Ex-Gator coach turning Rebels into winners
Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
Carol Ross' rebuilding project at Ole Miss began with some homemade T-shirts.
- Who: Ole Miss (16-6, 5-2 SEC) at Florida (6-16, 0-7)
- When: 7 p.m.
- Where: O'Connell Center
- On air: AM-850
Talk is cheap. Actions speak. That message was printed on T-shirts distributed to Ross' first Ole Miss team in 2003. Ross, who coached Florida for 12 seasons, was out to change the culture at Ole Miss after almost a decade of futility in Oxford.
Ross believed she could turn Ole Miss into a consistent NCAA Tournament team.
"You can't fear failure," Ross said. "So what if you get your heart broken? You have to lay yourself out there. You have to raise expectations."
Ross not only raised the expectations at Ole Miss, she has also lived up to them.
Ross has taken Ole Miss to two NCAA Tournaments in her first three seasons and once again has the Rebels (16-6, 5-2 SEC) playing for another berth heading into tonight's 7 p.m. contest against the Gators (6-16, 0-7) in the O'Connell Center.
It will mark the second time Ross has returned to the O'Connell Center as Ole Miss' head coach. Ross led the Rebels to a 82-70 win over Florida on Jan. 23, 2005.
Ross unexpectedly resigned as Florida's head coach on March 22, 2002 as the program's winningest head coach with 247 wins. She transformed the Gators from an SEC bottom feeder (Florida won 14 SEC games in 11 seasons prior to Ross) to a program that consistently contended in the NCAA Tournament.
Ross said she brought some of her experiences from turning Florida's program around with her to Ole Miss.
"It helped me that I had already turned one around at Florida," Ross said. "Even though I was a young coach and didn't know what I was doing, it helped me when I came here (to Ole Miss). I think I greatly benefited from my Florida experience."
Ross inherited an Ole Miss team coming off a 12-16 season that included a 1-13 SEC mark and hadn't made the NCAA Tournament since 1995-96.
Ross recalled her first meeting with her Rebel players as being "aggressive and confident." She openly mentioned playing in NCAA Tournaments and for SEC titles.
"You just have to change the culture," Ross said. "You have to make these players think they deserve to be winners and they deserve to dream big. It's really a mindset. You change that first and foremost."
Then came the T-shirts.
"The message was even though you talk big, you have to back it up," Ross said. "That may be a little Spurrier-like."
Ross exudes the same confidence possessed by her friend and former Florida football coach Steve Spurrier. Like Spurrier, Ross often backs up her words with results.
Ole Miss went 17-13 and earned an NCAA berth in Ross' first season. She guided the Rebels back to the NCAAs with a 19-12 season in 2004-05 before making the WNIT with a 17-14 finish a year ago.
Guided by a senior back court of Ashley Awkward and Armintie Price, Ross and Rebels surged to a 5-0 SEC start and an AP top 25 ranking two weeks ago before losing at Georgia and to Mississippi State in Oxford.
"We're not much different than the team that went 5-0," Ross said. "We're a real energy-based team. Energy and emotion. We don't have the luxury of just being able to show up. There are some teams that have that ability. We're just not one of them. We have to play the best ball game like it's the last one."
Contact Brandon Zimmerman at 374-5051 or email@example.com.
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