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With final exam week on the Ole Miss campus, there was not much game action, but there's still plenty to talk about, as Ole Miss finalized salary increases for head football coach Hugh Freeze and his staff, and the football team moved one week closer to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Wednesday, Dec. 31. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- Freeze's new $4.3 million base salary is tied for third among Southeastern Conference head coaches and tied for seventh nationally. It increases to $5 million if the Rebels advance to the SEC Championship Game, which would be tied for second among SEC coaches and tied for tied fourth nationally.

- Also, as part of the same release, Ole Miss announced it will unveil plans, including visuals and timelines, for the expansion of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Monday, so stayed tuned for those.

- The first-ever two-time winner of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award, Deterrian Shackelford was honored for his community service and off-the-field contributions, winning the Wuerffel Trophy and being elected the AFCA Good Works Team Captain.

- The Ole Miss Alumni Association will hold its bowl bash on Tuesday, Dec. 30 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. More details here. As we get closer to Dec. 31, be sure to visit and bookmark Ole Miss Bowl Central and Chick-fil-A Bowl Central and stay tuned to @OleMissFB and @CFAPeachBowl for all things Chick-fil-A Bowl related.

- There might be a few more video between now and Dec. 31, but here are two videos to check out from Ole Miss Sports Productions: The 2014 season highlight video and the official team Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl preview video. Great work, as always.

- The Ole Miss men's basketball team moved to 6-3 on the season, suffering its third home loss in five such games this season. The Rebels led by as many as 17, and as many as 16 in the second half, but they were unable to overcome a second-half rally from Western Kentucky in an 81-74 loss Saturday.

"It's unacceptable, quite frankly," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "It's unacceptable for me, it's unacceptable for our team. I've tried and tried and tried to infuse pride. It's hard to infuse that, I have learned. We have really tried everything we could to get them to understand the importance of protecting home floor because it's so difficult to win on the road." 

- As many others noted, preseason All-SEC first team selection Jarvis Summers was held to single-digit scoring for the fourth straight game against WKU. In each of the Rebels' three losses this season, he has scored just eight points.

"Basically, just got to do what I've got to do," Summers said. "I can't make no excuses. I have to get in some rhythm. It's frustrating. I can't pout. I can't cry about it. I have to continue to put the work in." 

- On the positive side, Stefan Moody led the Rebels in scoring for the fourth straight game, which has included 26 points against Cincinnati, 22 against Oregon, and most recently, 25 against WKU. He's averaging 21.3 points and has gone 14-of-27 from 3-point range during the four-game stretch.

- The Ole Miss women's basketball team rebounded from back-to-back losses with perhaps its most complete performance of the season, cruising to an 88-48 win over South Alabama on Sunday. With the win, the Rebels have a chance to go 10-3 for its best non-conference record since the 2011-12 season.

- In the win over South Alabama, five players scored in double figures and the Rebels shot a season-best 53.2 percent from the field. Defensively, Ole Miss forced 31 turnovers and held South Alabama to 29.5 percent shooting, including just four made field goals and 14 points in the second half.

- Not Ole Miss related, but if you haven't already, you should check out this Marcus Mariota Heisman tribute video from the University of Oregon Athletic Video Department. Great stuff. Mariota won the award, receiving 90.9 percent of the possible points in voting, the second-highest percentage ever. 

- On an Ole Miss-related note, the Rebels will face Heisman Trophy fourth-place finisher, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Ole Miss has already faced and defeated the third-place (Alabama's Amari Cooper) and eight-place (Mississippi State's Dak Prescott) finishers for the award.

- Ole Miss will have at least two representatives in the NFL Playoffs, as Brandon Bolden's New England Patriots and Donte Moncrief's Indianpolis Colts clinched division titles Sunday. Check out this story on Moncrief from Stephen Holder on the Indianapolis Star.

Athletics Director Ross Bjork and head football coach Hugh Freeze reached an agreement on a new contract, they both announced on Twitter early Tuesday morning. Terms will be released as they are finalized and are expected in the coming days.

Freeze has led Ole Miss to a 24-14 record, including an 11-13 mark in the Southeastern Conference, over three seasons. The 13th-ranked Rebels finished the regular season with a 9-3 record, their most regular season wins since 2003, defeating No. 4 Mississippi State 31-17 on Saturday in the Egg Bowl.

