Ole Miss Legend Billy Brewer Passes Away

Rebel great played for Johnny Vaught and later served 11 years as head coach

Chucky Mullins (38) and head coach Billy Brewer prepare to lead the Rebels onto the field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Ole Miss file photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Homer E. “Billy” Brewer, 83, who played on three of Johnny Vaught’s greatest teams at the University of Mississippi and then returned years later to become the second-winningest head football coach in school history, passed away late Saturday afternoon (May 12) at Tresevant Manor in Memphis, Tennessee, following a brief illness.

A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday (May 19) at The Pavilion at Ole Miss. A private family service will be held Sunday (May 20) at Gunter-Peel Funeral Home in Columbus. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Palmer Home in Columbus, Oxford-University United Methodist Church or the M-Club Scholarship fund at the University of Mississippi.

In addition to his parents, Brewer was preceded in death by his wife of 51 years, Kay Gunter Brewer, and brothers Robert “Bobby” Brewer and Richard “Red” Brewer. He is survived by his sons Brett (Susan) of Memphis, Tennessee and Gunter (Rhonda) of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and grandchildren Keaton (Kate), Blaine (Tara), Lauren, Bailey and Brogan.

“As a coach and player, Billy Brewer shared a love for Ole Miss that was unparalleled,” Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke said. “He was greatly admired by his players and his teammates and will forever be engrained in the history of Rebel football. Our prayers go out to the Brewer family and all of Rebel Nation during this time.”

During his 11 years at the helm of the UM football program, Brewer’s 67 total victories placed him second behind Vaught. His 11 seasons as head coach also represented the second-longest tenure coaching Ole Miss football, more years than anyone with the exception of Vaught, who had 190 victories during his 24-plus campaigns as leader of the Rebels.

When compared to the Vaught era (1947-70; 1973), Brewer’s coaching career at Ole Miss may not seem long. However, a closer look reveals an interesting fact: In his tenure at Ole Miss, which began before the 1983 season, Brewer became the dean of Southeastern Conference coaches, a position he inherited in 1993 when Auburn’s Pat Dye retired and Tennessee’s Johnny Majors left the Vols for Pittsburgh.

When Brewer was selected to succeed Steve Sloan in December 1982, he did so with high hopes of turning around a football program that had fallen from the nation’s elite. Ole Miss had not been to a bowl game in 12 years, was nowhere to be found in the national polls and coming off five straight losing seasons.

Brewer promised to once again make Ole Miss competitive, and time would tell that he remained true to his word. He took the Rebels and their fans bowling five times, becoming the only Ole Miss head coach to guide five of his first 10 teams to a bowl game.

During his playing days, Brewer was on teams that went 3-0 against in-state rival Mississippi State. That success continued during his stretch as head coach, as the Rebels were 8-3 against the Bulldogs, including seven wins in his first eight seasons.

Under Brewer’s direction, Ole Miss won for the first time ever at Alabama, won at LSU for the first time since 1968, gained its first victory over Georgia since 1976 and earned its first victory over Arkansas in Little Rock since 1960. Although there were peaks and valleys during the Brewer era, the Rebels returned to being nationally ranked multiple times by the various polls.

In his 11 seasons at his alma mater, Brewer compiled a 67-56-3 record and was selected Southeastern Conference “Coach of the Year” three times: in 1983 by the Associated Press, in 1986 by United Press International and in 1990 by the Birmingham News and Nashville Banner.

Brewer’s success as a player and coach brought other individual honors as he was inducted into the Independence Bowl Hall of Honor in 2000 and the Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame in 2011. He also will be inducted posthumously into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame on July 28.

Brewer’s first Ole Miss team was the surprise of the Southeastern Conference in 1983. After going 7-4 overall and finishing 4-2 in league play, including a dramatic 24-23 win over Mississippi State, the Rebels then lost to Air Force, 9-3, in the Independence Bowl. It was the first postseason trip for the Rebels since the 1971 Peach Bowl when Billy Kinard’s team defeated Georgia Tech 41-18.

Following 4-6-1 finishes in 1984 and 1985, the Rebels entered the 1986 season ranked no higher than seventh in most preseason SEC polls, and one national publication even picked Ole Miss last. When the regular season ended with a 24-3 victory over Mississippi State, Brewer’s squad was 4-2 inside conference play and only one victory short of possibly representing the SEC in the Sugar Bowl.

The 1986 campaign, which included a 21-19 win over eventual SEC champ LSU in Baton Rouge, was capped with a 20-17 victory over Texas Tech in the Independence Bowl, giving the Rebels an 8-3-1 overall record.

Consecutive losing seasons followed the success of 1986 as the Rebels went 3-8 in 1987 and 5-6 in 1988 before rebounding in breathtaking style in 1989.

Success came hard during the 1989 campaign as Ole Miss produced several heart-stopping victories on their way to an 8-4 overall record and a 4-3 mark in the SEC. While the year was capped with an impressive 42-29 victory over Air Force in the Liberty Bowl, the season was bittersweet with the loss of defensive back Chucky Mullins, who suffered an injury in the Homecoming game with Vanderbilt that left him paralyzed.

Mullins died May 6, 1991 from complications from his injury, and Brewer gave the eulogy at the funeral service in the C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum.

Following the Mullins injury, it was Brewer who decided to honor Mullins each season by having a deserving player wear his uniform number 38. Chris Mitchell was the first recipient in 1990 when the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity at Ole Miss initiated the annual Chucky Mullins Courage Award.

