While Ole Miss fans are celebrating the school’s first College World Series championship, and Mississippians in general are feeling rightfully proud of back-to-back baseball titles for this state, there is an important lesson to draw from the Rebels’ remarkable journey.
That lesson? Don’t give up on a good coach.
After Ole Miss put down Oklahoma in two straight games to take the crown in Omaha, the accolades for Rebel skipper Mike Bianco were effusive. In one post-game interview, Bianco’s boss, Athletic Director Keith Carter, said that Bianco would remain the school’s head baseball coach as long as Bianco wanted the job.
Back up a couple of months.
The Rebels, who had entered the season with high hopes and even claimed the nation’s No. 1 ranking for a short time, were in a slump. They were playing poorly and losing to teams that, on paper, they should have been beating. They were losing twice as many conference games as they were winning, and it looked at one point as if they wouldn’t even make the Southeastern Conference postseason tournament field, much less be one of the 64 teams in the NCAA tournament.
But they played just well enough down the stretch of the regular season to get the final at-large bid in the NCAA tourney. Out of their next 11 games, they only lost once. And the same coach whom fans were ready to give up on was now being lauded as a genius.
Bianco, 22 years at the helm of the Rebels, didn’t suddenly get smarter three months into the season. Rather, his players started playing up to their abilities, they regained the confidence that is so critical to success in any pursuit, and they got on the right side of a streak at just the right time in one of the most streaky sports there is.
It makes you wonder how many other veteran college coaches over the years would have been able to ride out their teams’ slumps or down years if given the benefit of some patience. But as coaching salaries have gotten higher, and schools have gotten more hooked on the revenue athletics produces, the less patience the fans have. They want their teams, especially in the high-profile sports, to be competing for a championship every year, or they want to try someone else as the coach.
Mike Bianco has been a top-notch coach for a while, with his teams’ winning two-thirds of the games they play. Finally he’s gotten the title to match his baseball acumen. He’s proven that patience can pay off. Something for all sports fans, not just those who wear the powder blue, to remember.