Ole Miss started the season 7-0 and rose as high as No. 3 in the polls, its highest ranking since being preseason No. 1 in 1964, and defeated two top-five teams (No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Mississippi State) for the first time since 1969. Ole Miss also set a new single-season attendance record with 430,829 fans, which surpassed last year's record by more than 15,000.

VIDEO: Studio 18 Live 10.15.14

3 Things About Gameday - Ole Miss vs. ULL

VIDEO: We Are Ole Miss

We Are Ole Miss from Ole Miss Rebels on Vimeo.

In case you missed it, "Forward Together: We Are Ole Miss" from earlier this year:

Forward Together: We Are Ole Miss from Ole Miss Rebels on Vimeo.

The SiriusXM College Sports Nation Camp Tour visited Ole Miss on Monday, as Chris Childers and former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik talked Ole Miss football live from the Manning Center. 

The three-hour show featured live interviews with athletics director Ross Bjork, co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, senior quarterback Bo Wallace, junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, senior linebacker Serderius Bryant and senior safety Cody Prewitt, as well as pre-recorded interviews with head football coach Hugh Freeze and head baseball coach Mike Bianco. 

The show will re-air on Tuesday from 3-6 p.m. CT on SiriusXM College Sports Nation, channel 91 on satellite radios, on the SiriusXM Internet Radio App and online at SiriusXM.com. Here's a sample of the show with Wallace talking about being a senior leader and Freeze talking about the start of camp.

Here are some highlights from Chizik talking with Childers, as he previewed the upcoming season for Ole Miss:

On expectations: "The recruiting classes have been off the charts. Depth, you are finally going to see play a factor. That's probably one of the things why you see them in these SEC matchups, where they can't quite close on the deal on a Texas A&M or an Auburn. Now, all their young guys are gaining experience and gaining year. They have a lot of depth, and you are going to see it make a difference this year.

On Bo Wallace and cutting down on his turnovers: "If you look at some of the premier quarterbacks in the league who really had a chance to win their division -- the AJ McCarron's of the world, the Nick Marshall's and Connor Shaw's -- you're looking at guys who turned the ball over in air four or five times, and for Connor Show, one time. He has to be able to do that. He has to manage those games in the critical times. You're going to see a better Bo Wallace. I really do.

On veterans back on defense: "You have three years in Dave Wommack's system and you have nine starters coming back, and you have some other guys who have played a lot on top of that, not among the nine. You're going to see a very aggressive defense. I have always admired how hard they play. Dave keeps it simple enough, where they can just turn those guys loose and play. They're going to have to play well early and give the offensive line, which has a lot of new guys, time to gel and get better. The defense is going to be a critical element in the first four games of the year.

In between segments, I caught up with Chizik and he shared his thoughts on this year's Ole Miss team and the state of the program:

On season opener against Boise State: "It's cool for the players. I don't know if they train any harder or practice any harder, but certainly as the game gets closer, it has a whole new meaning to a player because it's opening in a pseudo bowl game. They will be excited about it. It's a national TV game and it's going to be one of the biggest games at the beginning of the season. It can be a great opening for Hugh and the football team to play a team like Boise, which has also had a lot of success in its openers, even going back a couple of years to its game against Georgia. The fan base, the players and everyone is going to be excited.

On continuity of staff: "It's night and day if you're trying to build a program, and every two years you're replacing coordinators or you're replacing recruiting coordinators. The kids feel good when they walk back into the building every day and they hear the same voice and the same message. Everyone is beating to the same drum.

On last year's freshmen now sophomores: "So many of the freshmen last year --and they were a very highly-touted class -- came in and had to play, probably more than they needed to play or should have played, when you're talking about freshmen. Hindsight obviously being 20/20, knowing that you had to do that, it certainly makes a better case for you the next year. There were so many guys last year that really had to do it when they were thrown in the fire early. It will pay huge dividends for all those guys this year.

On question marks along the offensive line: "It's going to be huge on the defense. The defense plays a part in that. It's a team game. It's the hardest to put 11 guys on one side and 11 on the other together, but ultimately 22 guys blend together, plus special teams. The defense's job is to buy time for your offensive line to get some experience and gain some confidence, to play together and to listen to the calls. The only thing that you can do with a young line is to give them that experience, game by game, and hopefully you're winning while you're doing it.