A 9-3 record in 1990 helped the Rebels compile back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1970-71 and represented the most wins for an Ole Miss team since the 1971 squad went 9-2. At 5-2 inside the SEC, the Rebels tied Alabama for second place and rose to as high as 15th in the Associated Press poll before ending the season 21st after losing to Michigan in the Jan. 1, 1991 Gator Bowl.

Ole Miss slipped to 5-6 in 1991 as the Rebels lost their last five games. Three-point losses to both Vanderbilt and LSU late in the season spoiled any chances of another bowl trip and the Ole Miss offense struggled when quarterbacks Russ Shows and Tom Luke sustained injuries.

Brewer got his Rebels back on track in 1992. After being picked last in the SEC Western Division during preseason, Ole Miss completed the year with a 9-3 record, finishing second in the Western Division to national champion Alabama. A 13-0 shutout of Air Force in the Liberty Bowl was rewarded as most final polls had Ole Miss 16th and the New York Times rated the Rebels 10th.

The university celebrated its 100th anniversary of fielding a collegiate football team in 1993, and Ole Miss fans selected Brewer to the “Team of the Century” as a defensive back. However, a 5-6 finish was especially disappointing since it came during a season when the Rebel defense led the nation by allowing only 234.4 yards per game.

The Rebels got off to a 4-2 start and were nationally ranked at one point, but dropped four of their final five games as the offense had trouble putting points on the board. Probably the toughest setback of the year came against defending national champ Alabama, as the Tide slipped past the Rebs 19-14 on the Oxford campus.

When Brewer became head football coach in 1983, he was searching for a way to allow his team to experience the atmosphere and pageantry Rebel fans enjoyed in the Grove while tailgating on game day. Taking a different route two hours before kickoff of each home game, Brewer would walk with the team from Kinard Hall, the athletics dormitory, across campus to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

In 1985, Brewer started going the same route each Saturday as the team would enter the Grove on the east side of the Student Union building and then proceed down a sidewalk that runs through the Grove. That traditional team entry point took on an added significance in the fall of 1998 when a “Walk of Champions” arch was donated to the university by members of the 1962 football team, which is the only undefeated squad (10-0) in Ole Miss football history.

Ole Miss fans arrive early in the morning on game days to gain prime positions available on both sides of the sidewalk and then greet the players with loud cheers and the “Hotty Toddy” chant. Brewer’s vision in 1983, which became one of the most unique college football experiences in the South and nationwide, continues under Coach Luke.

As a youngster growing up in Columbus, Billy Brewer always had a desire to play at Ole Miss and even had visions of one day coaching his beloved Red and Blue.

His first goal became a reality when he signed to play football for Ole Miss following his senior season at S.D. Lee High School. He went on to earn three Rebel letters while playing on three of John Vaught‘s greatest teams, including the 1959 squad that earned “SEC Team of the Decade” honors after going 10-1 and winning the Southeastern Conference.

During Brewer’s three-year varsity career, the Rebels compiled a 28-4-1 record. After earning All-SEC defensive honors his senior year, he played in the College All-Star Game in Chicago and then played two years of professional football before entering the coaching profession.

He returned home to Columbus to begin his coaching career and became one of the state’s best prep coaches. His Lee High and Heritage Academy teams were 70-17-2 when he made the decision to move up in the coaching ranks.

Brewer’s first coaching experience on the collegiate level came at Southeastern Louisiana, where he served two years as an assistant coach before being named head coach of the Lions in 1974. In six years at the Southeastern helm, Brewer’s teams went 38-24-2.

Next came the challenge of rebuilding at Louisiana Tech. He led the Bulldogs to a 19-15-1 record in three years, including a 10-3 showing in 1982, when Tech won the Southland Conference crown and reached the semifinals of the NCAA Division 1-AA playoffs.

Overall, Brewer’s head coaching career record on a collegiate level was 124-95-6. Counting high school, he was 194-112-8 as a head football coach.

PERSONAL
Name: Homer Ervin “Billy” Brewer
Born: Oct. 8, 1934
Wife: The former Kay Gunter (deceased) of Columbus
Married: Dec. 20, 1959
Children: Brett and Gunter
Grandchildren: Keaton, Lauren, Blaine, Bailey Katherine and Brogan

EDUCATION
Lee High School, Columbus, graduated 1955
University of Mississippi, B.S. in Physical Education, 1961

ATHLETIC
Lee High School: Football, Basketball, Baseball, Track – 1951-55
University of Mississippi: Football (Quarterback, Defensive Back) – 1958-60
Washington Redskins (NFL) – 1961
Vancouver (B.C.) Lions (CFL) – 1962

HONORS
1955 – Mississippi High School All-Star Game
1959 – All-Southeastern Conference
1960 – College All-Star Game
1993 – Ole Miss Team of the Century
2000 – Independence Bowl Hall of Honor
2011 – Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame
2018 – Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame

MILITARY
Army National Guard, six years

COLLEGIATE COACHING HONORS
1974 – NAIA District 30 Co-Coach of the Year (Southeastern Louisiana)
1982 – Southland Conference Coach of the Year (Louisiana Tech)
1982 – Kodak District 7 Coach of the Year (Louisiana Tech)
1983 – Associated Press Southeastern Conference Co-Coach of the Year (Ole Miss)
1986 – United Press International Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year (Ole Miss)
1990 – Birmingham News Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year (Ole Miss)
1990 – Nashville Banner Southeastern Coach of the Year (Ole Miss)
1990 – Kodak Region 2 Coach of the Year (Ole Miss)

Team Effort Funds Improvements for Ole Miss Baseball

Bullpen Club makes major gift to upgrade Oxford-University Stadium

Ole Miss baseball players greet Rebel fans at Swayze Field. UM photo by Bill Dabney

OXFORD, Miss. – A ritual has emerged within Ole Miss baseball that compels the Rebels to pump their fists in unison to the beat of the 2007 hit song “Love is Gone.” Now, with a major gift, the sport’s fan base wants to show its players that the love is back.

