After 12 years in Oxford, men’s basketball coach Andy Kennedy and the university’s athletics program mutually decided to part ways. Over those 12 seasons, Kennedy posted .500-plus records every year and made the NCAA Tournament twice. In both of those years, the Rebels advanced past the first round. In a season that proved to be the final straw, the Rebels are currently 11-15, in the midst of a six-loss streak.
The legacy Kennedy leaves is undeniable. But the question remains: Who will the Rebels hire next?
When conversations about mid-major head coaches begin – and they inevitably will – there are few names that show up before Kermit Davis’ name. Davis, head coach at Middle Tennessee State, has done an incredible job in Murfreesboro, posting winning seasons in all but one of his 16 years at MTSU. In the last two years, Davis has led Middle Tennessee to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, including a 2016 run that featured an upset against No. 2 Michigan State. As a Mississippi native, a move to Oxford for Davis would be highly attractive. On the other hand, the MTSU coach is 58 years old and might be settled in Murfreesboro.
One of the more exciting teams to watch over the last 10 years has been Florida Gulf Coast. After Andy Enfield left for USC, head coach Joe Dooley took over and hasn’t skipped a beat since. Through five years in Fort Myers, Dooley’s team has posted 20-win seasons in every season and won the Atlantic Sun Conference four of those five years. For Ole Miss, Dooley might be the most attractive option. But to score this hire, the Rebels will certainly have fight off other programs.
In his three years at East Tennessee State, head coach Steve Forbes has gradually worked his way into the nation’s collective basketball consciousness. His last two seasons in Johnson City resulted in the school’s best seasons in history, along with one conference championship and another likely on the way. This season, Forbes has the Bucs at 22-4 and favorites in the Southern Conference. If not for his involvement in the NCAA probe at Tennessee under Bruce Pearl, Forbes would be the favorite for the Ole Miss job. But will his past jeopardize a move to Oxford?
After years of domination by VCU and Dayton, the Atlantic 10 has a new front-runner: Rhode Island. At the helm of this team’s success is head coach Dan Hurley. In just six seasons, Hurley has changed the culture at Rhode Island and taken the Rams to the top of the conference. After leading URI to its first tournament appearance since 1999 last year, Hurley finds his team ranked No. 16 in the nation at 20-3. While his resume is as great as any other prospective coach in the nation, Hurley would likely find himself leaning toward a Northeast power school job before taking a shot with an SEC program.
Another head coach who finds himself in the brink of an incredible season is Nevada head coach Eric Musselman. In his third season at Nevada, Musselman has the Wolf Pack at 21-5 and ranked No. 24 in the nation. After winning the Mountain West Conference last season, Musselman continues to gain ground and grow his resume. As another mid-major coach expected to make a leap to the majors, the Ohio native finds himself as qualified as any other candidates for the Ole Miss head coaching position. After stints in the NBA and G League, the real question is whether he is willing to roll the dice in Mississippi.