Ole Miss grows in money, character, commitment

Published 5:00 am Friday, May 11, 2001

Money, character and commitment were three main topics ofdiscussion Wednesday night at the Brookhaven Country Club. Ole Missalumni feasted on a barbecue buffet catered by the Bowie Smokehouseand then digested the good news provided by an assortment ofUniversity of Mississippi officials.

From all accounts, Ole Miss is basking in glory on the athleticfields and there’s plenty of financial resources available for theacademic side of life on the Oxford campus. The University’s funddrive, led by Ole Miss chancellor Dr. Robert Khayat, has raised$529 million. That’s known as ultra successful.

Dr. Richard Rushing, president of the Lincoln/Pike County OleMiss alumni chapter, presided at the meeting. The president-electis John Ott of McComb. It was Ott who brought back the long,floor-length NCAA Tournament First/Second Round banner from KansasCity, site of the Rebels’ successful basketball appearance.

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Ott introduced Ole Miss athletic director John Shafer who isriding a crest of success in athletics. “The golden era of Ole Missathletics is right now,” said Shafer. “We want every team tocompete for a national championship and we want every team memberto graduate.”

The Ole Miss football team has been to four straight bowl gamesand the Rebel basketball team is fresh from its greatest basketballseason in history. The Ole Miss baseball team is battling for theSEC West title. The Ole Miss women’s soccer team won the Westcrown. The Ole Miss men’s and women’s tennis teams are in the NCAATournament.

“It is great to be an Ole Miss Rebel,” Shafer proclaimed. Thatstatement brought a loud, positive response from the crowd.

Shafer said the fund raising drive is not finished. “We want tobuild an indoor practice facility for all sports.”

Ott introduced Ole Miss basketball coach Rod Barnes to theaudience. Barnes, fresh from being named the Naismith NationalCoach of the Year, raised his Rebels from a predicted last placefinish in the SEC West to the top rung and led them to a battle forthe SEC championship.

“First of all, I want to thank God,” said Barnes. “I also wantto thank my wife for staying home with our two nine-year-old boyswhile I coach the basketball team.”

Barnes lavished praise on Ole Miss, Shafer and his players.”There are some great people at Ole Miss. Mr. Shafer is a greatboss and I have a great staff.”

Barnes is recognized for his sincere, personal concern for eachof his players. “We want our players to grow and get a degree.”

Continuing his praise for others, Barnes recognizedCopiah-Lincoln Community College men’s basketball coach DennisSims. “I’ve been coaching 13 years and I know Coach Sims does agreat job at Co-Lin. He is a very honest man when it comes toevaluating players.”

Sims, an Ole Miss graduate, was a member of the Ole Miss tennisteam during his college days.

“Chancellor Khayat is my hero,” said Barnes. “We have acommitment from him to build a national championship program here.Our fans have been great. We need more season ticket holders whowill come to our games.”

Ole Miss head football coach David Cutcliffe also received aloud round of applause when he was introduced. Cutcliffe wasfeeling ill when he arrived in Brookhaven yesterday afternoon. Hethanked Dr. Braxter Irby and Dr. Rushing for their medicalassistance.

“I thank you for the way the Ole Miss family has treated mesince I arrived on campus,” said Cutcliffe. “My family is the mostimportant thing to me.” He and his wife, Karen, have threechildren, Chris (13), Katie (11) and Emily (eight months).

A Birmingham, Ala., native, Cutcliffe was offensive coordinatorat Tennessee before being hired by Ole Miss on Dec. 2, 1998. TheRebels are anticipating another successful campaign, led bysophomore quarterback Eli Manning.

“My job is to have the best football team in the country,” saidCutcliffe. He challenges his players to become better people andleave Ole Miss as a better person.

Cutcliffe said the Rebels have made giant strides in academics.”In December we led the SEC with 23 All-Academic players. We have a79 percent graduation rate and the team GPA has climbed to2.76.

“We have zero tolerance when it comes to academics,” Cutcliffecontinued. “We won’t accept anything but the best in theclassroom.”

On the gridiron, Cutcliffe challenges his players to “leave OleMiss football better than what you found it.”