The Ernie LaBarge Bullpen Club has committed $150,000 toward Oxford-University Stadium enhancements primarily designed to benefit the student-athletes.

“As a former player and coach, I’m happy to see these improvements being made on behalf of the players,” said Matt Mossberg, associate athletics director for development and major gifts. “Everyone knows the allure of Swayze Field, and the previous enhancements to the stadium have been crucial to that fan experience.

“Personally, I am extremely excited to help in the effort to improve the space our talented coaches and student-athletes work in every day.”

Thanks in part to the Bullpen Club’s gift, players will soon enjoy a state-of-the-art locker room and team meeting room, new hitting and pitching facilities, weight room enhancements and more. The gift will also help fund the M-Club Rooftop Plaza, which utilizes space on top of the performance center for additional seating.

“When I arrived here in the summer of 2000, one of the first people I met was Ernie LaBarge, the president of the Bullpen Club,” said Mike Bianco, head baseball coach. “I knew I wanted Ernie and the Bullpen Club to be an integral part of the program.

“Ernie built the club to over 1,000 members before his passing and then the club was named in his memory. The ELBC has continued to be instrumental in our growth as a program, helping supplement our budget.”

A longtime friend of the university and Rebel fan, LaBarge died in March 2008.

Members of the Ernie LaBarge Bullpen Club present the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation with a $150,000 gift to be used for stadium enhancements that will benefit student-athletes. Submitted photo

Of the Bullpen Club’s gift, $100,000 was donated as part of the $200 million Forward Together campaign, which was launched in 2011 to strengthen Ole Miss athletics in its continuous commitment to excellence. The additional $50,000 is committed to support other baseball projects within the athletics department.

These team-related stadium enhancements are possible because of private giving, said Keith Carter, senior associate athletics director for development and executive director of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation. Previous stadium renovations, such as the addition of the Diamond Club, were made possible by revenue-generating components, such as the sale of premium seats.

“While there are some new premium seats in this renovation, philanthropy is key to this whole project,” Carter said. “We needed people to step up and the Bullpen Club once again did that. I believe our players will be very grateful.”

For more information about the Forward Together campaign, contact Carter at jkcarter@olemiss.edu, call 662-915-7159 or visit http://givetoathletics.com/forward-together/. For more information about the Ernie LaBarge Bullpen Club, click here.

Jon Meacham Challenges UM Graduates to Change Nation and World

Renowned intellectual delivered keynote address at 164th Commencement Saturday

Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter addresses graduates at the University of Mississippi’s 164th Commencement ceremony. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Acknowledging national and global challenges, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and presidential historian Jon Meacham urged University of Mississippi graduating seniors Saturday (May 13) to remain engaged, improve themselves and their communities, and shoulder responsibilities.

“As Americans, we face fundamental economic, political and moral challenges,” Meacham said during his address at the university’s 164th Commencement in the Grove.

“At its best, Ole Miss has armed you for what Oliver Wendell Holmes called the passion and action of the times. Your weapons are the elements that form this school’s sure foundation: grace and strength and love.”

A former editor of Newsweek and a contributor to Time and The New York Times Book Review, Meacham is also a regular guest on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“I’d argue that graduates of Ole Miss are especially well-equipped to lead in epic times,” Meacham said. “You are graduating at a promising hour for our region: old barriers are falling away, new opportunities are opening up and, if we listen very closely, we can hear the music of Lincoln’s ‘better angels of our nature.’ Ole Miss has taught you how to hear those better angels.”

Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter introduced Meacham as “a celebrated writer, historian, editor, journalist and media figure.”

“At Ole Miss we have an impressive and long-standing tradition of bringing nationally and internationally renowned figures to campus for our commencement addresses,” Vitter said. “And this year is certainly no exception. Whether through his journalism, television appearances or by writing definitive historical biographies, Mr. Meacham consistently provides a clear and authoritative voice in national discussions.”

Underneath cloudy skies and amid cool breezes, thousands gathered for the occasion. Individual school ceremonies were slated for later in the day in The Pavilion at Ole Miss, Circle, Grove and other locations across campus.

Author and historian Jon Meacham delivers the address for the University of Mississippi’s 164th Commencement ceremony. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Before Meacham’s speech, Saxon Nelson of Gulfport, a political science major and president of the 2017 senior class, announced his classmates have collected more than $8,100 as a donation to their alma mater.

“Over the past four years, I’ve witnessed many amazing things among us,” Nelson said. “All of these make me extremely optimistic about our future. Let’s hope for the best, prepare for the worst and enjoy what lies ahead.”

Referencing historical figures such as William Faulkner, William James and Abraham Lincoln, Meacham acknowledged the progress that has been made in human equality and envisioned future evolution in societal attitudes.

“To know what has come before, and to know how to think about seemingly disparate and distant events in relation to one’s own time and own complications is to be armed against despair,” Meacham said. “If men and women of the past, with all their flaws and limitations and ambitions and appetites, could press on through ignorance and superstition, racism and sexism, selfishness and greed to form a more perfect union, then perhaps we can, too.”

