It was just about this time last year—March 21, 2012, to be exact—that Ole Miss announced the hiring of a relatively unknown Director of Athletics, Ross Bjork, to lead Ole Miss athletics into the future.
At the time, the 40-year-old Bjork, arriving from Western Kentucky University, where he had held the same position, was the single youngest Director of Athletics to take reign at a BCS school.
Upon arriving in Oxford, Bjork was handed a football program coming off two of its worst years in the program's history and a men's basketball squad that, while successful, had not made a serious run at the NCAA tournament since 2002. He didn't exactly walk into the best of times in Oxford.
As Ross Bjork edges closer to having a complete year under his belt as leader of Ole Miss athletics, I think it's worthwhile to take a quick look at where two of his three major revenue programs (football and men's basketball) stand in early 2013. I'll let Coach Bianco's boys of summer rest for now.
Let's face it, football is king at Ole Miss as it is elsewhere across the Southeastern Conference (SEC). That being said, Bjork inherited a football program that had come off a 4-8 season in 2010 and a 2-10 season in 2011 (both under the direction of former Rebel head coach Houston Nutt).
Around the same time Bjork first stepped foot on campus in Oxford, Hugh Freeze had also been hired as the new head coach of the football team. While it was known that both men had great success at their previous institutions, nobody really knew what to expect of them at Ole Miss.
After posting a 7-6 record in 2012, including an extremely unexpected trip to a bowl game, Freeze has created a renewed energy in a football program that desperately needed a shot in the arm. With the Rebels currently sporting the No. 11-ranked recruiting class in 2013 per Rivals.com, the folks in Oxford have great expectations about what lies ahead for their beloved gridiron Rebs.
Despite producing five 20-plus win seasons and NIT appearances in his first six seasons at the helm in Oxford, head coach Andy Kennedy has still not earned the Rebels a bid to the Big Dance.
Given a seventh season—and opportunity—under Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork in 2012-13, Kennedy now has the roundball Rebs on track to earn that elusive ticket to dance in March.
With a defining win against a then-No. 10-ranked Missouri Tiger team earlier this month, followed up with a dramatic come-from-behind win against a scrappy Vanderbilt team on the road, Kennedy’s Rebels now control their own March Madness destiny.
Currently at 14-2 overall and 3-0 in league play (RPI: 45, SOS: 170), 15 conference games now stand between the upstart Rebels and a ticket to the NCAA tournament. Kennedy's chance to send the Rebels to the Big Dance is now, and he has his players seizing the opportunity.
If they keep up their current level of play, there's no reason to believe Ole Miss can't make a serious run at an SEC Championship in both the regular season and SEC Basketball Tournament before hopefully turning their eyes to a run in the NCAA tournament.
In conclusion, as Bjork's one-year anniversary at Ole Miss quickly approaches, there is a lot of reason for the Ole Miss faithful to be excited not only for the future, but also for today. Coach Freeze has made dramatic improvements to the football program and has it quickly headed in the right direction. Coach Kennedy is currently making a serious run at postseason SEC and NCAA success, and this may be his year to finally get the "NCAA tournament monkey" off his back for good. Finally, with the start of Rebel Baseball not far away itself, there is ample reason to believe coach Mike Bianco will follow in Freeze and Kennedy's footsteps and produce an outstanding year himself this spring.
Sure, AD Ross Bjork doesn't coach any of these sports himself, but he has a great deal of power overseeing each of them on a daily basis. Within less than a year, he's helped to bring a new energy and youthful vigor to an entire college athletic program that desperately needed it.
The Rebels are on the Rise, and the first person to thank should be Bjork ...
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