Thursday, August 23, 2012

SxSE: Ole Miss Baseball 1893-2012

Ole Miss is historically a good but underachieving program.  Currently I would rank them as an NCAA Regional program.  They can be expected to qualify for the Regionals nearly every year, but they can also be expected to usually not make it any farther.  The Rebels' average season record for the past 10 years has been 40-24.

Mississippi began playing baseball in 1893.  They were led by 14 different coaches in their first 55 years, up through 1947

Future Yankees and Mets manager Casey Stengel was the head coach at Ole Miss for one year, in 1914, and led them to a 13-9 record. It was at Ole Miss he first picked up the nickname, "The old Perfesser".

Tom Swayze was the Rebels' coach during their "glory days" from 1951-1971.  During Swayze's tenure, the Rebels won 4 SEC Championships and made it to the College World Series twice. He compiled a 361-201-2 record during his tenure.

Jake Gibbs coached the team from 1972-1990, compiling a  485-389-8 record.  The former major leaguer led the team to the College World Series in his first year on the job, the last time they've been there.

Don Kessinger, another former major leaguer, coached from 1991-2000

Mike Bianco has been coaching the Rebels since 2000.  His teams have been to the NCAA Regionals in every season except 2000 and 2011, but have not advanced from there.

Ole Miss has won 6 SEC Conference championships, in 1959, 1960, 1964, 1969, 1972, 1977, 2009.  They have been to the NCAA Tournament 17 times, and have advanced to the College World Series 4 times, 1956, 1964, 1969, 1972, but have never won the national championship.

Notable Ole Miss Ballplayers
The 2012 Ole Miss Rebels

The 2012 Rebels compiled a 37-26 record, 14-16 in the SEC.  They went to the College Station Regional, but were eliminated by TCU after going 2-2.

What Dave Van Horn's Success Teaches Us About Mike Bianco's Failure (Red Cup Rebellion)
With their programs' infrastructure and support being as similar as they are, one would expect parity in Bianco and Van Horn's game day production. For the most part, there is. Remarkably so. In the ten seasons Van Horn has been in Fayetteville, he has compiled an overall record of 398-220 (.644) with a 159-139 (.534) conference mark. In that same span,** Bianco has gone 395-236 (.626) overall and 164-136 (.547) in the SEC. The pair's overall and conference winning percentages are separated by a mere 1 and 2%, respectfully. As far as postseason play goes, Van Horn has reached the NCAA tournament every year since his arrival in 2003. Bianco's squads have qualified in nine of those ten seasons. Both coaches have reached a Super Regional four times apiece.
. . .
There is, of course, the one paramount difference between the two coaches' programs; the one cardinal statistic that distinguishes and defines each man's tenure. Dave Van Horn has three College World Series appearances. Mike Bianco, as we're all painfully aware, has zero.

As I've illustrated above, both coaches are encompassed within equivalent programs that provide them with similar resources. In regular season and early stages of postseason play this has resulted in nearly identical results. In high pressure, late season situations the fates of the two teams diverge. Faced with these clutch situations, Van Horn's teams have usually played their best baseball, going 3 for 4 in Super Regionals. Bianco's teams have collapsed, going 0-4.

I realize the equation for a successful baseball team is much more complicated than the list of general factors I've explored above. The comparisons I've made are far from comprehensive or exhaustive. Luck and timing many times play as big a factor in the outcome of a game as skill and coaching prowess. A blown game-ending double play followed by two bases-loaded hit-by-pitches allowed the Razorbacks to avoid elimination in game two of the Baylor Super Regional. The Diamond Rebs have typically been on the wrong side of such breaks. The fact of the matter remains, though: for whatever reasons, Van Horn has repeatedly taken his team to Omaha and Bianco has not. Under reasonably similar circumstances, Bianco has failed where Van Horn has succeeded.

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