On Monday February 12, Neal McCready of RebelGrove.com (the Rivals site for Ole Miss), reported that Andy Kennedy would announce his resignation in a press conference later that afternoon.
Andy Kennedy will leave Ole Miss as the winningest coach in program history, after taking over for a program that was a perennial cellar-dweller.
Andy Kennedy entered the season with 234 wins as the head basketball coach at Ole Miss, winning an average of 21 games per season.
But the bottom fell out on the 2017-18 season. Ole Miss lost early home nonconference games to South Dakota State, Illinois State, and Virginia Tech.
But Ole Miss managed to at least stay afloat, until a few weeks ago. Ole Miss has lost 7 of its last 8 games, losing their last five in a row. The wheels officially fell off.
Many felt Ole Miss had to make a change to keep up with a rapidly improving SEC, which might be true. But there is more to it than that. The firing (or “resignation” if we are being technical) leaves me, at least, with complexing thoughts as to why Ole Miss is actually struggling.
While I concede that it felt like time to make a change, I’m not convinced this will ultimately be a good thing for the basketball program. Ole Miss could easily hire a coach who fails to get anywhere close to the success of Andy Kennedy, especially if you look at the recruiting landscape in Mississippi.
Since 2015, Mississippi State has signed six four-stars and one five-star basketball player from Mississippi, according to the 247sports composite player rankings for the state of Mississippi; Ole Miss has signed none – zero, zilch, nada. In 2014, Kentucky signed five-star Devin Booker from Mississippi. Booker became a lottery pick for the Phoenix Suns. Louisiana Tech signed the number two player in Mississippi that year, while Mississippi State took the third and fourth rated players.
All in all, you have to go all the way back to 2013 to find the last time Ole Miss signed the top player from Mississippi. Dwight Coleby signed with Ole Miss out of high school, but transferred to Kansas after two seasons of minimal production. He is now a grad transfer at Western Kentucky.
What about the 2019 recruiting class, you might ask? Well, there are currently two four-stars in 2019, but neither are highly considering Ole Miss. One, D.J. Jeffries, crystal ball is leaning to Kentucky, while Austin Crowley’s crystal ball is favoring Mississippi State.
If we’re being honest, coaching isn’t why Ole Miss was losing games in the 2017/18 season. Recruiting success, or lack thereof, is. Andy Kennedy has made a career out of getting transfers to come to Oxford and produce, but that is risky business. Every transfer can’t be Marshall Henderson or Stefan Moody.
Ole Miss was burned by the strategy Kennedy has had to use in 2017/18. Markel Crawford has had minimal impact, Bruce Stevens has shown flashes but struggled to adjust overall, and Dominik Olejniczak has struggled throughout the season.
After the 2016/17 season saw Ole Miss catch fire late and make a run in the NIT, Ole Miss was expected to sign their best recruiting class ever under Kennedy, until his bosses intervened. Andy Kennedy’s contract wasn’t extended after the season, causing two commits to back off their pledges. Jamarko Pickett was a top-75 player nationally, and he had been committed to Ole Miss. Instead of enrolling in Oxford, he ended up at Georgetown, instead. Parker Stewart also left the class, enrolling at Pittsburgh.
Ole Miss still inked four-star guard Devontae Shuler, but he is a freshman. Freshman struggle, that’s how it works. Pickett and Shuler were supposed to usher in a new era of success in Oxford. But Pickett is at Georgetown.
Long story short, Ole Miss has to address the recruiting failures in Mississippi if they wish to be a successful program. They could hire a coach better than Kennedy and still sink back to the slumber at the bottom of an abyss that Kennedy drug them out of, thanks to a vastly improved SEC.