The Rebel Road Trip will stop in Corinth and Tupelo today, and you will no doubt hear the word unity in some fashion.
This is the fourth installment of the traveling spring extravaganza for Ole Miss.
In its first year, unity was an important theme as football coach Hugh Freeze and athletics director Ross Bjork – hired roughly five months apart, with Freeze arriving first – worked to convince fans that together they would rebuild Ole Miss football and that fans should join them for the ride. And bring your wallets.
Their second spring together Bjork and Freeze were able to talk about an Egg Bowl victory the previous November.
There has been football growth in each of Freeze’s first three seasons as coach.
This will be the first Rebel Road Trip in which an important part of the unity equation – Dan Jones, who hired Bjork – will be traveling for the final time in his position as chancellor.
This time unity will mean staying together during an interim period at the university’s highest position.
Bjork told me two weeks ago he and foundation personnel have been “engaged” with key contributors throughout the drama between Jones and the college board.
“There has not been a more critical time to continue supporting Ole Miss athletics,” Bjork said. “We’ve got to press ahead and keep moving forward. That’s what Dr. Jones would want.”
Separating people from their money is not an easy job, but Bjork’s been good at it.
The current capital campaign was launched the August prior to the school’s most dismal football season in modern history.
Now it’s at $132 million in gifts and pledges, and Bjork believes it could reach its $150 million goal by the end of the year.
On his watch the Rebels have fixed football as much as you can. That’s an ongoing process. It can be broken, but it’s never as fully fixed as you’d like, and if, perhaps it is, it takes twice as much work to stay that way.
Given the state of the program Freeze inherited football is fixed up pretty good.
Men’s basketball has made two NCAA tournament trips and advanced each time. Last year baseball reached the College World Series for the first time in forever plus a three-day pass.
Earning his keep
Bjork’s theme from Day 1 has been that his role is to support his athletes and coaches.
He was quick to push the reset button on women’s basketball when scandal threatened its integrity in the fall of 2012.
Since that time there’s been growth under his hire, Matt Insell.
There has been no turnover among the three high-profile men’s positions under Bjork, but he’s made changes in other sports.
Bjork’s contract was extended last week and his salary increased to $650,000. That would rank him just ninth in the SEC and tied for 24th in the nation according to USA Today’s 2013 database of athletics directors salaries.
That’s a good bump relative to a three-year body of work.
There are high expectations for football this season, and when football’s happy everybody’s happy.
However, there is the chancellor transition with which to contend.
For now Bjork works to reassure donors while knowing that soon he’ll get to know a new supervisor.
Keeping his fan base united during an interim period will be a challenge.
Parrish Alford (email@example.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs at InsideOleMissSports.com.