Wednesday, January 20, 2021

COLUMN: Bianco’s Baseball Blueprint Continues to Work at Ole Miss

By Jeff Roberson
Hotty Toddy Contributor

When Mike Bianco arrived at Ole Miss in the summer of 2000, he talked about bringing with him a system and a blueprint to implement a successful and winning baseball program. Those are among the things he’d learned from his time at LSU as a player and an assistant to Tiger head coach Skip Bertman.

Bianco was a 33-year-old head coach at McNeese State when he got a call from then Ole Miss AD John Shafer to become a head coach in the Southeastern Conference. He was one of the rising young coaches at the time. He was going to be the head coach at Ole Miss or somewhere else very soon.

The future of Ole Miss baseball is still securely in Bianco’s hands through a new four-year contract as he heads into his 21st season, the longest tenured current head coach in the Southeastern Conference in football, men’s basketball, and baseball.

The longevity of his time here as head coach, the massive support from Ole Miss fans for the program, the fact that the players are good citizens and students as well as good baseball players, all join postseason regularity as hallmarks of his program.

Bianco’s contract discussions last June gave some pause to what might be next after the 2020 season. A 16-1 start earlier this year had folks buzzing. It was a team fans loved quickly and believed in mightily.

But the stoppage of play by the global pandemic brought an unusual set of circumstances to the process. The Rebels’ last baseball game was played March 11. Now, more than three months later, the program looks to 2021 with solidarity and hope that next season will pick up right where the most recent one ended – minus a couple of now-professionals in 3B Tyler Keenan and SS Anthony Servideo.

The Rebels were clearly on a roll in February and early March and enjoying themselves. Fans are already talking about next season, and there will be newcomers to help the cause.

Bianco and staff can now move ahead through summer, fall, and winter with full support, no matter how a still-unusual year unfolds. With the state of affairs in the world and in the sports world, and with so many unknowns at the present time, locking arms and moving forward give any situation the best chance to succeed.

When Bianco began his tenure in Oxford, the stadium was much smaller and needed upgrades, and the outfield seating area was less than half what it is now. The coaches offices were across the street from Bishop Hall and quite a distance from the baseball stadium. It took another relocation to near the football stadium in the Starnes Center before the coaches would get a permanent home at the baseball stadium.

The statewide radio network has grown substantially, season ticket sales are several times over what they were 20 years ago, and a weekend in Oxford for baseball can sometimes feel like a football weekend. That’s why so many were so devastated when the season came to a screeching halt with the Rebels playing as well as anyone in the country.

Bianco, named last week as the National Coach of the Year for 2020 by Collegiate Baseball, and his family made Oxford their home and are an important part of the community. The announcement back in 2000 when he was named head coach of the Rebels was the right one. So was the recent announcement of his latest contract, which is pushed out to four years again and means there’s continued stability and support for his Ole Miss baseball program.

The system and blueprint Mike Bianco brought here have certainly worked.