2011 has not been a good year for the Bruins. For that matter, the near-decade that has encompassed Dan Guerrero's reign over Morgan Center and UCLA Athletics has not been good for the department's marquee programs. Football has just completed its worst decade by overall record since the 1940's, and its first decade without at least one Rose Bowl game apperance and fewer than 2 top-25 finishes since the 1930's; Basketball for its part has 3 Final-Four appearances, but also 3 seasons where the Bruins stayed home entirely in March since Dan took over as Athletic Director, the only 3 losing overall losing seasons for UCLA Basketball since before John Wooden came to Westwood in 1948, with the current season looking like a prime candidate fall into that latter category. These competitive issues, together with failures in leadership that have been raised time and time again on this site have led us to call for wholesale regime change in Westwood.
As it turns out, we are not the first group of university alumni and supporters to call for change in the leadership of their athletic department. Alumni of The University of Mississippi (aka Ole Miss) have become highly frustrated with the apathetic culture and incompetent leadership that was suffocating their athletic programs, football in particular. These alumni came together to form the Forward Rebels, an organization aimed at turning around the culture at Ole Miss, in part by bringing down their Athletic Director, Pete Boone. After a 2 years of trying to work behind the scenes with the administration, and getting donors supportive of the goals of Forward Rebels to reportedly withhold more than $5 million in athletic donations, the group went public this fall. Their early PR moves included publishing a full-page ad in several regional newspapers stating the failure in leadership at Ole Miss and the need for change. The group continued to work in the public eye as well as behind the scenes throughout another disappointing fall for Ole Miss football. During this stretch, the group published a release describing in detail the failure of the Ole Miss Athletic Department, capped off with the following statement calling for the AD's departure.
Forward Rebels publicly calls on Chancellor Dan Jones to immediately terminate Athletic Director Pete Boone, sever all ties with him and his ilk, and to hire a professional, outside search firm to begin an open, objective, and nationwide search for our next leader of athletics. Ole Miss must have a new Athletic Director in place prior to making any potential coaching changes.
On November 7th, Ole Miss announced that Pete Boone, as well as head football coach Houston Nutt, were 'stepping down' from their positions. ESPN's SEC blogger wrote that the change was past due, while a Memphis paper asked what changed in just a few weeks after the university's president told the Ole Miss community that he would "not react" to pressure for change in leadership of the athletics department?
The message of Forward Rebels sounds a bit like what we have been advocating for the past few months. From a Daily Missippippian interview with the group's spokesman:
"He runs a very complex business in one of the highest profile athletic conferences in the country," Habeeb said. "If the leadership at the top is bad, it can impact all other leaders — and thus, we believe we must always start at the top when it comes to effecting to change."
Habeeb said the goal behind the Forward Rebels advertising campaign is to ask for Boone, the leader of the athletic administration, to be fired based on his mediocre performance in leading the department."He has a winning percentage in the SEC in the big three sports well below 50 percent and is paid over $400,000 per year,"... "Maybe a new set of eyes, a new leader, might inspire more confidence in the fans, coaches, athletes and donors," he said. "Call us crazy!"
After discussing the failure of AD in the key role - especially in the SEC - of hiring and firing Football coaches,he stresses that the problem with Ole Miss leadership is not just because of the one man at the top, but a problem with the culture that will not be solved by hiring another Ole Miss alumni. At least an alum without the experience worthy of leading an SEC athletic program. Think of the problem with Morgan Center's practice of hiring coaches off of the Donahue Tree, only here in terms of administrative leaders.
"We also want to make sure the new leader is hired outside the good ol’ boy network.
"We want to ensure that we don’t just hire a former Ole Miss employee or someone our administration knows."
"We will be here to make sure the search process is national, not just limited to Mississippi’s borders alone — and above board," he said. "We believe that the good ol’ boy network may serve the good ol’ boys well, but it’s not serving Ole Miss."
In making their case against AD Pete Boone, the Forward Rebels raised and described a litany of failures of the athletic department under Boone's leadership, summarized below.
- Winning (See records)
- Facilities maintenance (See rain in Tad Pad)
- Donor retention (See above)
- Contract negotiation (Massive buyouts)
- Coach satisfaction and support (All football coaches)
- Technological advancement (See olemisssports.com et cet.)
- Maximizing revenue (See no-bid Nike contract)
- Public relations (Mocked Clarion Ledger publicly)
- Media interactions (See Media above)
- Marketing (See Telesouth)
- Gameday experience (See Egg Bowl 2010)
- Player loyalty (See NFL announcements)
- Fan involvement and inclusion (Mocked cap and t-shirt crowd)
- Coach selection (See Orgeron)
Their Mission Statement also sounds like what a frustrated Bruin supporter might produce. And while the initial task of regime change in Oxford is in motion, the Forward Rebels are committed to remaining active for the long haul, not only to keep the heat on university leaders to make the right choice to lead the athletic department, but also to play their own part in repairing the culture by engaging the alumni, students and fans of Ole Miss.
Former Ole Miss QB Romaro Miller, an early supporter of Forward Rebels and one of several former student-athletes to come out in support of the group, brought up another problem of retaining a bad athletic director beyond the direct problems of bad leadership; in terms of a coaching search, not being able to identify credible candidates may end up being a secondary problem to finding a credible candidate willing to work under that flawed leader.
We've got a major problem at Ole Miss. Everybody talks about how it starts from the top down. Right now we have the most divided fan base I've seen probably in football history. (Ole Miss President) Dan Jones has been here 2-3 years and he has shredded every bit of school spirit we have out of this fan base. Can he repair it? I think it's beyond repair by him.
Now you go to the next guy, Pete Boone. Listen to all the ex-coaches. You've got Tuberville's staff of 10 guys and 10 guys don't like him. You've got Cutcliffe's staff of 10 guys that don't like him. You're got Orgeron's staff of 10 guys that don't him. You've got Nutt's staff, and I'm hearing there are a lot of problems with those 10 guys. So roughly you've got 44 coaches out there throughout the country who really have a problem with Pete Boone.
If we fire Nutt and let's say we call Kirby Smart, Kirby Smart is going to call one of these 44 coaches and these coaches are going to tell him, "Do not come to Ole Miss." So if Houston Nutt is gone, can Pete Boone go out and make the right hire? I don't know.
Damming thoughts, and a thought that we need to keep in mind lest any of us think that simply getting rid of Rick Neuheisel will be enough to turn around the football program. I would suggest reading the whole interview linked above. It really is an interesting read of a former player coming to terms with the dysfunction that has engulfed his university and his decision to take it on. He continued his thoughts on the state of Ole Miss athletics with the necessity of a change in leadership, and the effect of the culture on how even he sees the program.
There comes a point where if you love the university, you have to do right by the university. We've got a lot of people running the university who couldn't care less. The only thing they care about is their check. And it's time for them to go.
... even if we were losing and everybody was doing what's right for the university, I would feel a lot better. But when you go down there and you support and give your last dollar and your last nickel like a lot of our fans are doing and see the lack of effort, the lack of leadership from your chancellor, your A.D., your coaches and even the people behind the scenes, you have to ask, "Do I come and continue to support this or do I try to reach the leadership another way by not coming to the ballgames?"
I can't say how I would answer that question, but judging by attendance at the Rose Bowl this season, and the first games at the Sports Arena, it seems that many UCLA fans have embraced the second option that Romaro proposed.