Meacham urged graduates to be questioning, be vigilant and to remember that the republic is only as good as the sum of all its people.

“Life is not a reality show, so pay attention,” he said. “And always remember, a life well-lived is not measured by the bottom line, but by the big picture.”

2017 University of Mississippi Commencement speaker Jon Meacham signs senior Austin Powell’s program following the ceremony on Saturday, May 13. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications.

This year’s graduating class included some 5,000 applicants for undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Attendees included Bill and Laurie Robinson of Raymond, who came to watch their oldest daughter, Meagan, graduate with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts.

“It’s been my dream forever for both our daughters to earn degrees from Ole Miss,” said Laurie Robinson, a nurse practitioner who graduated from the UM Medical Center. “Meagan’s sister, Mallory (a junior communicative disorders and sciences major), will graduate next year. We’re all extremely proud.”

Eugene Melvin of Brandon said it is “a proud moment” to see his wife, Arias, graduate with a specialist’s degree in educational leadership.

“She has always been in education,” said Melvin, who was in Oxford with other family members. “This degree will elevate her career and opportunities to a whole new level.”

Members of Corbin Tipton’s family came from Alfreda and Monroe, Georgia and from Kansas City, Missouri, to see her receive her degree in business administration.

“I’m so very proud of all of them,” said Charlotte Frary, Tipton’s grandmother. “Corbin’s the last of one of the four grands to complete her degree. She already has a job waiting, so this is great.”

Following the general ceremony, the College of Liberal Arts and the Oxford campus’ eight schools held separate ceremonies to present baccalaureate, master’s, Doctor of Pharmacy and law diplomas.

Carlton Reeves, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, was the speaker for the School of Law. Retired advertising executive Steve Davis addressed the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

Recipients of doctoral degrees were honored at a hooding ceremony Friday evening in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, where three awards were presented by the Graduate School. The Group Award for Excellence in Promoting Inclusiveness in Graduate Education went to the Department of Modern Languages. Cecille Labuda, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, received the Individual Award for Excellence in Promoting Inclusiveness in Graduate Education. Kelly Wilson, professor of psychology, was presented the Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring.

During Saturday’s ceremony, John Rimoldi, professor of medicinal chemistry, was honored as the recipient of the 2017 Elise M. Hood Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, presented annually to the campuswide outstanding teacher.

Alice M. Clark, vice chancellor of university relations, was named the recipient of the university’s 10th Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award. Josh Gladden, interim vice chancellor of research and sponsored programs, accepted the award on her behalf.

The university also recognized the winners of this year’s Frist Student Service Awards: Robert Brown, professor of political science; Donald Dyer, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and co-director of the Chinese Language Flagship Program; and Whitman Smith, director of admissions.

UM Earns Highest Graduation Success Rate in School History

Four Rebel teams post perfect scores

Commencement in the Pavilion at Ole Miss. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Ole Miss recorded its highest GSR in school history at 81 percent. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Coming on the heels of a successful weekend on the football field and basketball courts, the University of Mississippi has received more great news, this time on the academic side of things. In the most recent NCAA Graduation Success Rate Report released Tuesday, Ole Miss student-athletes recorded the highest GSR in school history at 81 percent.

Additionally, UM is graduating student-athletes at a rate nearly 2 percent higher than the general student body for the first time since 2009.  This is just one of many accomplishments Ole Miss student-athletes have had in the last year. In the spring, they posted a collective 3.0 GPA for the first time.

Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics, is pleased with the progress Ole Miss student-athletes are making in the classroom.  

“I am extremely proud of our student-athletes, coaches and athletics staff for reaching this new academic threshold,” Bjork said.  “Our biggest responsibility in college athletics is teaching, educating and providing leadership opportunities for our students who compete in athletics. Our intentional approach to enhance our academic performance is now paying off with the best graduation success rate on record.

“Earning a college degree is the ultimate measure of success in higher education and we are extremely proud of all of our Ole Miss Rebels who have received their degree and allowed our university to enrich our academic profile.  While we have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, our work in this area is never complete, and we will continue to strive for academic excellence for our entire athletics program. We must continue to fulfill our purpose by providing every opportunity for our student-athletes to reach their full potential. ”

Derek Cowherd, senior associate athletics director for student-athlete development, is equally impressed by the dedication of the student-athletes, coaches and FedEx Student Athlete Success Center staff to achieve this milestone.

“It has taken a lot of dedication from our students, staff and coaches to move closer to our target of 90 percent graduation success and to see Ross’ vision for our department coming true,” Cowherd said. “We take the utmost pride in the process and the way we do things with integrity and within our core values. 

“It’s very rewarding to see so many of our student-athletes graduating and having a plan for their lives after their collegiate days are done.  I’m thankful for this talented team who works tirelessly to reach our goal of being in or near the upper third of the SEC in federal and graduation success rates.”

The women’s basketball, women’s golf, volleyball and rifle teams each posted a perfect 100 percent GSR. This will be the eighth consecutive year the women’s golf team has posted a perfect GSR, while volleyball achieves the feat for the sixth straight year.  It’s the fourth year in a row with a perfect score for women’s basketball and the third for rifle.

In 10 years, Ole Miss’ graduation success rate has improved from 69 percent to its current 81 percent, and the Rebels are graduating 2 percent higher than the overall university population and the federal graduation rate.

