A lot of people in the Magnolia State are fired up these days… and not in a good way. The Ole Miss basketball team just missed the NCAA Tournament again. Houston Nutt’s football team took a major step backwards last year finishing just 4-8. And the man at the top of the Rebel athletic department is feeling the heat.
In the past few days, an email critical of AD Pete Boone and the UM administration has been circulated among fans. The school’s chancellor received a letter from a fan group detailing concerns within the program. And a group that calls itself “The Forward Rebels” has launched its own website. That site’s mission statement is as follows:
“Forty years ago at Ole Miss, success was measured in championships. However, the passion for Ole Miss athletics has dissolved into a culture of mediocrity.
After four decades of waiting on the Ole Miss athletic department to devote the attention our sports programs deserve, a grassroots coalition of passionate fans has joined to form The Forward Rebels!
We have one question for you, Rebels. Are you ready for change?
If so, we invite you to join us as we move Ole Miss Athletics forward to excellence.”
Amidst all the grumbling, Boone met with the Mississippi media yesterday to discuss the Rebel program. Asked if he senses “a movement of discontent” among major UM boosters, Boone said:
“I think it’s frustration of this past year. I don’t think there’s any question about it. A lot of it has to do with losing to a rival team. Those scabs don’t heal very easily. At the same time, when we have record donations, more people are members of our foundation now than ever before, the facts say that Ole Miss is ready to move forward. The facts say that fans are supporting Ole Miss programs, not the emotion of time.
“I’m going to join Forward Rebels. I think it’s great. It’s about unifying the base, about unifying everybody. That’s what I’ve been trying to preach the last several weeks to our donors. ‘Listen, we can’t get caught. There are too few of us against too many, and we have to be together.’ I feel very good about the response we’ve gotten from those folks, looking for ways to get together and to succeed.
“The issues with regard to those letters and things like that, I understand their frustration. The method is probably not one I would choose, but fans are fans. When you lose, the hot dogs don’t taste as good, and the bathrooms are not as clean. When you win, nobody notices anything. If we get ourselves back to where we need to be and what we need to be doing, I think a lot of those frustrations will go by the wayside.”
Boone also made it clear that under his watch UM has run one of the cleanest programs in the SEC:
“I’m so focused on compliance. Y’all have been reading about all the issues out there. That’s not going to happen at Ole Miss. Maybe other than Vanderbilt, Ole Miss may be the only school since our 1994 (NCAA investigation) — which brought me into this world — without a major investigation from the NCAA. We’re going to have institutional control.
“But when you do that you’re telling a coach he can’t do this or that. You’re putting monitors in place, and they say, ‘You don’t trust me.’ That’s just the nature. To me, the integrity of Ole Miss is at stake. I’m going to do everything I can do, and my boss expects me to do that. Those kinds of things build up over time.”
Build up good… or build up bad? From the context it’s not easy to tell what he’s getting at here — Ole Miss’ compliance record or coaches feeling as though they’re not trusted. (Which was an odd thing to volunteer in the first place.)
Also, while Boone is correct to say winning masks bad hot dogs and dirty restrooms — another odd example to use — an AD always must be cognizant of how his words will appear in print. Will Rebel fans understand and accept his “fans are fans” line or will they take it as being a bit too dismissive?
On another note, we definitely believe Boone is wise to angle his way into the Forward Rebels movement. It seems as though that organization views Boone and the UM administration as part of the problem. Why not join them and try to change that perception? Of course, we’ll have to see how the group responds to Boone joining them. Guess we’ll have to keep an eye on their website.
Meanwhile, all the turmoil in Oxford has to be pretty entertaining to the folks in Starkville. Think Dan Mullen is smiling today?