Posted: 4:16 p.m. Thursday, May 2, 2013
By Bob Lynch
Mike Bianco is the winningest coach in Ole Miss baseball history, and yet many Rebel fans are beginning to question his future in Oxford during what feels like a multi-season slump.
Consider that, from 2004 to 2009, the Ole Miss Baseball Rebels hosted five NCAA Regionals, three NCAA Super Regionals, and painfully teetered on the cusp of berths in the College World Series. Aside from being perpetually on the outside looking in on college baseball's biggest stage, it is tough to argue that for just over half of a decade our Rebel baseball program was one of the nation's best and most consistent.
When looking at what this program has available to it, this is not something that even the most objective observers could find particularly surprising. The fan support is bettered by very few, with Swayze Field routinely boasting some of the largest baseball crowds in the country. The facilities are better than those available to many minor league clubs. The Ole Miss administration fully supports the program, as upgrades to the stadium and baseball offices are seemingly constantly provided for. And Ole Miss is both located in a state that routinely produces good baseball talent and, in a more general sense, a place that recruits itself in a lot of ways. When considering these factors, it is tough to imagine how Mike Bianco and company have not yet made it to Omaha.
At least, that is the easy conclusion to reach. Of course, it is not a false one; the argument is solid and well thought out. But there are still many difficulties that face Mike Bianco as the head coach of Ole Miss baseball, and these are difficulties that, were Bianco to be fired, would have just as much of an impact on his replacement.
The first difficulty faced by the Ole Miss coaching staff is simply the level of competition they face as a part of the SEC. Not only are programs such as LSU, Florida, and South Carolina fielding great teams year-in and year-out, they are also recruiting as well as anybody in the conference. With SEC coaches, players, and facilities being on aggregate better than the same for any other conference, it is apparent just how tough it can be to win in this conference at a significantly high level with consistency.
Then there is the difficulty these coaches face as recruiters. With Mississippi being a non-lottery state (we've got casinos though!), Ole Miss is simply not able to offer financial aid in a way that a place like Georgia can. On top of that, with the MLB draft being open to high school athletes, it can be tough to pursue top players who have a legitimate shot to go pro after their high school years. In recent years, Ole Miss has recruited top talent well, which has in a way hurt Ole Miss recruiting by having some of the program's best prospects lured away from time spent in Oxford for an exorbitant salary.
Finally, and I know that none of us want to hear this, but we Rebel baseball fans are a fan base with somewhat high expectations given the history of the program. Yes, the things that we have in our favor, and the fact that we have been so close so many times as of late are reason enough to want more, but an "Omaha or Bust" mentality for a program that actually has not made the College World Series since the 1970's is perhaps a bit much. This is not at all to say that we fans should not want or even expect more, but we should keep our frustrations tempered a bit with the occasional reality check.
Does this mean that our frustrations with this program's post-2009 decline are not founded? Not at all, as I too feel said frustrations. I want this program to make it to the College World Series and return to the top of the SEC, and I want it now. But wanting it cannot and will not change the fact that there are very real hurdles to overcome that even the game's best coaches would have difficulty with if he were the head man for our Ole Miss Rebels.
That said, let's beat Auburn this weekend on the plains and keep our heads above water in conference play. Hotty Toddy.