about. We've got great people here, we've got great leadership in this state, great communities and we want people to know that. I don't want to be going to North Carolina or South Carolina and defending what is happening in the state of Mississippi because we don't take actions like this. As soon as we (coaches) hit the road recruiting, we deal with that. As soon as you say Mississippi, there are some things, some issues for people, and we need to get past those.

Q: Coach Barnes, can you point to any players, not by name, but can you say here is a player we didn't get and the flag was one of the reasons?

A: Barnes: Like Coach Walker said earlier, when you go in (on a recruiting visit) from a defensive standpoint from the beginning, you're at a disadvantage. If I'm going in and I've got to give facts to parents of a young prospect trying to prove that what they believe is wrong, then I'm on the defensive already. When another school walks in, they're already on the offensive. That's the thing we're trying to stop right here. I don't want to be justifying negatives. I want to be talking about the positives. I'm not going to give any kids' names, but I think any coach who has been in this state has lost kids because of issues concerning symbols or past history.

Q: Any reason why it's you three and not any other Ole Miss coaches?

A: Langston Rogers, Ole Miss Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information: A number of our coaches are on the road with teams. (Head baseball) Coach (Mike) Bianco is not here because he is getting ready to start his season tomorrow.

Q: Would any one of you comment on the possibility of the NCAA pulling out the host role or consideration of a host role of any event because of this situation?

A: Cutcliffe: I don't know who could answer that as that would be something administratively that you're asking. Rod said it really well earlier. This is not a question concerning athletics, but this is something that goes further than that. This is about our entire state. It would be hard to comment on any NCAA action.

A: Ole Miss Athletics Director John Shafer: I will be glad to comment on that. That is an issue to me. I know, in talking to the NCAA, it is public knowledge they talked about the flag issue in South Carolina and again in Georgia. The NCAA has had serious conversations about not having NCAA-sponsored regional championships, those championship events in those states because of that. So yes, it is an issue to me because we would like those events to come to the state of Mississippi because we have a great product here, and we'd love to bring people from outside states in here for a regional in baseball, or a basketball regional or tennis or track or whatever sports. We'd love to have that opportunity, and if the flag issue would hinder that, that's definitely an issue to me.

Q: Coach Cutcliffe, you've been in the state just a couple of years. Did that create any hesitancy for you for getting active in this cause?

A: Cutcliffe: No, not really. I knew there would be some criticism, but I'm a southerner, born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. I am pretty familiar with all of these issues, and I have no problem with taking the stance I am taking. It is not something I am uneducated about, so I had no problem with that.



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