As published in the July/August 2014 Football Issue of Rebel Nation Magazine™
PUBLISHERS NOTE: We normally don’t publish magazine content on our website. Our goal as a publication is, of course, to sell copies and subscriptions. When we approached Ross with this column idea I knew at some point we’d have to make this available for everyone across Rebel Nation to read. We hope you enjoy and will share this message with every Rebel fan you know.
By Ole Miss Athletic Director Ross Bjork
We are Ole Miss….
As a member of the Ole Miss family, you have surely heard this phrase said in the course of your discussions about anything and everything related to the University of Mississippi.
The interesting thing is, for just four simple words, they sure do carry a lot of weight… for not just one meaning, but two wildly opposite ones. I can’t think of too many more sentences that can be exactly the same in form and words but can mean two different things given context, tone, and most importantly, attitude of the one who says or writes it. From its origin, “We are Ole Miss” has been a mantra, even a rallying cry, used to unite those with pride in this special university when something great happens in a game, in a classroom or anywhere on campus. However, in addition to this unifying and positive meaning, we know a darker undercurrent of meaning exists, especially when a challenge presents itself or after a tough moment – a harsh loss, a negative event on campus, or because a decision was made that some in the Ole Miss family did not agree with.
When my family and I arrived at Ole Miss in April 2012, I became familiar with the first, more positive meaning of those four simple words. However, I had an up-close and personal experience with the defeatist version of the same phrase on a cool night in October later that fall. Standing on the sidelines of Vaught-Hemingway, we held a 10-point lead on the Aggies of Texas A&M. Like many games between talented young men and women, a shift in momentum was underway. The Aggies were driving down the field (led by a then little known quarterback who would later win the Heisman Trophy) with eight minutes to go in the game. It was at this point that a group of our supporters standing near me on the sidelines called out “We are Ole Miss” in a tone that caught me completely off guard. As an optimist by nature, I was expecting us to hold on and win the game – but the “We Are Ole Miss” I heard that night gave a different prediction. When I asked for clarification, they proceeded to tell me that we always do this to ourselves and that giving up this lead was “typical Ole Miss.” In a respectful manner, I challenged back and told the group that times were changing and we expected to win this game. Under our leadership, we were operating under a new mindset. A mindset that we can and SHOULD compete for and win championships!
As an Ole Miss fan reading this, you know we did lose that particular game, so my credibility with that small group took a big hit. Walking back to my office on that cold night, my Twitter feed was full of a similar tone about the current and future state of our program. In basic terms, the feedback was this – it was going to be an uphill battle to change the course of this program, especially the mindset. As I sat in my office on that late Saturday night, I reflected on why I was hired and the next steps. In that moment, I made a commitment to myself as a leader and as athletics director at the University of Mississippi that we could not and would not accept a losing mentality or attitude. A defeated mentality or attitude is not fair to our university and especially the student-athletes that we serve.
Even though we were all devastated by that gut-wrenching loss (the Aggies actually did it to us again in 2013!), I knew I had to challenge the Ole Miss family to THINK differently, ACT differently and SUPPORT our program at a different level. In order for us to compete in the best conference in college athletics, we had to instill a belief in ourselves first and foremost. If we did not believe in ourselves, then who would?
As we went around to visit the Ole Miss family in 2013, I told this sideline story often and have since offered a challenge to Rebel Nation. How do you use those four simple words, “We are Ole Miss”? Do you use it to continuously unify other Rebel fans and brick-by-brick build the program up? Or, do you use it to slowly remove the grout, that which unifies us to win and win the right way? If you use it for the latter, let us reflect about consequences for future growth. What if a potential student or prospective student-athlete heard you say it in a negative tone? What if the next James Meredith, Jim Barksdale, Hannah Gay, Peggie Gillom, Larry Martindale, Mike Glenn, Rose Flenorl, Brittney Reese, Carol Ross, Ben Williams, James Reed, Coolidge Ball, Deuce McAllister, Eli Manning, Kristi Boxx, Rafa Souza, Sam Kendricks, Valencia McFarland, or Laquon Treadwell heard you say it in a negative tone? Would they still choose to come to Ole Miss?
Clearly I’m an optimist, but I’m also realistic. There is no way we can ask for you to unconditionally love everything we do here at Ole Miss – we fully understand we cannot make everyone happy, every hour of every day. That is simply not possible in college athletics or higher education. What I am asking for is that we all pull the rope in the same direction by using the pride, passion and caring attitude that each of us possess for the University in the most positive environment possible. The best chance we have for success is to be a family and that includes saying “We are Ole Miss” with our chest out and our head held high. Rest assured, we are not being Pollyannaish or even naïve about the challenges we face by approaching them with this positive attitude. In life, every successful person or organization has failed but never viewed themselves as a failure. Therefore, we must lead with an opportunistic attitude to put our university, department, coaches, staff and student-athletes in the best position to be successful.
Make no mistake about it, we will be relentless in achieving success. This type of attitude and effort will require our coaches and staff to be uncommon and committed, and we ask the same of Rebel Nation. The best is yet to come and we look forward to experiencing this quest for greatness with you.
We Are Ole Miss! – RN
*This is just a sample of some of the great stories you’ll find in EVERY issue of Rebel Nation Magazine™. The July/August 2015 Ole Miss Football Preview is still available by subscription and in stores all across MS, TN, AL, AR and LA. You can subscribe online here and receive every issue delivered right to your home of office. The September/October Issue is up next.