On going from the "hunter" to the "hunted": "I don't know if anything changes. There's an awareness there from the coaches and the players that when people play us they have to strap it on and play us for 60 minutes. They can't beat us in 58 minutes. They have to prepare and they have to play the whole game. In this league, they're learning that every week you're the hunted, no matter who you are. Now, they have experienced a great amount of confidence in some of the big games they have won, like the LSU game last year. It makes them very aware that everybody is going to be gunning for them."

On taking the next step as a program: "There's not a day that goes by here that Hugh is not telling his football team that there's one goal, and that's to win the SEC West and go to Atlanta. As you look back and watch the games they have played in the SEC West, there's probably not one guy in that meeting room who thinks that's not a reality, a possibility. They have played everybody tough and beat some of them. That's certainly the goal that they talk about on a daily basis.

On what to look for in first couple of games: "You always look for special teams play. You always look for coverage units and hidden yardage with field position. A lot of people overlook those things because they're looking for touchdowns, interceptions and long runs. That's huge in early games. The other thing is turnovers. You have to protect the ball and you have to try to get the ball back to your offense. Those are the things that every coach in America is going to look for in their openers."

Here are some more highlights from the live interviews on SiriusXM College Sports Nation:

Werner, on Bo Wallace: "The big thing with Bo is that he's sort of a gambler. He'll take his shots. You have to live with it and die with it. When he throws one in there, I'm up the press box and I just go, 'Oh, no,' but then it pops for a touchdown and everybody is happy.

"He makes the exact same throw four plays later and it gets intercepted, and now not so much. That's the thing that I've talked to him about. We have to cut down on those types of plays. We're not going to hit as many big plays, but we're going to keep the chains moving."

Wommack, on C.J. Johnson: "He's one of the leaders of the defense. They all rally around him."

Wommack, on Anthony Alford: "He's one of the top two or three athletes on the team."

Wommack, on Robert Nkemdiche: "We will move him around and use him in different packages, in different places."

Johnson, on being back healthy: "When I'm on the field, it's go-time. I'm ready to go."

Johnson, on season opener against Boise State: "We have a target on our back (as an SEC school). That's another part of the motivation."

Wallace, on last year's Mississippi State game: "It was really frustrating. I felt like we had a good plan for them. I felt like we were the better team. I still feel that way. To be out there, I felt helpless. I didn't know what to do, but I'm healthy now and excited for the year."

Wallace, on leadership: "For me, every guy on the team, when they ask, who wants to win more than anybody, a lot of them are going tell you it's me. That's a huge thing. Competing for those guys, they want to see you're going to put everything on the line every time you walk out there. That's huge for a leader. I'm a quiet, lead-by-example-type guy. I need to be more vocal as a senior and with it being my offense. I'm working on being more vocal."

Bryant, on being underrated: "I love proving people wrong. I got to have a chip on my shoulder because of my size."

Bryant, on the defense: "It's crazy how we all fly around on defense. Everyone's making plays."

Bjork, on his charge as athletics director: "Our job is to build and show progression."

Prewitt, on returning all four starters in the secondary: "It means a lot to be coming back with the same four people in the back end. You can sense what the other guys are going to do and the reads they're going to make. It makes it easier to execute the game plan well."

Prewitt, on Denzel and Robert Nkemdiche: "It's really fun to watch them interacting with each other and the way they push each other. It makes all of us better."

Athletics Director Ross Bjork announces the renaming of Coliseum Drive as Chucky Mullins Drive, in recognition of the spirit and life of Chucky Mullins.

Bjork also announces "It's Time," a celebration of Chucky Mullins around the Sept. 26-27 weekend of the Memphis football game, which will include the football team wearing helmets with No. 38 decals on the side.


 

 

Bjork Talks Hoops On Studio 18 Live

Studio 18 Live - March 19, 2014 from Ole Miss Rebels on Vimeo.

Athletics Director Ross Bjork recaps the 2013-14 men's and women's basketball seasons and shares his thoughts on Auburn hiring Bruce Pearl as men's basketball coach.


Bjork Reflects On 10-Day Nike Asia Tour

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For more than a decade, Nike has invited college administrators to see their factories that they contract with and see how the company does business in Asia. 

