Feb. 13, 2014
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. -- Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell returns to Memorial Coliseum, where he sat at the home team bench and roamed the sidelines for the previous five seasons as an assistant coach for Kentucky, as the Rebels travel to Lexington, Ky., for a midweek matchup with the Wildcats.
Insell helped guide Kentucky to four 20-win seasons, four NCAA Tournament appearances and three trips to the Elite Eight in his time in Lexington, which he credits for his growth and development as a coach and the opportunity to become an SEC head coach.
"My time at Kentucky is the reason I'm here today," Insell said. "It's something that I cherish. Looking back on my five years there, and the people that I got to meet when I was there and the people that I became good friends with still to this day, and there are memories there that I will never forget.
"There are games that I can rewatch from my time at Kentucky that I can still get emotional from because of how big of a win it was in helping building that program into the program it is today because it was not that six years ago when we got there. Over that five years, I was a part of helping that program become what it is today, and that's something I take a lot of pride in."
In his five seasons at Kentucky, Insell coached alongside seventh-year Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell, and they helped turn Kentucky into a national power in women's basketball.
The two remain great friends and they talk usually at least once a week, sometimes two or three times a week. From Mitchell, Insell learned the value of consistency and the process of building a program.
"The most important that I have tried to implement in this program that we did at Kentucky was consistency," said Insell, referencing the turnaround at Kentucky, as well as similar turnarounds at South Carolina in women's basketball and Indiana in men's basketball.
"If I come in today and let yesterday affect me today, then I'm not going to get better today, and so I have to come in with that same consistent attitude. That's something that Matthew taught me, and that's something that I always take with me. It's being consistent every day with every thing that you do and attacking every day to win that day and not let yesterday's result affect today's result."
The unfamiliar feeling of returning to Kentucky, Insell said, will really hit him when he walks out before the game and goes down the away team bench, having sat on the home team bench for the previous five seasons.
It will also hit Insell when he sees many of his former players, really for the first time since he was named Ole Miss head coach. Insell remains supportive of them, now watching Kentucky as a fan, adding that he wants them to win every game except for one, and that's the game against Ole Miss.
"It was pretty cool after we won our first SEC game that several of their players reached out to me and congratulated me on our first SEC win over Mississippi State," Insell said. "I think the world of those players.
"I sat in those players' houses with Coach Mitchell and we convinced those kids to come to Kentucky, so they will always have a special place in my heart. Some of the ex-players that played for us when I was there have also reached out to let me know that they will be at the game and they're going to come by shootaround."
As much as Thursday will be about recounting old memories and reuniting with the people who supported him from his time in Lexington, Insell's focus is on how he can help his players win against Kentucky and get his team back going so they can end this last part of the season on a high note.
"Don't play this out of, `Coach, we are going to do this for you,' said Insell, aware that him returning to Kentucky will be on the minds of his players. "Let's do this for Ole Miss. Let's do this for us. Let's do this for our team and let's get a big win to help us continue in our process of building our program to get our program back to where we want it to get to."
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller