After the 6th inning disaster on Sunday against Mississippi State, many Rebel fans took to Twitter and voiced their concerns about the future of the program under Head Coach Mike Bianco. It was a game that Ole Miss probably should have won, but a mismanaged bullpen let up 5 runs in the inning and the Bulldogs went on to clinch the series.
A Head Coach in college does more than just teach fundamentals. Bianco is tasked with encouraging alumni to donate, recruiting players, and expanding the brand. In his tenure, Ole Miss has reclaimed the national spotlight that hadn’t shined on them in the 3 decades prior to his arrival. After building up a fantastic program, could he now be holding it back?
First let’s look at his merits. He’s the most tenured coach in the SEC across all sports. He’s the winningest coach in Ole Miss Baseball history. He has a catcher on the Buster Posey Award (formerly known as the Johnny Bench Award) watchlist just about every single year. He has cultivated real MLB talent (Pomeranz, Lynn, Dellucci, Cozart, etc.). He has convinced high draft picks to put their paid careers on pause to develop at Ole Miss instead (most notably Gunnar Hoglund). Finally, he has led this team to the postseason in all but 2 of his years as head coach.
Rebel fans are getting frustrated, however, when their team loses the big games. Ole Miss swept Mississippi State in the 2015 season, since then they are 3-16 against their in-state rival. Ole Miss should have won this weekend against them, but that whole bullpen fiasco (which is outlined in another article) prevented the big win. Postseason struggles are racking up as well. Ole Miss made it to Omaha just once since 2000. Since that 2014 trip, they have only even made it out of Regionals just 1 time.
At this point, Ole Miss is one of the heavyweights in spending, recruiting, and facilities. Despite that, Ole Miss still doesn’t have the credentials to be a Blue Blood program. The 2018 SEC tournament title was cool but getting bounced from the Oxford Regional that year by Tennessee Tech was not. If anybody remembers that game, Tennessee Tech had a position player pitch the bulk of the innings and still beat the Rebels at Swayze Field.
Bianco’s cool, calm, and easy-going demeanor infatuates Rebel fans. The memories of the 2014 CWS run bring Ole Miss fans joy. The question is, how long are Rebel fans going to have to wait before they can go back to Omaha? When will Ole Miss finally beat their in-state rival again?
Last year’s team was the team. The 2020 Rebels could have gone to Omaha and maybe even won it all. Covid ruined that season, but a great deal of the talent came back to Oxford for 2021. This team on paper is a top 5 team. With Elko injured, this team is still a top 8 team. That raises the question: Who deserves to be blamed for the #12 ranking (and will the Rebels ever stop sliding down the polls)?
Some people on Twitter wanted Bianco gone right away. I waited 24 hours for people to simmer down a bit before posting a poll. The sample size isn’t great, but most fans just want to see some success this postseason and are happy to have Bianco return.
This school has the power to attract any number of big name coaches. Some big coaches might even be too intimidated to be the heir to the 2020 Coach of the Year’s throne. Rebel fans don’t want to live in the shadows of 2014 and 2020 anymore though. They want to go to Omaha.
Teams, for the most part, do not have much luck changing their coach midway through the season. If the goal is still Omaha (which it should be because these Student-Athletes deserve our support), Bianco has to stay at least until the end of the year. Based on how the season finishes might determine Bianco’s future with the Rebels.