[Disjointed? Sure. But it's Monday morning. Just try to keep up.]
Kyle Veazey, to get in a cheap, disgusting parting shot at Ole Miss, the school whose reputation he has sworn himself to ensure the ruin of, released a blog post last week which detailed, with numbers and such, just how poor the 2010-11 Ole Miss athletics programs were.
It wasn't surprising information, but that didn't make it at all easier to read. For the first time since the mid-1990's, the Ole Miss Rebel football, basketball, and baseball teams all missed their sports respective postseasons. Even other Rebel programs of note, namely our tennis squads, underachieved greatly. Topping that injury sunday with some whipped insult, we lost to the Bookfarmers in what seems like everything this school year.
It was miserable - all of it. So miserable, in fact, that so many Rebel fans have given up their fandom, switched athletics allegiance, or slipped into the fervor-consuming apathy that so many Ole Miss partisans before us fell victim to decades ago.
But it's June in Rebel land, and what would June be without at least an attempt to look at the silver lining surrounding the cloud which finds itself hovering over our athletics? Why not give ourselves cause to continue expecting more than we perhaps should? Why not realize that, you know, there probably won't be as horrible a sports year in another two decades or so, right? And why not accept that this is, and has been, a time of some pretty significant change in our most scrutinized athletics programs, change which is a legitimate cause for optimism, not only immediately, but also for several seasons to come?
Crazy? Yes, but let's look at a few things anyway and see how we feel about them going forward.
After enduring months of a brutally scrutinous press purturbed over our coaches' decision to bring Jeremiah Masoli into Oxford from out of Chip Kelly's doghouse, the Rebels immediately fell flat the fuck on their faces in game one, losing to Jacksonville State in overtime.
I'll never get over that game. Ever. Losing to a Division 1-AA school is mental herpes for a college football fan. You got it while drunk, dealt with the burn for a few weeks, and will, for the rest of your life, endure its outbreaks. Shit, I had an "oh my hell we just lost to Jacksonville State" flashback last week, in fact.
From then on out, the whole season was a wash. Hell, at least we got the whole "annual realization that our program isn't as good as we think it is" shit out of the way in September, right? The Rebs only managed to defeat Kentucky, fielded the worst defense in the entire conference, and lost to the Bulldogs for the second season in a row. Everybody had somebody to blame - Dan Jones, Pete Boone, Houston Nutt, Jeremiah Masoli, TEH STUPID BEAR MASCOT!11 - but few had solutions.
Prospects remain bleak for 2011-12. Only Barry Brunetti has any Division 1 snaps at quarterback under his belt, and likely sits behind Randall Mackey in the depth chart; our best defensive player's ACL was just repaired; and the Rebel secondary remains thin, undersized, and untested. Oh, and there's the whole "wildly unpredictable coaching staff" thing. Everything, though is not lost.
Gone are Dave Rader, Ron Dickerson, and Kim Dameron, coaches who, per many, weren't up to par with their SEC peers (Personally, I thought Dameron was a fine coach.) and have been replaced by counterparts with greater and more significant collegiate experience. David Lee will now run the offense, allegedly free from Houston Nutt, Brewer will bring his Ole Miss legacy and very successful wide receiver coaching experience from Stillwater to Oxford, and Ken Burns... well, look, it's the Ole Miss secondary, so the jury will probably forever be out on Coach Burns' impact on our defense.
Overshadowed only slightly by the coaching changes seen this offseason are the recruiting successes the program has seen in spite of poor on-field performance and a renewed commitment from the athletics department to improve on the Ole Miss gameday experience.
Three new quarterbacks - Brunetti, Zack Stoudt, and Mikhail Miller - were signed along with a host of defensive backs and the best trio of wide receivers to have come out of Mississippi in recent memory. Positions of need were adressed for the future and depth was enhanced almost across the board. The talent is young, raw, and yet unproven, but their potential for success is there.
Two weeks ago, Michael Thompson, perhaps the most popular guy working for the Ole Miss Athletics Office right now, released a list of 100 changes that will be made to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and the surrounding atmosphere come kickoff - something which was discussed ad nauseum here. This might not sound like much, but it shows that our concerns are being heard and are being addressed. Of course this doesn't signal some grand, sweeping institutional change, but it's hardly something insignificant.
Regarding Rebel Basketball, the changes were even greater. Every coach was fired - excuse me, "found gainful employment elsewhere" - except for Andy Kennedy, two of which having been replaced by coaches with significant coaching and recruiting experience. Bill Armstrong was promoted into his assistant coach role from within the program, while Al Pinkins, a former Middle Tennessee assistant known as a successful recruiter developer of centers and forwards, joins the program from alongside Sergio Rouco, the former head coach at FIU. Pinkins and Rouco are obvious upgrades, both of which having more than enough experience than we Rebel basketball fans should expect at assitant positions.
On top of that, six new players were brought into the program, moving bench players Will Bogan, Trevor Gaskins (he was graduating... right?), and Isaiah Massey elsewhere.
And the Tad Pad? That'll be replaced in a few seasons. Considering those changes and the discussions involving a major facilities upgrade, it's tough to argue that the school isn't as dedicated to basketball as it has been in a long while.
Then there's baseball. We don't know what changes are going to be made after Mike Bianco's team missed postseason play for the first time in nine seasons, but if football and basketball are any indicator, I'd wager that there are coaching changes afoot. They certainly need to be.
All of this change we are seeing is obviously incremental. Given our resources and the current state of affairs, a scorched earth type of policy for the Ole Miss athletics programs isn't only impossible, it's unwise beyond explanation. This funk won't be remedied overnight, and such incremental improvements in staffs, attitudes, and facilities are what we'll need to undertake in order to, eventually, see postseason play out of our major sports programs.
It's not the popular party line, but I do want to give some credit to Pete Boone and the Ole Miss athletics administration over the events which have taken place over the past few months as well as those which are sure to happen over the summer. I also want to vandalize their offices and send thinly-veiled threats their way via the Twitters over the past football and basketball seasons (but I won't because I'm not yet a sociopathical fuckup), but I'll be damned if they're not trying to right a few wrongs here. We fans have every right to be pissed about what happened over the past several months of Ole Miss Rebel athletics, but realize we must that, while things may not be changing in the direction or at the pace we may wish for, changes are being made. After the year we just endured, I'll welcome any change whatsoever. We need it.