Ole Miss basketball had high hopes for the 2017-2018 season. They returned an experienced and talented backcourt in Deandre Burnett and Terence Davis as well as an experienced and talented graduate transfer in former Memphis Tiger, now Rebel Markel Crawford. Then, 7-footer Dominik Olejniczak was finally eligible and was expected to contribute on the defensive end and a fairly nice recruiting class made it to campus and was going to play a lot.
But, as it stands now, the Rebels are 11-14 and 4-8 in the Southeastern Conference after dropping Saturday’s contest in Baton Rouge. The offense is struggling mightily and the body language isn’t much better. And despite things not being in a disaster area just yet, Andy Kennedy has to know his days are numbered barring a SEC Tournament win and auto bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Now, per a report from CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish, Kennedy will step down at the end of the 2017-2018 season.
Andy is the program’s winningest coach and has taken them to heights that haven’t been seen in years. But, the 20-win seasons and early exits in the conference tournament have gotten the fan base grumbling. I have my own reservations about the program, support, fans, etc. but that’s for another day, but if Ole Miss is going to make a change, they need to do it now.
And they need to do whatever they can to become engaging again and get buy-in from the fans and the administration. Because right now, Ole Miss is possibly the worst job in the conference.
So who do they go after? Here are some names (in no particular order) that could be on Ross Bjork’s list:
Head coach at East Tennessee State University
He was an off-the-radar name just a few months ago, but Forbes has led the Buccaneers to a 22-4 record this season and owns the nation’s longest win streak of 16 games. Forbes took over a program with a defense rated outside of the top 250 and has been inside the top 50 each of the last two seasons. Prior to ETSU he helped build the recruiting classes at Wichita State that saw the Shockers go undefeated in the regular season in 2014. After the season Forbes has had in Johnson City, he will be one of the top targets all across the Southeast.
On the flip side of all his success, he has had some unfortunate run-ins with the NCAA and that could be a hang up with his hiring. But, the bottom line is he is as good as they come in the profession and it is only a matter of time before he makes the jump to the Power 5 leagues. And Ole Miss might want to be the team to take a chance and hit lightning in a bottle.
Head coach at Nevada
His name is likely the hottest in college basketball now. But, many of the biggest name programs that could come available this offseason might do so because of the FBI investigation. Musselman was an assistant at Louisiana State University under Johnny Jones so he knows about recruiting in the SEC. He has previous coaching experience at six NBA stops including head coach of the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors. His time in the NBA would give him a chance to be an elite level recruiter immediately.
Musselman could also capitalize on the offensive successes Andy Kennedy has had in Oxford. Nevada was 247th in offense in his first season in Reno, but in year three, Muss has the Wolfpack 12th nationally. With his NBA and SEC ties and overall knowledge of the game, it could be an immediate upgrade from A.K. on paper. But, games and program buy-in isn’t won or earned on paper.
Head coach at Middle Tennessee State
Davis might seem like the best fit in Oxford. He’s coached at Southwest Mississippi CC, Chipola JC, Texas A&M, LSU, and now Middle Tennessee. S knows his way around some backroads. One problem—he played college ball at Mississippi State.
His coaching record stands for itself however. In 15 years in Murfreesboro, Davis has led Middle to a 332-187 record that gets even gaudier during his last 7 seasons (171-59). His teams also play a brand of defense that Ole Miss fans have been itching for since the heyday of Rod Barnes.
The Leakesville, Miss. native has been outstanding at MTSU. He’s lifted them from the Sun Belt to Conference USA and they have been to the tourney two years in a row, including a big-time upset against Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans last year. In total, he has won eight regular season and/or division titles and can do a lot with little. Sound familiar?
Head coach at Grand Canyon
Majerle has taken a program from Division II to the top of the WAC in four years. It would’ve been quicker had Grand Canyon even been eligible for postseason play before the 2018 season. He has coaching experience in the NBA and has no issues building a program from the ground up. GCU also plays a defensive brand that would be very attractive in Oxford, taking big men from overseas and developing them into elite post defenders.
Speaking of lightning in a bottle, Majerle might have the most upside on this list. He’s done wonders with the Antelopes program with relatively no support and no real history or NBA pedigree. Sound familiar? Nevertheless, he’s played in the league, was an All-Star for the Suns, and his daggum number is hanging in the rafters in Phoenix. So, yeah, he is no slouch. He’s also won 98 games and counting in five seasons at GCU and has finished second in the Western Athletic Conference three years in a row.
It would be very interesting to see him work with a SEC budget, especially on the recruiting trail in the Southeast. For example, last year, he convinced a kid from Illinois to sign with Grand Canyon over offers from Missouri, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon, Pittsburgh, and Southern Cal.
It’s safe to say that Majerle is our favorite here at The Cup.
