With Andy Kennedy out, where does Ole Miss turn next?
This season will be Andy Kennedy's last at Ole Miss. On Monday afternoon, the school's all-time leader in wins announced that he will step down following the 2017-18 season.
When he's done, Kennedy will have led the Rebels to 20-win seasons in nine of his 12 years, two NCAA Tournament appearances and six trips to the NIT.
So how good of a job is Ole Miss? What's its 2018 recruiting haul look like and who are some potential candidates?
The Ole Miss job is currently one of the worst basketball jobs in the SEC. There's not much tradition to fall back on, there is no rabid hoops fanbase and the state of Mississippi isn't an untapped hotbed of prep hoops prospects.
The numbers support this:
– When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, Ole Miss has only made eight appearances and only once in program history (2001) did it advance to the second weekend.
– The Rebels have won the SEC Tournament twice (1981 and 2013) but they've never won a regular-season conference championship.
– Of the 28 four-star or better prospects produced in Mississippi during the Rivals.com era, only three have signed with the Rebels. For the sake of comparison, Mississippi State has landed 13 similar prospects during the same timeframe.
That being said, Ole Miss is an SEC job and that makes it better than the vast majority of the jobs out there. The Rebels also play in a sparking new building – the Pavilion at Ole Miss – that was opened in 2016 so there has been some money dedicated to basketball. They have also been able to make some noise in nearby Memphis and have been a good destination for junior college players.
THE RECRUITING CLASS
A native of Florida, Smith is the headliner of the class and could be a potential star in Oxford. He's a bouncy 6-foot-3 combo guard who can get hot scoring the ball and is likely going to move into the final Rivals150 for the class of 2018.
Higgs is a tough kid from Baltimore who is a pretty good rebounding power forward while Halums and Naylor are JUCO prospects that could provide scoring at the small and power forward spots.
WHO MAKES SENSE?
It's tough to predict who Ole Miss will go after. It's hard for me to imagine that many established coaches with tournament experience are going to give the Rebels a serious look unless it means they get to go up a level from where they currently are. In the short time I've had to consider viable options, here are six names (in alphabetical order) that come to mind as reasonable possibilities for Ole Miss to consider.
Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee State: Davis makes tons of sense to me. He's been very successful at MTSU, making three NCAA Tournaments, winning multiple conference titles and recruiting the region. He's recruited good JUCO players, is known in the area and has proven that he can field a winning team that plays an appealing style. Engaging in serious talks with him makes almost too much sense.
Joe Dooley, Florida Gulf Coast: Now in his fifth year in Ft. Myers, Dooley has won two conference titles, two conference tourney titles and led Dunk City to a pair of NCAA tourney appearances. This year he is undefeated in the Atlantic Sun. With Dooley's experience recruiting at a high level as an assistant at Kansas and success at FGCU, he's coming due for a high major job.
Steve Forbes, East Tennessee State: There may be some worry about the one-year show cause Forbes received as an assistant Tennessee, but that shouldn't be a concern. He's been a highly successful assistant there and at Wichita State, was a highly successful junior college coach and is now killing it at ETSU. After making the NCAA Tournament last year he's leading a team that is undefeated in the Southern Conference and looks to be headed back to the NCAA Tournament.
Earl Grant, College of Charleston: Another guy who has experience as an assistant at Wichita State, Grant was also an assistant at Clemson for four seasons. Now in his fourth year at College of Charleston, he has his team in first place in the Colonial Athletic Association. The 41-year-old is going to be a hot name sooner than later.
Penny Hardaway, Memphis (Tenn.) East High: It's not as if Penny needs any introduction. The former NBA All-Star is a legend in nearby Memphis and has really made waves on the grassroots circuit as a highly successful high school coach and as the program director/coach for one of Nike's top summer basketball programs. Word is Hardaway would like to get involved in college coaching and somebody is going to give him a shot. Why not be the school that does it?
Steve Prohm, Iowa State: Prohm is only in his third season at Iowa State and Ole Miss would be a lateral move, at best, and probably isn't as good a job as Iowa State is. But, I wanted to include a current high-major coach who I think would at least listen to a pitch. Given his success as a coach at Murray State and familiarity with the Southeast as a recruiter, he makes the most sense in terms of a guy to contact.