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story.lead_photo.caption Mississippi head coach Andy Kennedy, left, listens as athletic director Ross Bjork speaks at a press conference at the Pavilion at Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss. on Monday, February 12, 2018. Kennedy, in his 12th season as Mississippi head coach, announced he would not return as coach following this season. (Bruce Newman, Oxford Eagle via AP) - Photo by Associated Press

OXFORD, Miss. -- Andy Kennedy's farewell as Ole Miss' basketball coach will begin tonight when the Rebels play the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Kennedy announced Monday that he is stepping down effective at the end of this season.

The Rebels (11-14, 4-8) have lost five consecutive games -- their longest streak in Kennedy's 12 seasons.

Kennedy said that on Sunday he called Ole Miss Athletic Director Ross Bjork to say it was best for all concerned to make a coaching change.

"I've always prided myself in being direct and in being accountable," Kennedy said at a news conference. "I'd like to address this ominous cloud that seems to be hovering over our program.

"I woke up Sunday morning with a true conviction that there needed to be some clarity as it related to the future of Ole Miss basketball moving forward.

"I've been blessed -- truly blessed -- to have the opportunity to be a head coach in the Southeastern Conference in my home state for 12 years. That is a true blessing. This I know. I also know that it's time for a new voice and a new vision for this program moving forward."

Kennedy, a native of Louisville, Miss., has a 245-153 record at Ole Miss -- the most victories in school history -- and led the Rebels to 20 or more victories nine times.

This is shaping up to be Kennedy's first losing season at Ole Miss. The Rebels' fewest victories in Kennedy's tenure came during a 16-15 2008-2009 season.

"Andy is a great guy and he's a good friend of mine," Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson said. "He's done a fantastic job there when you look at his tenure.

"I have nothing but admiration for him. I obviously wish him the best. If he's not coaching Ole Miss, he'll be coaching somewhere."

The Rebels have made six NIT appearances under Kennedy but just two NCAA Tournament appearances: 2013 and 2015.

When Ole Miss opened a new $96.5 million arena, The Pavilion, in January of 2016, the pressure mounted on Kennedy to make more NCAA Tournament appearances. Ole Miss also opened a $13 million practice facility in 2010.

"The landscape has changed and honestly the foundation is set," Kennedy said. "It is ready to take that next step.

"I'm regretful that I couldn't get it there, but I'm also accountable for that. I want to see it get there, and I think that it can."

Bjork praised Kennedy's leadership and accomplishments at Ole Miss.

"He maximized the resources when he first arrived, and then he helped forge a vision to increase our resources," Bjork said. "He changed the mindset and changed the culture of Ole Miss basketball. This foundation will live on for a long time."

Kennedy said he was at "complete peace" with his decision.

"I appreciate Ross and the working relationship that we have, which allows us to talk candidly and come to the conclusion that now is the time to move the program forward," he said.

Kennedy, asked about his future plans, said he wants to focus on coaching the Rebels the rest of the season.

"I just want to get this team to play the way it's capable of," he said.

Kennedy is 12-8 against the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and Anderson said he expects a tough game tonight.

Arkansas (17-8, 6-6) beat Ole Miss 97-93 in Walton Arena in the teams' first meeting this season.

"Any time Ole Miss and Arkansas play, you know those games are going to be intense," Anderson said. "They're going to go down to the wire, so going over there we're going to be playing against a team that will be charged up."

The Razorbacks are 1-6 on the road. Their lone road victory was at Georgia 80-77 in double overtime two weeks ago.

"We've got to bring our hardhats on the road," Arkansas senior guard Daryl Macon said. "We've got to stay together.

"I think if we go on the road with the defensive mindset first we'll come out with a win. Just play Razorback basketball."

Freshman forward Daniel Gafford said the Razorbacks can't be overconfident after winning their last two games at home 81-65 over South Carolina and 72-54 over Vanderbilt or because they've already beaten Ole Miss.

"We can't just take it as we beat them here, we're going to beat them again," Gafford said. "Because you never know when we're on the road. We aren't going to get everything on the road, so it's going to be a tough game."

Losing at Arkansas has been part of a 1-7 stretch for the Rebels.

"We knew SEC play was going to be difficult," Kennedy said. "The league is good. Top to bottom it's as good as it's been in my 12 years here. The numbers are bearing that out.

"I knew we had issues, but we always have issues. Every team has challenges, and this team was no different. I didn't foresee some of the things that have transpired.

"I'm accountable for that. That's my responsibility. I haven't been able to reach this team like I would have hoped."

Kennedy said that's why Monday was the right time to announce he was stepping down.

"I didn't want the rest of the season to be about, 'What's Andy Kennedy's status? Are you for him, or are you against him?' " Kennedy said. "I didn't want to divide our fan base. I want everybody to be on the same side and moving the program forward."

Kennedy said he hopes having his status resolved will take some pressure off the Rebels, especially with speculation about him all over social media.

"I didn't want that to be weighing them down," he said. "I hope this is liberating for them, and we can go out and play the way we have shown we're capable and that we can finish this right."

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Sports on 02/13/2018

Print Headline: Kennedy on clock as Hogs face Rebels

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