Additionally, Ole Miss is making strides among its SEC counterparts, continuing to climb into the upper echelon of the SEC.  

For further academic accolades, follow @UMTrueRebel on Twitter.

Ross Bjork Named UM Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics

Ole Miss also announces athletics director's contract extended through 2020

Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Mississippi, has been given a four-year contract extension to remain the leader of the UM athletics program. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

Ross Bjork, vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Mississippi, has been given a four-year contract extension to remain the leader of the UM athletics program. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork has been named vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Mississippi.

In announcing that Bjork had been given the new vice chancellor title, university officials also noted that an agreement was reached this summer to extend the athletics director’s contract to June 30, 2020.

UM’s request to give Bjork the title of vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics was approved Thursday by the Board of Trustees of the State Institutions for Higher Learning.

The new title, as well as the extension of Bjork’s contract to reach the four-year maximum allowed by the state, reflects the university’s appreciation and support of the athletics director’s exemplary work since coming to Ole Miss, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

“Athletics serves an important role at our university as our ‘front porch’ – capturing the hearts and minds of people and bringing them to campus so that they can experience the full richness of our great university,” Vitter said. “Athletics has played a big role in elevating the Ole Miss brand to its strongest point in school history.

“The success of our athletics program is unprecedented and is directly attributable to Ross’ leadership. Naming him as the vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics will continue that momentum. I expect under Ross’ leadership that athletics will continue to be an integral part of our growth and increased visibility.”

Ole Miss is the fifth school in the SEC to give its athletics director the vice chancellor designation, which more accurately reflects the all-encompassing role of the position.

“The idea is that this puts the AD at the table with the provost and other academic leaders on campus on a regular basis,” said Ron Rychlak, UM professor of law and faculty athletics representative. “That facilitates communication between athletics and academics, which is good for all parts of the university.”

Bjork has led Ole Miss athletics programs to unprecedented success since his arrival in 2012. Under his guidance, support has increased with record private donations and record attendance numbers in football, basketball and baseball. The athletics budget has increased from $57 million upon his arrival to $105.5 million for the 2016-17 season.

“My family and I are very grateful for the support and confidence shown by Dr. Vitter and the entire university community with a renewed long-term commitment to continue leading Ole Miss athletics,” Bjork said. “Holding the title of vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics is not only symbolic of the department’s core values, but also solidifies our role in the university’s overall mission of educating the next generation of America’s leaders.

“I am a big believer in being fully integrated with the university and will continue forward with a great sense of responsibility.”

As a result, Stephen Ponder, the senior executive associate athletics director for external relations, will be promoted to the title of deputy athletics director.

“Stephen has shown great leadership in so many areas since his arrival four years ago,” Bjork said. “His energy level and ‘can do’ attitude have allowed us to grow our entire athletics program physically, financially, competitively and emotionally.

“This promotion to deputy athletics director is well-deserved and fitting for Stephen as my right-hand person. I am grateful for Stephen’s leadership and blessed to work with the best coaches and athletics staff in the country.”

Bjork’s direction of the Forward Together campaign has garnered more than $170 million in donations, resulting in the construction of The Pavilion at Ole Miss, the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium expansion and the renovations of the Gillom Center, Track and Field complex and the Olivia and Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center.

Ole Miss student-athletes and fans have witnessed immediate success in competition under Bjork’s leadership. The Rebel football team appeared in post-season bowl games for the last four consecutive years, reaching the Allstate Sugar Bowl last season for the first time in 46 years. Ole Miss soccer reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in program history.

In 2014, the Ole Miss baseball team competed in the College World Series in Omaha for the first time in 42 years, and Ole Miss men’s basketball claimed the SEC Tournament Championship in 2013. Ole Miss softball reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.

Men’s and women’s tennis, women’s golf and track and field have also reached post-season play, with pole vaulter Sam Kendricks claiming back-to-back NCAA championships in 2013 and 2014 and a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Track and field athlete Raven Saunders brought an NCAA Championship to Ole Miss for shot put.

But Bjork’s commitment to success reaches well beyond the field of competition. His strong emphasis on academics has led student-athletes to a record average GPA of 3.0, and the graduation success rate has increased from 72 percent to 81 percent.

His active involvement in other university programs, including the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, led to his recognition by the NCAA as a Champion of Diversity in 2015. He and former UM Chancellor Dan Jones were the first individuals highlighted with this designation for their work to support the interests of ethnic minorities and underrepresented populations.

Bjork encourages community involvement among student-athletes as well. Under his leadership, athletics programs and their members have participated in more than 50 service projects. Additionally, he’s traveled the country over the last five years, speaking to more than 19,000 Ole Miss alumni and fans on the Rebel Road Trip.

“We are extremely proud of what our team has accomplished over the past four-and-a-half years, and I truly believe the best is yet to come for the entire university and our athletics program,” Bjork said. “We are Ole Miss!”

Ole Miss and Hopscotch Launch New Mobile App

Technology offers new fan-engagement capabilities

athleticsappsOXFORD, Miss. — Just in time for the college football season, Ole Miss and Hopscotch, a mobile-technology leader for sports and live events, launched a new mobile app. The Ole Miss Athletics app is free and available for immediate download on the App Store and Google Play.

“The new Ole Miss Athletics app gives Rebel fans more than just a gameday app. It gives students, alumni and fans a 24/7/365 connection to the action, the student-athletes and the school they love,” said Michael Thompson, Ole Miss Senior Associate Athletics Director, Communications & Marketing. “Hopscotch has been awesome to work with, and their technology and service is best in class.”

