[NOTE: As of press time, the Roundball Rebels were yet to play the Vanderbilt Commodores, putting their SEC record at 0-3 up until that point. The Rebels are either 1-3 or 0-4 as of the date of this publication, neither of which is a scenario which impacts the principle tenants of this column.]
Before this season began, and certainly well after the out of conference play had begun, we at the Cup were resolved in our stance that Andy Kennedy, the head coach of the Ole Miss Rebel men’s basketball team, should be fired if Ole Miss were to start out 0-3 in conference play.
Well, that happened. The Rebels sit at 0-3, and our feelings regarding Coach Kennedy have not changed.
Picture the old cartoons where a devil and an angel sit on opposite shoulders of a character enduring some sort of moral dilemma. "Should I or shouldn’t I," this person may be asking, with the angel replying "no, be a good person" and the devil heartily retorting "hell yes you should." If the question is, "should Andy Kennedy be relieved
of his duties as the head coach of the Rebels," the red, pointy-tailed fellow with the pitchfork is certainly sounding smart right now.
But perhaps that is hasty and unfair. Credence should definitely be given to Kennedy and the job he has done so far. Two SEC Western division titles, shared or not, signal what is almost a high-water mark of Rebel basketball in conference play. Two NIT Final Four appearances show that his teams, while not receiving invites to the big
dance, have been legitimate contenders for such. Three 20-win seasons are a great foundation upon with to build, especially in a sport so heavily influenced by high school recruiting, which, speaking of, Ole Miss has done relatively well at over the past few years. His honest, aggressive, and to the point personality in dealing with the media,
administration, and even fans is a welcome reprieve from Rebel coaches of the past, a personality which saw him push for and achieve construction of a indoor basketball practice facility and other general expansion of facilities. And, even if such has been futile, the enthusiasm surrounding the Ole Miss basketball program has been at its
highest point in years under Kennedy.
All that said, a fair argument can be made that Kennedy’s first year as the Ole Miss head coach was his best. At that time, he consistently described his player/system combination as an attempt to "fit square pegs into round holes," a commentary on the contrasting coaching and recruiting styles of he and his predecessor, Rod Barnes. And yet he somehow shared an SEC West championship that season. Four years later, no players on the Rebel roster were brought to Oxford under anyone other than Kennedy and his staff, and we still see major issues in every game which suggest that, perhaps, this "system" won’t work in Oxford. Some argue that Kennedy’s system relies on elite athletes – athletes which are historically difficult to attract to the Rebel basketball program – who can simply "outphysical" their opponents. What we have seen is that, considering our recruiting ability, players who haven’t "fit the system" have succeeded as much as or more than those who have. It’s frustrating to look at a team with incredible athleticism which falls short so much in the other aspects of the game. Attitude, discipline, and mental toughness are just as important in basketball as pure athleticism; attributes which many of Kennedy’s detractors believe he lacks the necessary coaching fortitude to instill into his players.
But what it comes down to more than anything is a lack of overall production. Despite many seasons on the bubble, Kennedy has no NCAA tournament berths. He has an unusually high attrition rate amongst potentially talented athletes. His teams have a 31-36 record in conference games after Saturday's loss to Georgia. And his teams always seem to lose games when something of great import, such as an NCAA bid, is on the line.
Ole Miss certainly shouldn’t expect to be great in basketball when considering the numerous difficulties in geography, culture, and finances facing our program, but even when the SEC West is in as horrible a state as it has been in recent memory, we cannot proceed with a coach who consistently cannot live up to his or his team’s potential. We imagine that his recruiting and cleaned up post-cabbie-assault behavior may end up keeping him in Oxford for another season or two, but we at the Cup will, until proven otherwise, have no cause for optimism regarding an Andy Kennedy led basketball team.