Andy Kennedy Hiring Press Conference
March 24, 2006
Good afternoon everybody and welcome to Tad Smith Coliseum. We're delighted to have you all here. We thank you for being with us. This is truly a historic day in the life of the University of Mississippi. For a number of years we've been committed to offering the highest quality of programs in everything we do, whether it be in the academic arena, student life, the way we keep our grounds, our alumni association activities, and of course our athletics programs. Today we are going to be making an announcement that is totally consistent with the commitment we have made as an Ole Miss community to being competitive at the highest levels in everything that we do. A number of people have been involved in this process. I have on the podium with us members of our athletics committee, our advisory committee. We have Rose Jackson Flenori, Dr. Tyrus McCarty, and we have Mr. Bill Renovich who is president of our alumni association. They and others have been consulting with Pete Boone during the process of searching for a coach. We would not be here, this family would not be here, so easily and so soon and so well put together if it weren't for David McCormick, who is in our audience and provided the airplane for us to be able to get to Cincinnati and back this morning. And David we are profoundly grateful to you for your continuing support. For those of you that have watched this closely, I think it's good for you to know a wonderfully, thorough, well put together, carefully thought out process was in place, led by Pete Boone with help from John Hartwell and others in the athletic department. An effort was made to truly have an actual search, to find people the most qualified people in the country who would come to Ole Miss and offer the kind of leadership for our basketball program that we want. We have a great new appreciation for the work that Pete and John did, and we know that you all are going to be pleased with the outcome. At this time I'll ask you to welcome Pete Boone, Director of Athletics.
It really is an exciting day for me, to be done with this. But over the last two or three weeks, it has been exciting. The thing that has been so exciting to me about this is the interest and the level of desirability that Ole Miss Basketball has. Sometimes you read newspapers and you find sometimes folks think that you can't win at Ole Miss. But, let me tell you, there are a lot of great coaches in this country that know you can win at Ole Miss. The thing that I've been asked most is what set apart Andy Kennedy from the rest of the candidates. I've thought long and hard about it and tried to find that moment in time that I thought Andy was our guy. That moment came during an interview when Andy was passionately talking about wanting to be at Ole Miss and John Hartwell handed him our compensation list, and he said I'm not interested in that and turned it over. I like that. Now, if he'd have seen the numbers he might have turned it back over, but since he didn't see it, I've already slid some different numbers in there. But that was the passion that Andy had about being in here. That was the passion that Andy had about being here. He wanted to be here, he knows that he can be a success here; he's been a success before. He knows what it takes. It is not about anything but Ole Miss. It's always about Ole Miss. This particular day it's Ole Miss Basketball. The future of Ole Miss Basketball lies in Andy Kennedy, and I'd like for you to welcome him.
Who says you can't come home? 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. It conjures up memories of successful Ole Miss Basketball from Carlos Clark to Elston Turner to Sean Tuohy, 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 and it is my duty to bring that back and I assure you that will happen. I first and foremost want to thank Chancellor Khayat and Mr. Boone for affording me this opportunity to come home. With this process, I'm on a whirlwind. I'm on about two hours sleep and six Mellow Yellows, so forgive me if I ramble. This has really transpired pretty quickly. It was just about 12 hours ago that I was coaching a group of kids I dearly love at the University of Cincinnati and as we were deflated walking off the floor and ending our journey together. I had an opportunity to visit with Pete, and I was really, really excited about having an opportunity to come and serve as an ambassador for the University of Mississippi. Make no mistake about it, that is what I view myself as. Our kids will be an extension of the student body, and I will serve as an ambassador for this great university. I knew when we landed I was back in God' s country. It's been a while. I was born and raised in Louisville, Miss. My mother and father are here, my brother and his family. I look forward to extending that family to be a part of this Ole Miss Group. I want to introduce my wife, the true backbone of our family, Kimber. Even though, you may want to recount that applause, she woke up this morning and forgot her wedding ring. So I'm not sure if that's good or bad. My two daughters, my heart and soul, are beside her, Kaitlyn, 6, and Meagan, 9.
