At the end of my first season at Ole Miss, I sat down with then-Athletics Director Tom Boone to discuss what we both felt had been an exciting year for Rebel Basketball. We’d fallen short of our main goal - winning a national championship is always our main goal, no excuses - but we had gone to the Sweet Sixteen, and I thought the team had shown a lot of heart. I was optimistic for the future and so was Tom.
We talked for about an hour, covering everything from strategy to budgetary concerns (“Randy, you know you’ll always have a blank check as long as I’m AD,” Tom said) to recruiting during the off-season. When we were finishing up, after we’d covered all the bases, Tom asked me what I planned to do in my free time during the off-season. “You going to take up golf? Visit friends in Cincinnati? Go on vacation with Kelly?” I said all of that sounded like fun but that I wanted to try my hand at writing. Tom laughed. “I’m sure you’ll do great at it,” he said.
I wasn’t so sure. It had been seven years since I finished off my Ph.D., seven years since I’d had to dedicate any significant time to my writing, and I was worried it would show. “Maybe you could give me some pointers,” I said. After all, Tom was the man who personally tutored many of our student-athletes who needed help with their Lit and Comp courses. He was great friends with the writers in our MFA program, and I don’t know if there was a place he loved more than Square Books.
”Randy, I think you’ll do just fine without me.” He patted me on the back, ushered me to the door of his office - he had a meeting after that with my dear friend Mark Bianco - and said, grinning with all the warmth in the world, “But I’ll take a signed copy when the book comes out.”
As it turns out, I didn’t finish this book during that off-season. I started it, but then life - and basketball - got in the way. We brought in the highest rated recruiting class in school history. The other coaches and I spent hours every day working on schemes and plays, watching tape of the players we’d likely face the next year. We finished the year with disappointment again. That year we made the Final Four, but again we fell short of our yearly goal. I promised myself - and Tom - that I’d finish the book that off-season. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. One of the great things about being a coach is having the opportunity to dip into so many different facets of a young man’s academic and sporting life. Those facets take time, and what I learned rather quickly over the next few years was that I valued those facets and those young men much more than I valued my little writing project.
I don’t regret for a moment that I’ve postponed this book so long. In the intervening years, my guys have brought Ole Miss three National Championships. We’ve placed many of our players in professional leagues including the NBA, but what I may be most proud of is our graduation rate. The young men who come to play for me get an education.
So, after all these years, here is my little side-project. My friend Tom is no longer with us, but I wish like hell that he were. If I close my eyes and imagine it, I can see him sitting there in the Grove on a cool Fall day, sipping at the little flask of bourbon he kept as his reading companion. In my mind, Tom raises a hand to all the students passing, calling them by name the way he always did. And in his lap is my book. He never got the chance to do that. I never got the chance to give him the signed copy. All I can do instead is dedicate this book to his memory.
We miss you Tom.
God’s Country - Oxford, MS