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Forward together campaign hopes to get back on track with new coach


Though the University of Mississippi football team may have taken a step backward this season, fundraising has continued to push forward.
The Ole Miss athletics program announced a new fundraising campaign called Forward Together this past summer. They plan to raise money to build a new basketball arena and expand and renovate Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
After Ole Miss launched the campaign, the football team posted a season that cost Head Coach Houston Nutt his job after a 30-13 loss to Kentucky, who was then winless in the SEC. The announcement came on Nov. 7, two days shy of three weeks before the Rebels would finish the season with a 31-3 loss to arch-rival Mississippi State.
The Rebels are currently 2-10 with zero SEC wins on the year having just finished their worst football season since 1946 when the football team went 2-7. This is the first season ever that the team has lost 10 games.
Danny White, executive director of the Ole Miss Athletics Association Foundation, said the campaign has been a success, despite the poor season.
Even after a 30-7 loss at Vanderbilt early in the season, the campaign still raised $44.5 million out of the total $150 million needed for the whole campaign, according to the official site.
“I think with any campaign there’s going to be highs and lows,” White said. “Certainly our fans are disappointed in the football season, but I know that they’re excited about the direction we’re going and rebuilding that program, and ultimately getting back to the level of competition we all aspire to.”
White said the team’s struggles slowed the fundraising, but he also said it has gotten back on track since the athletics department decided to release Nutt.
Athletics Director Pete Boone said he believes this past football season did have a negative impact on the campaign, but the change in the coaching staff should help put the fans’ giving back on track.
“Every time you have a new coach come in, there’s going to be sizzle – there’s going to be excitement,” he said. “There’s going to be energy.”
Michael Thompson, senior associate athletics director of communication marketing, said he feels like the campaign is still in good shape.
“I’m not concerned,” he said. “I think our fans and donors’ generosity has been unmatched over the last however many months.”
Thompson said it is important to not let one season get in the way of the long-term goals for the campaign.
“This campaign is not about today,” he said. “It’s not going to get built overnight, and our fan base sees this is long term and we are building on something for many, many, many years.”
The fundraising is at $30 million of the $45 million needed for the first phase of the football stadium renovations. All of Phase 1 will cost $100 million, which includes the basketball arena. Phase 2 will cost $50 million to build the north end zone of the football stadium.
Forward Together has also raised a little over $3 million in philanthropic giving out of the $50 million needed, according to the official campaign website. White said they have not started to raise money for Phase 2.
He also said they are further ahead than he expected at this stage in the campaign.
One of the decisions that will likely affect whether the campaign will reach its goals or not is who the university decides to hire as the next head coach. If the next coach is successful, the chances are that the campaign will succeed. If the next coach does not succeed, however, Ole Miss could have a harder time raising the money.
“I think it’s critically important that we get a very good coach in here that can compete in the toughest division of the toughest conference in America,” White said. “That’s what excites our fans as we play at the very highest level.”
Boone also said it is critical Ole Miss gets the right head coach, and he said it is important to have a competitive program.
“It’s critical,” he said about the importance of hiring a good coach. “We’ve gone through eight years of struggle with some positive blips in and out, but we haven’t established a solid program, and we’ve got to do that.”
The question is what exactly defines success. White said he did not think it was a certain number of wins, but it meant giving the fans hope for the future.  
“I think it’s more about getting our football program back in the right direction,” he said. “And I think that’s going to happen here pretty quickly.”
On the same day he announced the decision to fire Nutt, Boone also announced at the Monday press conference he will retire in December 2012 at the latest.
Although he will still be the athletics director for possibly another year, Boone will not hire the next football coach. In his place, Ole Miss football legend Archie Manning and Mike Glenn, executive vice president of FedEx, will head a search committee for the new coach. The committee is also responsible for finding the next athletics director.
The search committee also includes Richard Noble, the president of the Ole Miss Alumni Association, Ronald Rychlak, a university law professor, and Ethel Young-Minor, an associate professor at Ole Miss, who are all on the Intercollegiate Athletics Committee at Ole Miss.
“We’re really excited about that,” White said. “Certainly Archie’s experience in football circles and his network is going to serve Ole Miss very, very well.”
Boone said Manning will bring to the table his knowledge about the game, contacts and the ability to find out a lot of information about people. On the other hand, he said Ole Miss alumnus Glenn will bring organizational skills and understanding of budgets, packages and negotiating.
“The two of them together have different sorts of skill sets, but both of them fit really well together,” Boone said.