Tuesday , February 13, 2018 - 3:56 PM
The longest-tenured SEC basketball coach announced his resignation Monday after 12 years, two NCAA Tournament appearances and one conference tournament championship.
Mississippi head coach Andy Kennedy sat beside Rebels Athletic Director Ross Bjork on Monday afternoon and announced he would finish the season then step down as head coach after 12 seasons. Eleven of those finished with winning records, and Kennedy will finish as the winningest coach in program history.
“I’ve been blessed — truly blessed — to have had the opportunity to be the head coach in the Southeastern Conference, in my home state, for 12 years,” Kennedy said. “That is a true blessing. This I know. I also know it’s time for a new voice and a new vision for this program moving forward.”
The resignation was not entirely out of the blue — in May, Mississippi opted not to extend Kennedy’s contract, which still has three seasons remaining — but it comes just over a year after the program opened the doors to its new $96 million dollar arena, a 9,500-seat pavilion that has struggled to attract fans to fill it.
When Missouri traveled to Oxford, Mississippi, last week, just 6,204 fans showed up — the lowest attendance of any of the Tigers’ SEC contests. Mississippi has consistently ranked in the bottom half of SEC basketball attendance.
Kennedy’s resignation also comes at a crossroads for the SEC. An influx of talent and new coaches has elevated the conference to one of the most competitive in the nation this season, and eight conference teams are expected to hear their names on Selection Sunday, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
Eleven winning seasons set a program record, but Kennedy’s two tournament appearances just won’t cut it — especially in a conference making significant strides.
As teams perennially relegated to the bottom half of SEC standings are emerging as serious competitors — Auburn (22-3, 10-2 SEC), Missouri (17-8, 7-5), Mississippi State (18-7, 6-6) — Mississippi (11-14, 4-8) is struggling through its worst season under Kennedy. To make matters worse, the Rebels have lost seven of their last eight contests.
One benefit of playing in such a strong conference is the ability to bounce back against NCAA Tournament-worthy teams, as Florida coach Mike White noted in a Kansas City Star story on the SEC’s depth.
“You have a big road ahead of you, but you have a lot of opportunities to help your case,” White said. “We all have the opportunity now for quality wins in this league.”
The league is “beating itself up,” the Star’s Alex Schiffer writes. Mississippi, meanwhile, is beating up only itself, having not won back-to-back conference games this season.
The Rebels’ head coaching position is far from the most lucrative in college basketball, which sees a number of vacancies each offseason, and whoever takes the job will have to follow the program’s winningest coach. They’ll also have to recruit in-state against Ben Howland, who’s turned around the Mississippi State program.
“We know the landscape is always going to be changing,” Bjork told reporters Monday. “It’s different this year with all the things happening in college basketball so I think you have to be very, very careful in your search process. Whatever the timeline is to hire the best coach, that’s what we’ll stick to.”
It’s been a hard year for Mississippi — dipping attendance, bad nonconference losses, a longtime head coach stepping down. With a head coaching vacancy and months to search, however, the hard part starts now.
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