This past month, Ole Miss' Ross Bjork was among the group of five athletics directors and three representatives that toured Nike overseas facilities in Vietnam and China. Bjork was joined on the 10-day tour by Tom Bowen (Memphis), Scott Leykam (Portland), Dr. Hans Mueh (Air Force) and Rob Mullens (Oregon). 

"For Nike, it's an education to make sure everyone is comfortable with the process and how we do business in Asia," Bjork said. "You have these big contracts with a university to outfit their teams and their product. It's a great thing for Nike to do this to make sure that we know how they conduct themselves and that we feel comfortable with them."

Bjork flew out of Memphis on Jan. 15 to Chicago and then to Tokyo and finally to Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam and the first stop of the tour, where the group took day trips to nearby villages and toured two Nike-contracted factories. 

From Ho Chi Minh City, the group traveled to three cities in China, starting with Guangzhou, which Bjork described as a city of factories, before wrapping up the trip with stops in Shanghai and Beijing and then flying home on Jan. 25.

"Nike is very conscientious about factory and working conditions and making sure they're partnering with the right companies who operate these factories," Bjork said. "They are conscientious about labor and workers' rights. I knew that before the trip, but until you actually see it and walk on a factory line, you can't really understand it."

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It was not just a clearer, first-hand understanding of Nike and their work in Asia, Bjork said, but also an appreciation for the people of Vietnam and China. 

"I learned perspective and appreciation for the freedom we have in the United States but also great respect for what those people have to go through to live in China and Vietnam and go about their business under the same values and principles that we have, but in a much more controlled environment," Bjork said.

Bjork was also impressed with how Nike and their contracted factories have similar business fundamentals, in terms of vision statement, purpose and core values. The difference is how they present them, which Bjork said they might emulate and try to bring to Ole Miss.

"The one thing that I was impressed with was the visual presentation that they do in these factories around their core values and mission," Bjork said. "When you walk in the front door of the factory buildings, they had vision statement, purpose and core values on the wall. We talk about those things here, but they visualize it.

"If you walk in our building, we don't have our perspective up. That's one thing that I want to look at here is to maybe visualize in our buildings what we stand for and how we operate. I was very impressed with that. Whether it was China or Vietnam, the factories all had their purpose and vision in full display."

Moving forward, Ole Miss has a full apparel contract with Nike, a seven-year deal that started on July 1, 2012, which Bjork noted was negotiated and in place before he was named athletics director on March 21, 2012. 

From his observations and conversations on the tour with Nike and factory staff, Bjork said he is pleased with Ole Miss' relationship with the company, as well as their relationship with Kit Morris, Nike's Director of College Sports Marketing and an Ole Miss graduate.

"I see our Nike relationship evolving and growing because we have great relationships with Kit, his staff and his team," Bjork said. "Our equipment staff has a great relationship with the people at Nike. 

"I see the relationship evolving and growing over the life of the contract, but also as you look to the future and what happens after 2019. Nike is a great partner, and we'll see what happens as we get closer to that point."

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Ole Miss landed back-to-back top-15 classes for the first time in school history dating back to the first recruiting rankings in 2002. It was a consensus top-20 class, ranked as high as No. 14 (247Sports.com). 

The 27-player signing class included 14 high school and junior college All-Americans and five consensus four-star prospects, as well as offensive lineman Rod Taylor, who is listed as a 5-star prospect by 247Sports.com and a 4-star prospect by the other three major recruiting services.

After head coach Hugh Freeze's signing day press conference, I caught up with Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork to recount the day that was for Ole Miss football.

On the importance of signing day to the football program and the athletic program as whole:

"This day is really about the whole cycle of a football program, where you have fall practice, then you have the season, then you have the postseason, and then you go into signing day, and then you go into spring practice. This is another way to sell the program at the highest level. We know we have to get players, and so our coaches go out and do that. 

"To me, it's part of the big cycle of college football, and it becomes another holiday mixed in with all of the things that we do to run a high-level football program. The attention and coverage is great, and it lifts the entire athletic program to see what our staff has done the last two years to recruit at the highest level."

On this year's class compared to last year's class:

"Last year was so different and so unique because of the connections we had with the number one player overall, number one offensive lineman and number one receiver. It's different, and what's great about today is we had no surprises. 