A lot of people say why would you do this? This was an easy decision for me, very easy. First and foremost, my number one priority is to be the provider for my family. I'm uprooting my family, especially these two little girls, from the only life they've known. We've been in Cincinnati five years, and it is a wonderful community. I've had the opportunity to sit at the right hand of Bob Huggins, one of the best basketball coaches in all of collegiate athletics. I've had the opportunity to run a top-20 program amid less than ideal circumstances, granted, however I was given that opportunity. I knew once this opportunity was afforded that this was best for me. I knew that the sacrifices that we were going to have to make as the Kennedy household were going to be so much worth it once we got to this community and had an opportunity to be a part of what we know Mississippi to be all about. So I'm extremely grateful for this. Make no mistake about it; I did not come here to be a martyr. Our goal is to hit the ground running. Our goal is to return Ole Miss to its proper place in the SEC. Thank you for your support, thank you for your continuing support. All I ask is for you to give us an opportunity to earn your support. If you give us the opportunity we will earn your support. Thank you.
Q: We didn't get an opportunity to see much Cincinnati basketball down here. Can you go into what is your style offensively and defensively that you plan to implement here?
A: In a perfect world, and you know we don't live in a perfect world, understanding dynamics of Mississippi having been a product of this state, understanding the recruiting base that we we're driving distance from, I believe that it is in the best interest for this University long-term to play fast, to be athletic and to play from the strengths of our region, which is athleticism and versatility. The day and age of going out at Ole Miss or at Cincinnati and being able to sign a plethora of 6-10 or 6-11 kids are over. But I do think there is an abundance of kids 6-4 or 6-5 to 6-7 that are interchangeable parts that can use the gifts that God has given them and it's my job to not mess that up. I think immediately though, I don't have a set style for this team. I'm going to evaluate the situation and do what is in the best interest for our current situation.
Q: How difficult has it been for the last few days to go through this process while your season was still on-going, and was it difficult to coach the game last night?
A: It was difficult to coach the game last night because we had five scholarship players against South Carolina, who you guys know first hand is pretty good. It was difficult not to be able to help my kids more, because I do love those guys. We have had an unbelievable year. It's been quite an odyssey and to see that come to a close was bitter and sweet. It was sweet in the fact that I had been awarded the opportunity to stand before you today, but it was disappointing because you never want to see the guys that put so much into it disappointed as we all were at the end of the game. I know that ultimately when we were given the opportunity to visit further and get out of this third party scenario of he said she said and we had a chance to sit down and visit, I felt very comfortable. I was hopeful that the passion with which I approached this would come across. I was hopeful that indeed I would be given this opportunity and for that I am very grateful.
Q: It's probably safe to say that the last two months have definitely been a roller coaster ride for you from Coach Huggins' departure to all the "Hire Andy" signs that were posted all over the Cincinnati arena. How has that better prepared you to take over not only this program, but to be a head coach in the SEC?
A: I never in a million years would have dreamt that I would have gone through what I currently did. I do think that with all the adversity that was thrown at us, it has certainly prepared me for what is next. Being very close to the situation from a coach's perspective, meaning Coach Huggins, I still had no idea it was going to unfold when it did. We had a myriad of issues throughout the course of the season that threw up obstacle after obstacle, but as a testament to the strong will of our kids and as a testament to their resilience, we continued to fight. We continued our attempts to represent the University in the fashion it deserved to be represented. I just coached in the best basketball league in the country. When the whole thing went down in late August, and Coach Huggins was given the ultimatum, and he took what was in his best interest, my wife and I were sitting there for about a 72-hour period not knowing what was next, not knowing if I was going to be the coach, not knowing if given that opportunity I would accept it. We were going through a plethora of emotions, as I just visited the kids on this team and I'm sure they've been going through those as well. Kimber, my wife, was walking around like a caged tiger, very nervous and not knowing what the next step for the Kennedys was. Myself and my family being people of faith, I told her we're going to be where we're supposed to be. This is not the time to be nervous. The time to be nervous will be when you're at the game and you see me standing up and you see me standing up and you look on the other end and you see Jim Calhoun. About three days after that when you see me and you look down to your left and you see Jim Boeheim and then Rick Pitino and then John Beilein and then the list goes on and on. I've been trying to hit fastballs all year, so I'm ready for some change in speed.
Q: Pete said it was because you didn't look at the money...
A: I'm a quick reader. I may have caught Pete dozing, but I got a quick glance.
Q: What do you think turned the tide in your favor?
A: I don't know. At the end of the day, and I had a heck of a day yesterday, I left the interview and I felt pretty good about it. It's almost like when you leave a test though and you ask your kids how they did and they all did great, until the grades come back. So when I left, I felt like I thought it went well. I thought we had good dialogue. I think from my perspective I did all I could do. Then my thoughts immediately went on preparing our team and helping our team continue on its journey. Pete called me back and it's not so much what he said but how he said it. I felt like he felt good about it, and we were going to see how this played out. I don't know any one point that sold me. I just went in and tried to be honest. I think a man is nothing without honesty and without loyalty and without some sense of moral confidence. I try to lay it out there, whether I'm speaking to you or whether I'm speaking to the chancellor or whether I'm speaking to our point guard. There's not going to be a lot of mixed signals as it relates to me.
