The University of Mississippi’s athletic director, Ross Bjork, will be leaving to take the same position in College Station at Texas A&M University, first reported by Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News.
The Aggies lost their A.D. a month ago when Scott Woodward left after three years for the same role at LSU. Now, Bjork will fill that spot at one of the country’s most lucrative athletic programs in the conference’s largest market.
Bjork released this statement about his departure:
“We will forever cherish our time at Ole Miss and in Oxford. I want to thank Dan Jones, Archie Manning and Mike Glenn for giving me the opportunity to be an Ole Miss Rebel in 2012. I am proud of the athletics accomplishments and the infrastructure improvements we were able to achieve during the last seven years, but I am most proud of our student-athletes. They always believed they could achieve greatness in the classroom, and now Ole Miss Athletics has the highest grade point average, graduation rates and APR scores in the history of the program. Despite some challenges along the way, Ole Miss is a great place, and I appreciate all of the support that every Chancellor has provided and especially my strong relationship with Larry Sparks. We have built lifelong friendships and will always revere our time as Rebels.”
Interim Chancellor Larry Sparks also submitted a statement in regards to the now vacant A.D. spot:
“Ross has been an outstanding leader of Ole Miss Athletics. Our programs and our university are stronger for his service to Rebel Nation. Under Ross’s direction, we won SEC and national championships and improved our athletics facilities significantly while, at the same time, our student-athletes have achieved unprecedented success in the classroom. I’ve enjoyed working with Ross a great deal, and wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.”
The 46-year-old was in Oxford for the last seven years and was the youngest athletic director at any “Power Five” school in the country when he was hired way back when in 2012. Under Bjork’s watch, the Rebels’ football program enjoyed stellar campaigns in 2014 and 2015, fielding a combined 19-7 record, finishing as high as No. 3 in the country in the Associated Press Poll, and going to the first Sugar Bowl since 1970.
But, many of those accolades were thrown in the trash when NCAA sanctions were slammed down due to major violations regarding a lack of institutional control and an “unconstrained culture of booster involvement in football recruiting.” The Sugar Bowl appearance and trophy weren’t vacated, however, so there’s that feather in his cap.
The football program was devastated after the unfavorable handling of all things NCAA. Victories were vacated, scholarships restrictions were handed down, and then-head coach Hugh Freeze was fired in embarrassing fashion. Then on top of that, he essentially bungled a coaching search to replace Freeze and by most people’s accounts, hired Matt Luke amid intense pressure from the Ole Miss administration.
Despite that shit show, Bjork was still an athletic director at a university whose athletic programs thrived in spite of his lackluster, up-and-down leadership. Ole Miss continued to have sustained success as an athletic department, finishing 25th (their highest finish ever) in Learfield’s Director’s Cup, which is awarded to the highest-achieving athletic department in the country.
Sure all the NCAA stuff was a humongous pain in everyone’s ass and the Rebel football program, the biggest moneymaker on campus mind you, is just now getting over it, but Bjork’s tenure wasn’t a complete disaster. Under his watch, the baseball team went to the College World Series in 2014, the basketball team went to the NCAA Tournament three times and opened a brand new arena (it’s real nice, y’all), and the softball team has made it to the postseason four-straight years now.
Not to mention, Bjork hired two fantastic head coaches in Kermit Davis and Mike Smith for the aforementioned programs.
The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman seems to think that Ole Miss will turn its attention to a familiar name when they begin their search for a Bjork replacement.
Would expect #OleMiss brass to give strong consideration to Utah State AD John Hartwell. He worked at OM for a decade before becoming AD at Troy where he hired Neal Brown and just had his hoops & football programs at USU both finish in the Top 25. https://t.co/sE93kLZJou— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) May 24, 2019
As mentioned in the tweet above, Hartwell, a native of Mobile, Ala., worked in Oxford from 2003-2012 as senior executive associate athletic director before leaving to take the head gig as A.D. at Troy. And all he did there was hire a football coach at a Group of Five school that won 35 games in four years, won three-straight bowl games, and two conference titles. Then after leaving there for Logan, Utah all he did was hire a new basketball coach who went 28-7, won regular season AND conference tournament titles, and made it to the NCAA tournament. And oh yeah, the football team went 11-2 and won the New Mexico Bowl.
As qualified as he is, I would venture to guess that the university will take its time with this search. After all, they still need to name a new chancellor.
Despite most of the fanbase presumably applauding this development, his tenure wasn’t a complete and total failure. Ross was instrumental in several big-time fundraising operations while at Ole Miss, The Pavilion was finally opened, ushering in a new era for the hoops program, the Rebel baseball program is one of the very few in the country that actually turns a profit, and before the NCAA bomb went off football was rocking and rolling and generating TONS of money. Yes, the bad outweighed the good in the end, but let’s not act like he was a complete and total moron.
With all that said, change brings optimism and it also brings hope.
But, we all know what hope is.