Andy Kennedy right where he should be back at UAB
You can discuss how good the job actually is. You can deliberate on the state of the program, the state of the conference and the state of the state, but there's one point about the UAB basketball head coaching position that's not really open for debate.
There's a coach out there that's as close to a slam dunk as possible at a job where success is no layup. There's a coach that knows the game and knows the territory. You know him, and most importantly, so does UAB.
He is Andy Kennedy.
Like many others who care about UAB basketball, I didn't start feeling that way last night or last week. I expressed that opinion in writing eight years ago, in March of 2012, after the program dismissed Mike Davis as it embarked on the search that landed Jerod Haase.
It took longer than many of us expected, but the inevitable homecoming of the prodigal son known as "AK" is as welcome as it is overdue. UAB has never hired a bad basketball coach, but it's hired only one more accomplished, and his name is on the building.
Gene Bartow would be proud.
Kennedy isn't Bartow, but he played for him, starred for him, learned from him what UAB basketball meant and why it mattered in a football town in a football state. In those days, barely a decade into its existence, UAB expected to win and did. During Kennedy's three seasons in green and gold, the Blazers won 62 games and a Sun Belt regular-season title, played in one NCAA Tournament and two NITs and won the 1989 NIT third-place game.
Proving himself as UAB's No. 2 career scorer makes Kennedy uniquely popular around here. Establishing himself as the winningest coach in Ole Miss history, at a football school in a football state, makes him uniquely qualified to come home and sit in Bartow's seat.
Fun fact: In the 96 years before Kennedy arrived as head coach, Ole Miss won at least 20 games only seven times. The Rebels won 20 or more games nine times in his 12 years.
Late in his first year with the Rebels, with Kennedy en route to winning SEC coach of the year, I traveled to Oxford to do a feature story on him. It included some quotes worth remembering today.
From Kennedy himself: "Birmingham is home away from home. We've still got dear friends there. I have sweat equity in the UAB program. I still follow them and pull for them. I have a strong affinity for that program, and I want to see it do well."
From Murry Bartow, for whom Kennedy worked as a UAB assistant in his introduction to coaching: "Some guys have 'it,' whatever 'it' is. You know that on a staff. You knew Andy had `it.' "
From Gene Bartow: "He's having a great year. He's going to have a lot of great years. He could be something special."
UAB basketball needs "special" right now. The Blazers have it in football with Bill Clark, and they have it with Kennedy in their cornerstone sport. They have the strongest combination of head coaches in football and men's basketball - the programs that move the needle - in Conference USA. Someone might want to point that out to the AAC.
Kennedy had "it" as a player, as a UAB assistant, as a Cincinnati assistant and interim head coach, as the Ole Miss head coach and, for the last two years, as an analyst on the SEC Network. Call it swagger, with plenty of receipts.
Face it. The man was destined to be the UAB head basketball coach, and the only variable was time. The closest near-miss may have come in March of 2006. The day after Kennedy was introduced at Ole Miss, news broke that Mike Anderson was leaving UAB for Missouri. Imagine if Kennedy had been forced to choose between his home state of Mississippi and his old school at UAB.
A year later, he told me, "I'm thankful that a power greater than I controlled the timing so I wasn't put in that position. I'm just thankful I got this opportunity. I'm where I need to be."
It was true then in Oxford. It's true now in Birmingham. Once again, AK is exactly where he needs to be. As UAB's superb "Welcome Home" hype video illustrates, the man needs no introduction.