Ole Miss, Admiral Ackbar Show How Not to Be an Elite Athletic Program

Bryan FlynnAnalyst IFebruary 27, 2010

Ever wonder why some college teams just never get it? Why a certain college team nearly always finishes last in the conference?

Sometimes it is high academic standards and everyone can respect that. Think of schools like Stanford, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and others of that caliber.

Then there are college teams that find a way to climb high enough to see the summit of the mountain only to derail themselves in certain sports. Think of schools like South Florida in the middle of the football season, Texas in basketball, and others.

Speaking of programs that find away to derail themselves in sports brings us to the University of Mississippi. Could there be any program in the mighty Southeastern Conference that finds a way to derail itself in nearly every sport as well as Ole Miss does?

For example, take the Rebels in basketball this season. Mississippi rose as high as 14th in the nation and had an 11-2 record back on January 4th. Now the Rebels are unranked and have an 18-9 record with only a slim chance, if any, of making the NCAA Tournament.

In no other sport do the Rebels find away to derail themselves like the sport of football. For example in 2003, Ole Miss finished the season 10-3 with a Cotton Bowl win.

After that season, Ole Miss saw their quarterback, Eli Manning, drafted by the NFL with the first pick. Overall, the Rebels had four players taken in that draft. With the loss of talent it was only natural Mississippi would take a step back the next year.

So after the 2004 season, in which the Rebels went 4-7, they made the knee-jerk reaction to fire coach David Cutcliffe. After a long search in which Ole Miss was turned down left and right, they decided on USC defensive line coach Ed Orgeron.

There is no question that Orgeron is one of the best recruiters in the country. However, in his first head-coaching job, Orgeron left a lot to be desired.

In three seasons as the head coach in Oxford, Orgeron compiled a 10-25 record overall and a 3-21 record in SEC play. With Orgeron at the helm, the Rebels went winless in SEC play in 2007 for the first time in 25 years.

As the 2007 season came to an end Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone assured Orgeron that his job was safe. Boone even gave Orgeron a vote of confidence the week of the season finale against arch rival Mississippi State.

A failed fourth-down conversion with a 14-0 lead at the Rebels' 49-yard-line in the Egg Bowl against the Bulldogs led to a 17-0 comeback and a loss, Orgeron was fired one day later.

The Rebels program took steps back under Orgeron, while at the same time Cutcliffe revamped the Tennessee offense and was hired to be the head coach of Duke. In just two short seasons, Cutcliffe has made Duke Football competitive in the ACC and has been offered several high-profile jobs.

All of this leads us to new—and old—news this week to come out of Oxford. The Rebels have cast out coaches and more since the turn of the century over knee-jerk reactions.

The mascot Colonel Reb first made his appearance in the 1970s and lasted until the university wanted to move away from any controversy associated with Mississippi’s (the state) past. This comes even after the Ole Miss students voted to keep the mascot by more than 90 percent.

Banning Colonel Reb is not the first controversial move made at Ole Miss by Boone and Chancellor Robert Khayat. Under pressure from then-head coach Tommy Tuberville, the Rebels banned the Confederate Flag under the guise of fan safety.

After his complaints about the flag hurting his recruiting efforts and having the flag banned, Tuberville bolted for SEC West rival Auburn a year later. Since 2003, Ole Miss has made knee-jerk decisions on its mascot and Confederate Flags.

The Ole Miss bans did not stop there with new one coming in 2009. Under new Chancellor Dan Jones, the University has banned the band from playing fan favorite "From Dixie with Love " at athletic events.

After not having a mascot at athletic events since 2003, a Hernando, MS resident and Mississippi student is pushing the new mascot to be Admiral Ackbar. Ackbar is a character from the original Star Wars trilogy.

Admiral Ackbar could be the rest of the nation’s biggest excuse to laugh at the state of Mississippi. The push for Admiral Ackbar once again shows how Ole Miss does not get the idea of how to be an elite program.

No elite college athletic program makes the same knee-jerk reactions that the University of Mississippi continually makes. Think of all the controversy to come the way of elite programs and the way they have handled them.

Michigan has stood by head football coach Rich Rodriguez's recent struggles on and off the field. Florida did not collapse after head coach Urban Meyer decided to take a leave of absence.

From the chancellor to the athletic director and down the Ole Miss chain of command, the university has been plagued by knee-jerk reactions. By not even squashing this new idea of a mascot shows just how unprepared the university is to becoming an elite program.

Reasons like these are why Ole Miss finishes in the middle to the bottom of the SEC nearly every year. Elite programs may not always get the coach they are after or weather all controversy well, but they mostly do not make knee-jerk decisions like they do in Oxford.

From songs to flags to mascots, the hierarchy of the University of Mississippi continually makes knee-jerk decisions to alienate fans and students. The laughable idea of Admiral Ackbar as a mascot still in the running shows just how poorly this university is run from top to bottom.

Ole Miss fans wonder why head football coach Houston Nutt is looking for a way out of Oxford after two straight Cotton Bowl wins; it is a testament to how this university is run. Nutt has given the Rebels two of their best college football seasons since legendary coach John Vaught was leading this program.

The University of Mississippi will never become an elite program in any sport until leaders of this university have a plan and not just knee-jerk reactions. Elite programs would never consider the use of Admiral Ackbar as a mascot.

The Rebels are the only SEC school to slowly destroy their traditions in one of the most tradition-rich conferences in the country. Ole Miss should be relegated to Conference USA or the Sun Belt if they approve Admiral Ackbar as a mascot.


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