Another Ole Miss baseball season is complete, and by some standards getting to the final game of a super regional would be considered a resounding success.
It’s tempting here to say at Ole Miss the standard is different, but I’m not sure the standard is clearly defined.
The standard has definitely been raised from irrelevance to prominence by Mike Bianco, who will enter his 20th season as the Rebels’ coach next spring.
Earlier this season there may have been some doubt there, and even now the approval ratings are sketchy for a coach who is third all-time in SEC wins behind only Ron Polk and Skip Bertman, his former coach.
In mid-May the Rebels seemed to be hurtling toward a disastrous finish, and Bianco faced the prospect of uncomfortable discussions with athletics director Ross Bjork.
But Bjork is now the former athletics director, and the university has interim employees • not only at AD, but also at chancellor.
Advantage Bianco, but that’s not his only advantage. He took a team on six-game losing streak and led it to wins in nine of its last 13. Seven of those games were against NCAA Tournament national seeds, and the Rebels won three.
Earlier this decade Bjork told me the standard for Ole Miss baseball was to routinely host regionals and put its athletes in the best position for success.
Bianco reached that standard – reached it for a second time in his Ole Miss career actually – and the target moved.
When considering Bianco at Ole Miss you need to consider three phases. After laying a foundation Phase 1 included super regionals in four of five years. Phase 2 began in 2010 with a stretch of road regionals – no postseason at all in 2011 – when the Rebels usually didn’t threaten the host No. 1 seed.
Phase 3 includes an Omaha trip, a rebuilding season in 2015 followed by regional host teams in three of the last four years plus a super regional.
If you look at this from a corporate perspective the university manages its athletic programs but will answer to its shareholders, the fans, who may or may not choose to continually support and consume the product.
Social media gives fans an outlet to voice frustrations – and call for a coach’s firing – like never before. Those chants alone won’t cost a coach his job, but if those chants begin to manifest themselves in lack of ticket sales and the withholding of donations that’s something altogether different.
I hear from people who are passionate that Ole Miss baseball needs change. I hear from others who are stunned that this would even be a discussion.
If Bianco was presenting his case for this team, he’d point to where it finished and that recruiting is on an uptick.
However, there were some ugly realities on the way to Omaha’s doorstep, losses to Tulane, Wright State, North Alabama and Arkansas State, plus a 3-3 record against the two SEC teams that failed to make the tournament. These losses kept regional host in doubt until the very end.
Had things been better in the regular season, this team would not have been sent for a super regional at Arkansas, which could win the whole thing.
The bottom line? Phase 3 Bianco is reaching a different standard, but everyone knows what the real standard is.
It’s Omaha or bust, an expectation that Bianco has created and is having trouble reaching.