"The less drama you can have on signing day, the better. We had a couple of battles at the end, but the less drama, the better. To me, today was perfect, and this is how you want it to go every year, where you're recruiting a high level but you have no surprises in a negative way. Our staff did a great job."

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Head coach Billy Chadwick will step down at the end of the 2014 season, and associate head coach Toby Hansson was named his successor and will take the reins of the program following the season.

"Coaches in waiting, we've seen that a lot but it doesn't really work in a whole lot of places," athletics director Ross Bjork said. "We had a definitive timeline and a definitive decision, and why not go through the season where we can celebrate Billy but also prep Toby because he's ready and he's capable."

With Chadwick's endorsement, Ole Miss interviewed Hansson and came to a decision to make him the next head coach in August. Continuity was also a key part of the decision, as Hansson enters his eighth year with the program.

"We went through a process where we analyzed Toby," Bjork said. "We interviewed him. We talked about recruiting and what we need to do to continue to build the program. He checked the mark on all of them. It's the right decision for the program."

An integral part of the program's success over the last seven years, Hansson knows the program in and out, and it's a dream job for the Uppsala, Sweden native and former SMU All-American.

"I had gotten some offers from other schools for different jobs," Hansson said. "When this came up, obviously this is a dream job for me. And I'm just really excited about it. I'm glad to be here." 

In Hansson's tenure at Ole Miss, the Rebels have won five SEC West Championships, the regular season SEC Championship and two SEC Tournament Championships. Hansson is regarded as one of the top coaches in the country in developing players and has helped produced the most All-Americans in the country (11) during his tenure at Ole Miss.

"Toby is one of the top young coaches in the country," Chadwick said. "We have been very fortunate, and a lot of our success stems directly to him. For him to take over the program, we're not going to have a bump in the road. The program is in great hands. 

"You never find anyone that does not like Toby. He's extremely likable, and at the same time, he's a good disciplinarian, and he knows tennis. He's one of the best tennis minds in the country."

Hansson has learned a lot from working with Chadwick, particularly making the players feel comfortable and create a family atmosphere with players from across the country and around the world.

"When the players come here, it's a new place," Hansson said. "Making them feel comfortable and developing them is one of the biggest keys to success."

"I'm really happy for Toby," said sophomore Stefan Lindmark, a native of Stockholm, Sweden. "He's a really great coach as well. He really loves the game. He's so into it, but that makes us even more pumped to work hard for him."

By making the announcement before the 2014 season, it's a way to have a parade for Chadwick's legendary career throughout the season, as well as give Hansson an extended period of time to find an assistant coach for when he takes over following the season.

"I got some really big shoes to fill, and I'm going to take it step by step," Hansson said. "We have a big season ahead of us, so right now, that's where my focus is."

"We know that good things are headed for us, not just in more hardware for the university, but great student-athletes and lives changed," Chancellor Dan Jones said. "It's a great day for Ole Miss."


Ross Bjork - 2013 State of Ole Miss Athletics from Ole Miss Rebels on Vimeo.

In case you missed it yesterday, above is a message from Director of Athletcs Ross Bjork on the state of Ole Miss athletics. Below are some key points:

Record-high $26 million in cash donations to Ole Miss Athletics Foundation
- Student-athletes recorded a 2.87 cumulative GPA and participated in more than 20 service projects
- Ole Miss Athletics will partner with the William Winter Institute for a Racial Reconciliation week this fall
- 810,000 fans attended home events last season
- Forward Together capital campaign received $22 million in new gifts
- Ole Miss Athletics budget will increase from $62 million (2012-13) to $70 million (2013-14)
- Next month, Ole Miss Athletics will relaunch the Forward Together campaign, with an updated basketball arena design and location, preliminary look at the new North End Zone design and project timeline for the master plan
- This year, Ole Miss Athletics will host a live, weekly show that will be streamed on OleMissSports.com

Bjork To Speak At Jackson TD Club

Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork will be the featured speaker at the Jackson Touchdown Club meeting Monday, Oct. 29.  The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the River Hills Tennis Club located at the intersection of Ridgewood Road and Lakeland Drive.

Bjork_061212a_JB.jpgAdmission for non-members and guests is $30.00.  Space is limited.  For additional information, contact Glen Waddle, Secretary of the Jackson Touchdown Club, at 601-506-3186, or visit the club's website at www.jacksontouchdownclub.com.

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