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The case for keeping Tony Madlock as Ole Miss basketball’s head coach

It’s not an exciting hire, to be sure, but he has a perfect audition opportunity here.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Texas A&M C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

In his first game as Ole Miss’ interim head coach for the remainder of the 2017-18 season, the first Rebel basketball tilt without Andy Kennedy at the helm in nearly 12 years, Tony Madlock spurred the Basketsharks on to a 90-87 overtime win over a newly resurgent Missouri club that’s almost certainly headed to the NCAA tournament this year. This upset happened on Mizzou’s home floor in Columbia, before a very irate crowd.

Madlock has been at Ole Miss for four years, hired in 2014, the season after the Rebs won the SEC basketball tournament beneath the fireworks of #MarshallMadness. In his time on staff, he’s seen the Rebs go 75-55 at Kennedy’s side, including Tuesday night’s craziness in Columbia. He helped oversee the development of transfer Stefan Moody, and presided in an assistant role over the final season of Jarvis Summers’ offensive helmsmanship.

Before Oxford, Madlock spent time at Auburn, UTEP, and Arkansas State. He’s been in the college basketball coaching game for 20 years, and his lone win previous to Tuesday as head man of an NCAA college basketball team came at UTEP. He’s thus undefeated as a head coach in Division 1 men’s collegiate basketball, and both wins have come in impromptu situations. Now he has an opportunity to make that at least 5-0 as frontman, and he could expand that further into the SEC tournament.

Madlock offers the program continuity, that abstraction which prevailed over the football team’s hiring of Matt Luke.

Let’s be real. Madlock will not be elevated to permanent head coach of Ole Miss basketball, but that statement does not necessarily preclude him from consideration for the gig. Were he to receive consideration, though, what incentivizes Bjork’s hiring of him in the immediate window?

First and foremost: Madlock will probably get grabbed up by someone else before the SEC tournament is even over. Madlock is firmly grounded in the Kennedy system, and continuity apparently matters to Ross Bjork. Further, certainly AK is already talking to other clubs on the make, and perhaps AK’s mentioning Madlock’s name as a possible assistant. He’s a longtime, industry guy, and he knows the inner workings of elite college basketball to hop on and run a hard-ass practice at, say, Utah (we’ll have more on that later this week, so put a pin in it).

In short, if Madlock doesn’t want a head spot of his own, he’d probably follow AK to wherever Kennedy lands, and gladly so. I’d love to work under AK as a hotdog server.

Madlock also offers Ross Bjork a safe way out, which he took with Ole Miss football.

Bjork and Jeff Vitter (?) demonstrated with the hire of interim head football coach Matt Luke that they weren’t willing to take a flyer on an outside name. Luke coached admirably in his one season at the helm following Hugh Freeze’s ignominious departure, but Ole Miss football could have entertained a number of nationally recognized names from without to spearhead a real sea-change for Rebel football. Never mind. Let’s bring in the Good Rebel.

Tony Madlock is not a Good Rebel in the sense of Ole Miss football fans’ collective non-wisdom, but he’s a solid helmsman. He held together a tattered squad of disillusioned though talented players for a road win under his first stint as man in charge. That’s impressive, and as ESPN2’s call guys continually mentioned throughout their broadcast, his performance from here on out constitutes a pretty convenient national audition for any other program in the country that wants to pick him up. He’s helped at Auburn and UTEP, after all, and they’ve played in NCAA tournaments in recent memory.

Before you get angry or whatever.

This is not meant to convince you that Tony Madlock should be the guy for Ole Miss basketball moving forward. This is meant to prepare you for the fact that Ross Bjork and Jeff Vitter may just give into their easy instincts and elect the interim guy. Take Madlock’s credentials with what you will — they’re thin indeed, but he’s still an option. Just ask Matt Luke.