With the new app, Rebel fans receive:

  • All-team access: The school’s app is a one-stop shop for all men’s and women’s varsity teams. Fans can select their favorite student-athletes and teams to personalize app content.
  • Scores: Fans can access live-game scoreboards, box scores and stats via an integration with Stats.com.
  • Schedules: Fans can buy tickets to upcoming home games on their mobile devices via a Spectra integration.
  • Fan Zone: Fans can listen live on game day via a TuneIn integration and join in on trivia, polls and contests via a Lodestone Social integration.
  • Breaking news: Fans get exclusive videos, articles and photos, plus social streams.

“When it comes to the intersection of fan engagement and technology, Ole Miss is a leader in college athletics,” said Laurence Sotsky, Hopscotch Founder and CEO. “It has been a privilege to bring their vision of a best-in-class mobile experience to life.”

Hopscotch also integrated its mobile platform with DoubleClick by Google for ad serving and SSB for data warehousing and business intelligence. This gives Ole Miss new capabilities to provide each fan a more personalized experience, based on geolocation, app preferences and app behaviors.

As the multimedia rights partner of Ole Miss Athletics, IMG helped to facilitate the relationship.

“We are excited to work together with Ole Miss to develop a great technology solution that will help Rebel fans engage with the school and its athletic programs,” said Stewart Marlborough, Senior Vice President, Head of Digital, IMG College. “Hopscotch offers fans unique content that improves the viewing and game day experiences and, in turn, helps brands connect more directly to the university’s core audience.”

Hopscotch (GoHopscotch.com) is a leader in mobile-platform technology that makes it easy for colleges, sports teams and event organizers to build scalable, affordable mobile apps. The Hopscotch platform combines a feature-rich content-management system with an open-API architecture, aggregating a variety of mobile technologies into a single fan-engagement destination. Hopscotch customers include Auburn, Ole Miss, University of Central Florida and more than 35 sports teams.

IMG is a global leader in sports, events, media and fashion, operating in more than 30 countries. The company represents and manages some of the world’s greatest sports figures and fashion icons; stages hundreds of live events and branded entertainment experiences annually; and is one of the largest independent producers and distributors of sports media. IMG also specializes in sports training; league development; and marketing, media and licensing for brands, sports organizations and collegiate institutions. In 2014, IMG was acquired by WME, a leading global entertainment agency.

Brittney Reese Claims Silver in Olympic Long Jump

Former Rebel medals in second straight games

Brittney Reese (USA) during the women's long jump final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Brittney Reese (USA) during the women’s long jump final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

RIO DE JANEIRO – Former University of Mississippi great Brittney Reese (BA English ’11) added another shiny medal to her collection with a world-class long jump performance en route to silver Wednesday night at Rio’s Olympic Stadium.

The world’s premier female long jumper since she turned pro after her 2008 junior year at Ole Miss, Reese came out to defend her gold medal from the 2012 Games in London. But despite an impressive leap of 7.15 meters (23-5.5), she was edged out by fellow American Tianna Bartoletta who claimed gold by 2 centimeters with a mark of 7.17 m. Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic earned bronze at 7.08 m, a national record.

Reese, a Gulfport native who lives and trains in San Diego, had only one fair attempt (6.79 m) out of her first four, before a pair of huge distances in her final two – 7.09 m and then 7.15 m. Bartoletta won the competition on her fifth attempt with a personal-best 7.17 m in a dramatic final two rounds of jumping.

“I’ve been through a lot these past two years emotionally, and physically battling back from surgery,” Reese said. “Today, I kind of got off to a slow start and it cost me at the end, but I am really pleased to be on the stand again and represent the United States.”

It was part of a big night for the Team USA women on the track, who are coached by Ole Miss head coach Connie Price-Smith. The Americans went 1-2-3 in the 100-meter hurdles (first ever gold, silver and bronze for the U.S. women in any track and field event), while Mississippi native Tori Bowie earned bronze in the 200 meters.

Reese earns the fourth Olympic medal all-time among Ole Miss track and field representatives and is the first Rebel to boast two Olympic medals.

With Sam Kendricks’ bronze in the men’s pole vault on Monday combined with Reese’s runner-up effort, it’s the first Olympics for Ole Miss representatives to win multiple medals.

Tony Dees won the other Olympic medal by a former track and field Rebel with his silver in the 110-meter hurdles in Barcelona in 1992.

That concludes Olympics competition for the program-best track and field contingent in 2016. Below are the complete results of the one current Rebel (Raven Saunders), one current volunteer assistant coach (Gwen Berry) and four former Rebels.

 

Brittney Reese (USA) – silver medal – women’s long jump – 7.15 m/23-5.5

Sam Kendricks (USA) – bronze medal – men’s pole vault – 5.85 m/19-2.25

Raven Saunders (USA) – 5th – women’s shot put – 19.35 m/63-6

Gwen Berry (USA) – 14th – women’s hammer throw – 69.90 m/229-4

Ricky Robertson (USA) – 17th – men’s high jump – 2.26 m/7-5

Antwon Hicks (Nigeria) – 23rd – men’s 110 m hurdles – 14.26

 

For complete coverage of Ole Miss in the Olympics, visit http://www.RebsInRio.com.

 

For more information on Ole Miss Track and Field, follow the Rebels on Twitter (@OleMissTrack), Facebook and Instagram.

