Wednesday, June 20, 2012
AD Ross Bjork is ready for test at Ole Miss
By Edward Aschoff
Ross Bjork understands the difficulties that come with running Ole Miss' athletic department, especially when it comes to football.
Ole Miss' new athletic director knows the sport is a major work in progress, but he's looking to expedite a return to being competitive.
Ole Miss' football program has yet to make it to Atlanta for the SEC championship game and has reached double-digit wins only once (2003) since 1971. While Ole Miss has had 13 winning seasons since 1990, the Rebels have churned out six losing seasons in the last eight years. Ole Miss has won just six games in two years and has lost 14 straight SEC matchups.
That disappointment led to Houston Nutt's dismissal last season. At the same time, then-athletic director Pete Boone also announced his resignation, meaning true change was coming to Ole Miss.
And Bjork, who left Western Kentucky's athletic director's spot for Ole Miss, is hoping to spearhead some positive change, as he embarks on his first year in Oxford.
"There's a big upside at Ole Miss," Bjork told ESPN.com during the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., in May. "Being the University of Mississippi, having the state power of the brand of the University of Mississippi, being the flagship institution, but also having the attraction and the passion at Ole Miss is a big advantage for us. People are hungry, from a fan perspective. The state of Mississippi and our alumni are hungry to get back to winning consistently in all of our sports."
Bjork, who at 39 is the youngest athletic director among BCS schools, brings the right charisma and determination with him to Ole Miss. He might be young, but knows the business. He might be new to the SEC, but he isn't intimidated. Athletic directors have to be aggressive and even ruthless in this league and Bjork seems ready to take on that personality. Western Kentucky saw an increase in athletic success and some facility upgrades during Bjork's short stint there, and he hopes to see similar improvements at Ole Miss.
In order to do that, Bjork said he's evaluating his coaches every day, including new football coach Hugh Freeze. There isn't necessarily a timetable for any coaches or any sort of leeway he has with them, but each evaluation comes with trying to find ways to make programs better and more competitive faster. If that means expanding the budget, Bjork will work to do that. If that means enhancing facilities, he'll aim to do that as well.
"To me, there's only one way to go, and that's to go up," he said. "We have a lot of great ideas, a lot of energy around these ideas. Now, we have to put them in place. We know that the expectations are to produce and that's why we're in this business."
Bjork wouldn't go into detail about those ideas, but they are things Bjork said motivate him every day. Winning and winning a lot consume his thoughts and that's something Ole Miss needs.
Bjork has been around Ole Miss only a short time, and is still adjusting to the culture of the town and university, but he's aiming high when it comes to athletics. He doesn't want middle-of-the road anymore, and he's looking for his programs to excel quickly.
"To me, we want to compete for and win championships," he said. "That will be the model, and if you're in the top quadrant of this league that means you're going to be in the top quadrant nationally. So we have to get our teams in the top quadrant consistently in this league.
"Some are there and some have a long way to go. Now, we have to sit down and figure out what it's going to take to get there."