Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy reacts during the game against Middle Tennessee State at the Pavilion at Ole Miss, in Oxford, Miss. on Wednesday, November 30, 2016. (Bruce Newman, Oxford Eagle via AP)

Ole Miss basketball coach Andy Kennedy opens up about not receiving contract extension: ‘Contracts have never been my motivating factor’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It would be easy for Andy Kennedy to be bitter, but he’s not.

At least not publicly.

Kennedy is entering his 12th season as Ole Miss’ men’s basketball coach, but it’s following an unusual offseason that included the Rebels’ all-time winningest coach not having his contract rolled over, a standard practice for most successful coaches. Three years remain on Kennedy’s deal with a four-year contract being the maximum allowed in Mississippi.

In an exclusive interview with the EAGLE at the SEC’s annual basketball media day Wednesday, Kennedy opened up about the school’s decision to not extend his contract after previously declining to comment on the subject, sounding like anything other than someone holding a grudge.

“It was the decision that was reached,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think about it every day. I don’t talk about it every day. To me, it does not affect my ability to do my job right now. I honestly always operate with the mentality of having a one-day contract, and here I am going into Year 12. I just kind of work daily to try to put our program at a position to be successful.”

Kennedy has his top two scorers, Deandre Burnett and Terence Davis, returning from a team that went 22-14 last season with a run to the National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals — the Rebels’ eighth postseason appearance under Kennedy. It was also the ninth 20-win season for Ole Miss during Kennedy’s tenure after posting just seven in the 96 years prior to his arrival in 2007.

But only two of those postseason trips have been to the NCAA Tournament, and Kennedy knows expectations are different with the recent investments the school has made in the sport. The $92.5-million Pavilion, which opened in January 2016, has elevated the program’s game-day facility from one of country’s worst to one of the best and given Kennedy a viable recruiting tool, which he used to recently land the highest-ranked signing class in program history.

But the wait-and-see approach from Ole Miss Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter has already had an impact on Kennedy’s ability to hold on to recruits.

Early signees Parker Stewart and JaMarko Pickett asked for and were granted releases from their scholarships once word leaked in the spring that Kennedy’s contract wouldn’t be extended. Stewart, a three-star shooting guard, signed with Pittsburgh while Pickett, a coveted four-star forward, eventually landed at Georgetown.

Kennedy didn’t offer much about what impact his contract situation was having on Ole Miss’ current recruiting class, though the Rebels already have three verbal commitments for next year in Florida prep guard Serrel Smith, Maryland prep forward Anthony Higgins and junior college wing Brian Halums.

“For us, we’re excited about the prospects of our 2018 class,” Kennedy said. “I’m excited about my current team, and I like the direction that the program is going. That’s really all I can say.”

The decision to stand pat with Kennedy was made more curious when the school decided to extend the contract of former football coach Hugh Freeze while his program was in the midst of an NCAA investigation. Freeze was forced to resign July 20 after a review of his phone records revealed what athletic director Ross Bjork called a “concerning pattern” of personal misconduct.

But Kennedy said any success his team has this year isn’t about proving a point. It’s his job — and one the dean of SEC coaches wants to continue to do well despite the circumstances.

“Contracts have never been my motivating factor,” Kennedy said. “For me, I’m just trying to survive in a tough business and do something that hasn’t been done at Ole Miss. That’s what our goal has been and what it will continue to be.”

This post was last modified on November 24, 2017, 12:08 pm

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