 

Former Rebel Kendricks Claims Pole Vault Bronze at Rio Olympics

Third Ole Miss track athlete to medal at Olympic Games

Aug 15, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Sam Kendricks (USA) in the men's pole vault final during track and field competition in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 15, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Sam Kendricks (USA) in the men’s pole vault final during track and field competition in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

RIO DE JANEIRO – It was a special Monday night in Brazil for University of Mississippi alumnus Sam Kendricks, who captured a bronze medal in the men’s pole vault at the 2016 Olympic Games.

In a dramatic competition that came down to three final vaulters, Kendricks rose to the occasion by clearing 5.85 meters (19-2.25) on his first try. He had three very close attempts at 5.93 m/19-5.5, while Brazil’s Thiago Braz da Silva claimed gold with an Olympic record mark of 6.03 m and defending champion Renaud Lavillenie of France won silver with a clearance at 5.98 m.

Kendricks is the first American man to win an Olympic medal in the pole vault since 2004, and he’s the third Ole Miss track and field representative to medal at the Olympics. Brittney Reese, who will compete Tuesday, was the women’s long jump gold medalist in 2012. Tony Dees was the silver medalist in the 110-meter hurdles in 1992.

Before Monday’s competition began, Kendricks dedicated his performance to the six Oxford citizens who died in a plane crash over the weekend, and the children and families they left behind. By many accounts, his performance in Rio was a healing balm the town of Oxford needed after such a tragic occurrence.

The hundreds of fans that watched him from the Square in his hometown of Oxford cheered him on with fervor as each bar was raised a bit higher. He is the first Olympian from the small town in which he grew up, graduated from both high school and college, and still lives and trains.

Kendricks was lauded by NBC commentators and across the social media landscape for his great sportsmanship and class, as he was seen congratulating his opponents and cheering for each competitor throughout the night.

“I know that the Olympics is like a high tide, it raises all boats and it brings the best out of all of us,” Kendricks said. “I was so happy to watch my friend Thiago (Braz) set his personal best in his home country in front of his home crowd, and I think that I thrived off of that as well.

“I did not set a personal best but I attempted it. I missed it very close three times, so I cannot be ashamed of my effort. I’m very proud of my bronze medal, what me and my coach (father and Ole Miss alumnus Scott Kendricks) and my family have achieved. This particular competition was a lot of fun for me – I knew all of the competitors by name, they’re all good friends of mine. We’ve traveled together and have competed together many times. We even trade victories very often.”

It’s been an impressive rise to international prominence for Kendricks, who was a two-time NCAA champion and two-time SEC champion in three seasons at Ole Miss. Since turning pro, he has won five U.S. pole vault titles, set a U.S. Olympic Trials record earlier this summer, was ninth at last year’s IAAF World Championships and runner-up at this year’s IAAF World Indoor Championships in March.

Another former Rebel also competed and advanced on Monday. Nigeria’s Antwon Hicks ran a 13.70 in his heat of the 110-meter hurdles to move on to Tuesday’s semifinals.

Hicks and Reese will both compete Tuesday, as Reese will begin her gold medal defense with the women’s long jump qualifying round.

On Sunday night, one of Kendricks’ former Ole Miss teammates, Ricky Robertson, represented Team USA in the men’s high jump qualifying and placed 17th with a clearance at 2.26 m/7-5. The top 15 qualifiers advanced to the final.

For complete coverage of Ole Miss in the 2016 Olympics, visit http://www.RebsInRio.com.

For more information on Ole Miss Track & Field, follow the Rebels on Twitter (@OleMissTrack), Facebook and Instagram.

 

 

Ole Miss’ Saunders Places Fifth in Olympic Shot Put in Rio

Rising Junior Tosses Big PR of 19.35m/63-6

Aug 12, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Raven Saunders (USA) competes in the women's shot put event at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 12, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Raven Saunders (USA) competes in the women’s shot put event at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

RIO DE JANEIRO – Raven Saunders trained and competed all year to get to the Olympics, and her first appearance on the world’s biggest stage did not disappoint.

The Ole Miss rising junior used a personal-best heave of 19.35 meters (63-6) on her last throw of Friday night’s shot put final to earn fifth place. Her U.S. teammate Michelle Carter won gold also on her last attempt, an American record 20.63m/67-8.25. She edged out silver medalist Valerie Adams of New Zealand (20.42m), while Hungary’s Anita Marton (19.87m) won bronze and China’s Lijao Gong (19.39m) placed fourth.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of Raven,” said her Ole Miss head coach and U.S. women’s track & field head coach Connie Price-Smith. “She competed like a champ. She was throwing with her role model, who is now an Olympic champion. I told Raven that she couldn’t ask for anything more, because to come in here as a baby and walk out with a PB and fifth place the first time through an Olympic Games is priceless.”

It was a somewhat awkward series for Saunders before her massive final throw that bettered her own collegiate record of 19.33m/63-5. She came out with a strong first attempt of 18.88m and then fouled four straight times. As she has done throughout her young career, she came through at the end when the pressure mounted the most.

Saunders, the youngest shot putter among the 36 women in Rio, made a big statement on her second qualifying attempt at the Olympics, heaving the shot 18.83 meters (61-9.5) to easily surpass the 18.40-meter line needed to automatically advance to the 12-woman final. The 20-year-old who just finished her sophomore year of college also reached the automatic qualifying line on her first attempt, a foot foul.