Head coach at Memphis East High School
The best coaches tend to have the best players. It’s not surprising recruiting rankings correlate closely with wins on the floor. Penny Hardaway could potentially bring more four-stars to Oxford from his AAU team alone than the Rebs have had this decade. What he lacks in head coaching experience he makes up for in name recognition and recruiting ties. If Ole Miss wants to play the same game as the rest of the SEC, they’re going to have to get a seat at the table. Anfernee brings that with his NBA and crootin ties with every shoe company out there and activity on the AAU circuit.
The former All-American from Memphis practically has a key to the city. He had the potential to be a dynamic scorer and star in the NBA before being hampered by injuries that forced him to eventually retire. But, despite not playing in a NBA game in 11 years, kids still know him from his top-selling Nike shoes and his AAU presence coaching Team Penny. Outside the box, sure, but he has a top 15 high school team rolling in the Mid-South and his recruiting connections are unmatched.
It would be a risk because he has yet to coach in college, but hey, roll the dice and see what happens. What have you got to lose, Ross? NIT berth?
Head coach at Stephen F. Austin
Fresh off two NCAA wins in three season, he took over for the best coach in school history in the first season after losing the best player in school history. And three more starters. All Keller did was lead the Lumberjacks to a second place finish in the Southland Conference in year one. Now in year two, S.F.A is the creme of the Southland crop in KenPom and is led by a slew of underclassmen. The rebuilding job Keller did on the fly cannot be understated. Something similar may be necessary in Oxford.
The sample size is rather small, but he has been an assistant at three big-time college basketball programs (Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M). And now he is at S.F.A. and has quickly won 35 games in one and a half seasons. Despite the success as a head coach and impressive coaching tree, you have to wonder if he would be able to recruit big names to Oxford. But, there is no questioning his resume, no matter how short it is.
Head coach at Nebraska
Sometimes good coaches need a change of scenery to right the ship. Miles is one of those guys. He was one of the hottest coaches in the country during the season of “NEBRASKETBALL” that swept the nation in 2014. But, despite the buzz created, Miles has found it difficult to recruit to Lincoln. During his time in Colorado Springs, Miles inherited a methodical, slow-tempo program, but grinded out season after season and took a 7-win program to 20 wins and a berth in the NCAA second round in five years. Sound familiar?
What Miles’ teams do is play disciplined defense and they take care of the basketball as good as anyone. His 2014 team featured a top 40 defense that valued ball control and limited second chance shots. A change could do him good and Ole Miss desperately needs discipline and fundamentally-sound play. Miles is night and day different from Kennedy in just about every single facet and would be a breath of fresh air in Oxford.
Head coach at Murray State
McMahon has coached all around the Southeast and his teams have improved a ton at each stop. He’s got a really good offense and he’s even taken a Tulane transfer and turned him into maybe the best player in the Ohio Valley Conference. Sound familiar? The Buzz Peterson pupil followed him to Tennessee as a graduate assistant and then was an assistant at UNC-Wilmington with Buzz as well. In 2012, FoxSports.com and CollegeInsider.com ranked McMahon as one of college basketball’s best assistant coaches, while in 2015 he was tabbed as one of “9 Under-the-Radar Coaches to Watch” by NCAA.com.
In his first season in Murray, he was a co-division champ in the OVC. This season, he has the Racers out the gate and running, compiling a 20-5 overall record and an impressive 12-2 conference record. The Oak Ridge, Tenn. native is a youngster (39-years old) but his resume is seasoned. He’s been at a SEC program and knows how things work. But, that was nearly 20 years ago and times have changed. It would be a risk, but it’s worth a shot to take a risk at this point.
Head coach at Boise State
Rice has done wonders in Blue Turf land. He has take over a nobody program in a desolate state for hoops and made it into a a perennial top 100 KenPom team in a league loaded with teams in better locales (sound familiar). However, he’s kind of like Kennedy but in a relatively smaller sample size (just two NCAA bids). His Broncos have been an 11 and 13 seed and have struggled to take command of the top of a MWC that’s been down the last six years.
One thing on Rice’s resume that can’t be touched by many on this list is that he was arguably Mark Few’s top assistant while on staff at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are one of college basketball’s juggernauts nowadays and have become a household name across the country. In his 10 seasons in Spokane, he was a part of four Sweet 16 berths and was also a great recruiter for them for Few and Co.
All in all, Rice is a rather intriguing candidate because he wins a ton but has not been past the first weekend in the NCAA tournament. Sound familiar? He is the first BSU coach to win 20 games in two of his first three seasons and has 20 or more wins in seven of his first eight seasons. He won his first Mountain West regular season championship three years ago and was named the Mountain West coach of the year to boot. He appears ready to make the jump to Power 5 status, but could a guy from Washington state win recruiting battles in the South? Risky but why not?
EDITOR’S NOTE: Check back throughout the process for updates. We will be adding and removing names until Ross Bjork names Andy’s successor.