Ole Miss hires Cincinnati interim coach Kennedy

Updated: March 23, 2006, 10:49 PM ET
Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. -- Mississippi hired former Cincinnati interim coach Andy Kennedy on Thursday night, athletic director Pete Boone told The Associated Press.

Kennedy, passed over for the Cincinnati job that went to Mick Cronin on Thursday night after the Bearcats' season finale in the NIT, was to be introduced at a news conference Friday in Oxford, Boone said.

"The way he handled himself in adverse circumstances showed me his head coaching instincts, and there's no question that he's been a great recruiter over the years," Boone said.

It caps a three-day whirlwind for Ole Miss officials who interviewed four candidates in two days before hiting Kennedy to replace Rod Barnes.

Barnes, a former national coach of the year, was told last month that he would not return to the Rebels next year after his fourth straight losing season.

The hiring returns the Louisville, Miss., native to his home state for his first full-time head coaching job at the college level.

"I've had numerous phone calls from some of the nation's best head coaches advocating him as a great young coach, one that knows his Xs and Os as well as his recruiting ability," Boone said.

He said Kennedy was picked because of "his absolute passion for coming back to Mississippi and being a part of building this program and being here for the long term."

The former Mississippi high school player of the year was an assistant at South Alabama and UAB before joining Bob Huggins' staff at Cincinnati as recruiting coordinator in 2001. He was promoted to associate head coach two years ago.

After the controversial Huggins stepped down in August, Kennedy became interim head coach and was a popular choice among some fans at Cincinnati to receive the job permanently.

He led Cincinnati to a 21-13 record in his only season running the program, and had the Bearcats in contention for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

After they were snubbed by the selection committee, they landed in the National Invitation Tournament where they won two games and advanced to the quarterfinals. The Bearcats' season ended Thursday night with a 65-62 home loss to South Carolina.

The Bearcats' season ended Thursday night with a 65-62 home loss to South Carolina, but not before some impassioned fans chanted their support for Kennedy and gave him three standing ovations.

Two fans who participated in a free throw shooting contest during a timeout held up signs saying, "Hire Andy.''

Coincidentally, Kennedy's hiring by Ole Miss came on the same day Kansas State snatched up Huggins.

"I think this is the end of the chapter for Bob Huggins basketball," Kennedy said after the loss. "This kind of puts closure ... and it's kind of ironic it happens today -- he gets a job and we're done. I think it closes the chapter."

Boone told Barnes that the coach would not return for a ninth season. Barnes led Ole Miss to the NCAA Tournament in three of his first four seasons in Oxford, but had four straight losing seasons after that, including a 14-16 finish this year.

Kennedy was speculated as a leading candidate almost from the start, and he was interviewed by Ole Miss earlier Thursday in Cincinnati.

Other coaches known to have interviewed with Ole Miss included Cronin and South Alabama's John Pelphrey on Wednesday, and Kennedy and Ole Miss assistant Tracy Dildy the following day.

"I think we turned over every stone we possibly could, and we narrowed it down to some great candidates," Boone said. "Throughout the interview process, Andy's passion for wanting to be at Ole Miss, plus his background, separated him from the rest of them."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press