Chancellor Khayat: I'll give this to you; it was integrity based, rational passion. We're going to get all of that at Ole Miss. We're looking for integrity, we're looking for reasonable, rational people and we want everybody on this campus, no matter what they do, to be passionate towards what they're doing, and this man brought passion to the conversation.
Q: One of the things we've learned and read about you is your recruiting ability. How much importance do you put on recruiting in the state?
A: Recruiting is the life worth of your program. Your top three places to be successful is recruiting, recruiting, and recruiting. I've said this a couple of times, and Pete I've told you several times so just laugh like you haven't heard it. I've been a recruiting guy. I've been a trenches guy. I've been a guy that tries to look under every rock as it relates to abilities that go into recruiting. My motto with recruiting is that it's like shaving, you've got to do it everyday or you will eventually end up looking like a bum. Recruiting to me first and foremost is a number one priority, and we've got to make sure that we become a very viable entity not only within the state of Mississippi but also in the Southeast.
Q: Coming into what has normally been a football conference, what do you want to see out of the fans and students?
A: I don't ask for anything other than an opportunity to earn your support. That's all we want. Then it is up to us to provide something worth watching. I just ask that you go into it with your eyes open. At the end of the day support the name on the front of the shirt and get behind these kids that in my opinion and in my charge will be ambassadors for the University.
Q: Any thoughts at all or concrete facts you can give us about assistant coaches? Are you bringing anybody with you?
A: We're 24 fours into this, again I can't give anything much concrete right now. I've got a situation, at least my situation in Cincinnati, where there is going to be a lot of waiting within the next few days. We get to the current players so they understand the situation the way it is. We get an opportunity to develop relationships over time. I will certainly, as of today, visit with staff and try to get their input on what's going on, because obviously they know much more about what's going on than I do. Again, just through my evolution of coaching and being in this business for 11 years, like everything this is a relationship business, and you've got some people that you think would make sense and that will be addressed and addressed rather quickly.
Q: Who was in on your meeting with the players this morning and what type of reception did you get?
A: Well, I kind of laid it out there as I thought I should. In a group setting, these kids don't know me at all. I just wanted to put a face with a name, and let them know that I'm here ultimately to serve them. That really is my ultimate mission is that I'm supposed to be here for them. I made the point very early on that this is their team. It's not my team. I'm here to facilitate that. I want them to take ownership of this immediately. I think that once you can get them to take ownership you'll be amazed at what you're able to accomplish. There wasn't a lot of give and take, nor did I expect it in the first meeting. I also want to have an opportunity to sit down with them one on one which I'm sure they'll be a little more open.
Q: Did you see Ole Miss play this year, and what were your observations?
A: Yes, just as a casual fan. I was so engrained in the day-to-day grind at Cincinnati that I was undergoing, I was just watching as a casual fan. I saw them on a couple of occasions that I'm sure were not their finest moments. Being in the Cincinnati area, I saw a couple of games at the end of the season in passing, and I certainly don't want to make a judgment off of that, nor do I want to make a comment on something until I have a little more evidence. I do know some of these kids just from a recruiting standpoint, and I know that there are some quality athletes on this team. Again, that will be digested as we move on.
Q: Were you recruited by Ole Miss?
A: I was recruited by Ole Miss. Lee Hunt was the head coach here. I like Coach Hunt. He worked for Gene Bartow, and I eventually played for him. I have not stepped foot in Oxford for sometime. Growing up in Louisville, I spent all of my childhood years trying to get out and all of my adult years trying to get back. And so, I think it was one of those situations where I was looking for the bigger, better deal and for me I did not sense the passion Chancellor Khayat was referring to earlier, and I followed the passion. I played for the late Jim Valvano at North Carolina State. From there I transferred, because like every 18-year-old, I had all the answers, and I transferred and played for another great, Gene Bartow. I had the opportunity again to sit at the right hand of Bob Huggins. I think all three are completely different in their approach, but they all have a common denominator and that is that their success transcends their losses. The guys are program builders, and I've had the fortunate opportunity thought the vehicle, which is basketball to experience that first hand. I'm not the brightest guy in the world, but I hope that I've been able to retain some of that along the way.
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