Sometimes you have to take a hit to your ego and realize you are just not the right person for the job.
That is what Andy Kennedy did when deciding to step down from the coaching position at Ole Miss after 11-plus seasons of moderate success. After most likely taking a long look at both himself and the program, he admitted that it was time to leave.
College basketball has some of the biggest yet most fragile egos in sports, with coaches often staying past their time, thinking that just one more season will be when they turn around the program. Stepping down can be seen as a sort of cowardice; men so proud that they can’t even hint at the fact of failure. When this occurs, the reputation of the coach can be tarnished and the program he is in charge of can fall even farther down the proverbial totem pole.
In the grand scheme of things, Kennedy’s tenure was not close to being a disappointment. The Rebels made two NCAA Tournament appearances, which doesn’t seem that major until you realize that accomplishment had only been realized six times prior in program history. The teams were at times exciting — no one will ever forget the Marshall Henderson theatrics — and only twice did Kennedy’s teams win fewer than 20 games in a season.
The status quo, though, is no longer good enough in the SEC. Finishing in the middle of the pack is no longer acceptable in a conference that has so many coaches turning the corner with their programs. Kennedy has seen his team surpassed by Auburn, Tennessee, Alabama and others when the Rebels used to be one of the big dogs, challenging the likes of Kentucky and Florida for conference supremacy at times.
By resigning when he did, Kennedy did what was best for both himself and Ole Miss.
While the writing might have been on the wall for the coach, his decision to announce that he would be stepping down now gives athletic director Ross Bjork and a hiring committee a head start on contacting qualified candidates, venting applications and figuring out who they want to be the next leader of the program.
Kennedy could have waited, sure, hoping that a last-minute turnaround and decision by the decision-makers at Ole Miss would afford him another year. He didn’t, and the Rebels will now have a look at their top choices for next coach instead of settling for what is left after the firing squad comes out at schools across the nation following the season.
The vacant position could well be one of the most desired in the country this offseason. With a new arena that opened just two years ago — it receiving nothing but rave reviews, as far as I have seen — and the resurgence of the conference as one of the best in the nation, talented players in the South and beyond will start looking at Ole Miss as a destination.
For Kennedy, who is only 49 years old, it is a chance to take a deep breath and refocus on the things that have made him successful in the past. A new location and challenge can re-energize someone when staying in the same rut wouldn’t. He has plenty of time to evaluate what went right and wrong, what he would do differently and then apply that to a new position somewhere else. Many schools will be calling his name and they shouldn’t waste much time. Kennedy will be a hot commodity once people take a look at what he has actually accomplished.
As for his time at Ole Miss, there are still five regular-season games and the SEC Tournament to focus on, but the future of both he and the Ole Miss program are heading in the right direction.
A fresh start isn’t always the answer, but that is what was needed. All the credit to Kennedy. He was brave enough to admit that.
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