A track season that started all the way back in December finally came to a close for Saunders after some sensational sophomore achievements. She won the NCAA outdoor shot put title with a collegiate record of 19.33m/63-5, and then she captured silver at the U.S. Olympic Trials to punch her ticket to Rio. She also broke the all-time collegiate indoor shot put record with a mark of 19.23m/63-1.25 back in February.

Ole Miss volunteer assistant coach Gwen Berry also suited up for Team USA on the first day of track & field competition at Rio’s Olympic Stadium. The Southern Illinois alum finished 14th in the hammer throw qualifying to just miss the 12-woman final. Her mark of 69.90m/229-4 was four-tenths of a meter out of 12th.

Four former Rebel athletes will compete in Rio throughout the next week, including U.S. pole vault champion Sam Kendricks who will compete in the qualifying round Saturday. The others are Brittney Reese (USA, defending long jump champion), Ricky Robertson (USA, high jump) and Antwon Hicks (Nigeria, 110-meter hurdles).

Follow all the Ole Miss contingent in Rio at www.RebsInRio.com.

For more information on Ole Miss Track & Field, follow the Rebels on Twitter (@OleMissTrack), Facebook and Instagram.

Ole Miss Athletics Foundation Announces Record-Breaking Year

UM supporters contributed $45.6 million over the past fiscal year

The Ole Miss men's basketball team takes the Pavilion court. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

The Ole Miss men’s basketball team takes the Pavilion court. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The Ole Miss Athletics Foundation collected $45.6 million in cash contributions, a new record, from donors in the fiscal year that ended June 30. The annual contributions break the previous high of $35.2 million in cash donations set the previous fiscal year.

Cash giving in the previous two years was $27.4 million in 2014 and $26.0 million in 2013, bringing the total cash contributed in the last four years to $134.2 million.

The Ole Miss Athletics Foundation is composed of members who donate to support Ole Miss athletics programs. Along with the increase in cash donations, the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation has grown as well, now including 17,773 members and counting.

“On behalf of Ole Miss athletics, including our coaches and our talented student-athletes, I would like to thank Rebel Nation for their generous contributions over the past year that set a new standard in fundraising,” Athletics Director Ross Bjork said. “The Ole Miss family continues to grow, and the support allows us to continue giving Rebels the highest quality student-athlete experience.”

The record-breaking year would not have been possible without several outstanding gifts. The foundation recognizes C Spire, FedEx Corp., Dr. Gerald Hollingsworth, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Jordan, the Ole Miss M-Club Alumni Chapter, the Trehern Charitable Foundation, an anonymous member and many others who have made significant contributions.

In November, Hollingsworth made a $25 million commitment to Ole Miss athletics composed of $10 million in current year cash and the remaining $15 million deferred, including an $11 million funded trust as part of an estate plan. This commitment is the single largest gift ever received by the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation.

The initial $10 million of Hollingsworth’s donation is being used to support the north end zone expansion of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, where the playing field already bears his name.

Encompassing Ole Miss Athletics Foundation membership and priority seating donations, annual giving represented $22.2 million (48.7 percent) of the $45.6 million in cash gifts, an increase of $6.6 million from last year.

The Vaught Society received a major increase in cash donations for Ole Miss athletics, up $10.2 million from last year for a total of $18.2 million this fiscal year. The Vaught Society started with 29 original charter members in 2010 and has 388 members who make pledges of $25,000 or greater over the course of five years.

Along with cash donations raised by the Vaught Society, $4 million was donated through Forward Together capital gift agreements.

“Once again, we are amazed by the remarkable generosity of the Ole Miss family,” noted Keith Carter, senior associate athletics director for development and athletics foundation executive director. “We continue to ask our dedicated and passionate supporters each year to provide essential resources in our pursuit of excellence. This year, just like the ones before, they have answered the call.

“On behalf of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, we thank you for helping Ole Miss athletics compete and win championships at the highest level.”

Leading the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation to another record-breaking year, Carter was named the 2016 National Association of Athletic Development Directors Fundraiser of the Year.

In addition, the Forward Together campaign has topped $167.5 million in commitments with $30 million in new gifts pledged in the fiscal year. The foundation reached the original campaign goal of $150 million during 2016 and raised the goal to $200 million.

With $32.5 million remaining, the new mark is anticipated to be met by June 2017.

As part of the $200 million Forward Together campaign, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is receiving major upgrades for the 2016 season. The north end zone bowl has been enclosed to bring the stadium’s capacity to just over 64,000, a new club in the south end zone has been constructed on field level and the playing field has been transformed to a natural grass surface.

New video boards, a new audiovideo system and new lighting are being installed as well. A plaza and letterwinner walk, with a featured bell tower, outside of the north end of the stadium, are planned for finish in late fall.

The football practice fields are also undergoing renovations, including a new artificial turf field, among other additions nearing completion.

The track and field complex resurface and renovations will also be completed soon. The Gillom Sports Center began major construction in early summer to include new weight and training rooms, team meeting rooms, playing courts, locker rooms, offices and other team space for softball, soccer, volleyball and rifle teams, with expected completion in spring 2017.

Oxford-University Stadium will begin undergoing renovations this year with the new Trehern Performance Center for the baseball team and a new club area behind home plate. Athletics will also begin work this fall on an indoor tennis facility that will hold six indoor tennis courts.

Ole Miss athletics officials expressed gratitude to the many donors, ticketholders and fans who enable the university’s projects for student-athletes to be successful.

For more information on the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation and the Forward Together campaign, visit http://www.givetoathletics.com or call the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation at 662-915-7159.