Team preview: Mississippi
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006-07 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
Andy Kennedy's been in scramble mode for so long he's forgotten what it was like to have a normal job. Not that coaching college basketball is a 9-to-5, weekends-off type of gig, but starting last August and continuing through to the start of his first season at Ole Miss, Kennedy's life has been nuts.
Kennedy's career path was fast-tracked when the University of Cincinnati abruptly forced out long-time coach Bob Huggins and appointed Kennedy, who had been an assistant on Huggins' staff, his interim successor on Aug. 26, 2005. Suddenly Kennedy was in control of a perennial Top 25 program, but, though Huggins had encouraged him to take the job, he wrestled with conflicting emotions. A difficult situation was made even more so when two returning veterans and a key recruit left the program after Huggins' departure.
Adversity continued throughout the season. In November, assistant coach Keith LeGree resigned after being charged with DUI. In January, senior Armein Kirkland was lost after blowing out his knee. Then there was the constant media speculation about whether Kennedy would be retained full time.
Despite all the obstacles, distractions and loss of personnel, Kennedy managed to guide the Bearcats to an 8-8 record in their debut season in the mighty Big East. Cincinnati finished 21-13 overall and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT.
On March 23, the day Cincinnati's season ended with a loss to eventual NIT champion South Carolina, Kennedy learned he had been hired to replace Rod Barnes at Ole Miss, a true homecoming for the Mississippi native. In a fitting coincidence, his friend Huggins was hired by Kansas State on the same day.
"Never in a million years could I have planned this out the way it unfolded," Kennedy said. "I grew up a fan of the Southeastern Conference. I'm just a few miles from where I was born and raised. To have that opportunity & I still can't believe how it all happened."
Save for some intermittent periods of success, most recently under Barnes and his predecessor Rob Evans, Ole Miss has traditionally been a bottom-tier program in the SEC. Kennedy is 38 years old. In his lifetime, the Rebels have produced just six winning records in league play.
Turning around a program that's last in the SEC's all-time standings won't be easy. But Kennedy will attack the job with zeal and by using what he learned, as he put it, "at the right hand of Bob Huggins."
"I was able to see how coach Huggins ran a Top 25 program through the sheer force of his will, discipline and sacrifice," said Kennedy, who seems uniquely qualified to follow that blueprint. "I'm the kind of guy that has no hobbies," he said. "Just basketball."
Kennedy will expend the energy he might have wasted on a round of golf on recruiting, something he's known for (Rivals.com once chose him one of the nation's top 20 recruiters). Kennedy plans on transforming Ole Miss into a team that will play fast offensively and defensively, and he'll try to use that philosophy to his advantage in finding talent.
"We're going to try and play to the athleticism of this region," Kennedy said. "And that's fast. The days of the 6-10, 6-11 kid coming to college for very long are over. It's especially rare at Ole Miss. But I think I can recruit a plethora of athletes from the Deep South, where there are tons of guys that can run and jump, and play to their strengths."