April 13, 2013 11:09:46 PM
OXFORD -- Rick Insell has seen his son, Matt, develop relationships from California to New York.
As a longtime high school and college basketball coach, Rick Insell also has watched Matt break down videotape as a teenager, win championships as a young adult coaching Amateur Athletic Union basketball, and help build the University of Kentucky into a national power.
Those are just three reasons Rick Insell wishes he had his son as an assistant coach on his women's basketball coaching staff at Middle Tennessee State University.
Unfortunately, Insell may have to coach against Matt in the near future now that his youngest son has been formally introduced as the new women's basketball coach at the University of Mississippi.
"When Matthew Mitchell hired him at the Kentucky, those relationships are what allowed him to go out and become the top recruiter in the country because of what he did when he was 15, 16, 17, 18 years old," Rick Insell said. "That is what he is going to bring to Ole Miss. If I helped him with anything, it was those relationships and putting him in front of those people and allowing him to coach."
Insell, 30, spent the past five years as an assistant coach to Mitchell at Kentucky. In that time, Insell played an integral role in recruiting and player development in the Wildcats' rise to one of the Southeastern Conference's best programs. Kentucky, which went 30-6 this season and reached the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season, has had four 20-win seasons and four trips to the NCAA tournament in the past four seasons.
Insell also helped Kentucky sign three top-10 recruiting classes and seven McDonald's All-Americans.
Insell said he always has had a passion for basketball, so it was natural he gravitated toward a sport his father coaches, his brother (Tom) coaches, his grandmother coaches, and all his friends coach. He remembers watching the SEC women's basketball tournament with his father in Chattanooga, Tenn., and he didn't think it was unnatural to break down videotape when he was 13, or to coach AAU players his age or a little younger when he was a young adult. In fact, he said Friday he once stated it was his goal to be a head coach in the SEC before he was 30.
"I always said that is what I want to do," Insell said. "When I got to Kentucky, people said it was a far-fetched thing and they said, 'There is no way you're going to be in the SEC championship.' The whole time I was thinking, 'I just hope to stand out there when that national anthem plays at the championship game. Luckily, two years into the job, we got to the SEC finals, and went three times in five years. That was something that was always special to me as I watched that. I always wanted to be a head coach and in that situation. Every year for three years when we have been in that finals game, I said, 'One day I am going to be standing here as a head coach.'
"It is something that has always been a dream. A lot of people will tell you they dream about playing in the NBA. My friends I grew up with will tell you I was talking about coaching in the SEC."
Insell said he saw the time his father took to prepare for games and then travel to and from the games. Still, he said the time factor didn't deter him from his dream.
"I did not want to teach school. I did not want to work in a factory," Insell said. "I wanted to coach basketball. This is what my passion was from the beginning. It is something I have always wanted. I don't take it very lightly. I plan on being here a very long time."
To accomplish that goal, Insell realizes he and his coaching staff have work to do to pick up ground on the rest of the SEC, including Mississippi State University, which hired Vic Schaefer as its new head coach last year. Insell and Schaefer both have said they want their schools to be recognized as THE schools in the state of Mississippi for the top recruits to attend. With national prospects like Victoria Vivians and Christa Reed going to be seniors in 2013-14, Ole Miss and MSU could be involved in at least two recruiting battles for the foreseeable future.
"Our main focus is to own the state every year," Insell said. "We want to get the best players in this state every single year. There are a lot of great players in this state, and the response from those players we have had has been unbelievable. I am excited about that. Are we behind? Yes, but they have welcomed us with open arms, everybody in this state, from coaches to recruits to everybody. They're excited where this program is going and our goals and where we are about to be."
Insell's hiring was announced last month. He spent the early part of April in New Orleans at the women's Final Four working to hire assistant coaches (he hired former University of Tennessee player Alex Fuller and former Arkansas State University assistant coach Todd Schaefer) and calling recruits to introduce himself. Since getting started at Ole Miss, Insell has had four workouts with his new players and the keys have been tempo and toughness.
Rising senior point guard Valencia McFarland likes the energy Insell brings to practice and feels the new coach's youth will help him relate to the players. From playing against Kentucky the past few years, McFarland has a sense of what she and her teammates will expect from Insell.
"I think he wants us to resemble how they play at Kentucky," McFarland said. "With our conditioning, we are running a lot more and going harder in workouts and trying to make it an up-tempo pace."
Insell takes over a program that went 9-20 and 2-14 in the SEC this past season. Brett Frank served as acting head coach after Ole Miss placed former head coach Adrian Wiggins, who was hired last March, on administrative leave in October 2012 while the school investigated impermissible recruiting contacts and academic misconduct committed by members of his staff. Those staff members, which included assistant coach Kenya Landers and director of basketball operations Michael Landers, were fired. Wiggins hired the Landers shortly after he arrived at Ole Miss.
In addition to the firings, student-athletes Kay Caples, a transfer from Trinity Valley Community College, and Brandy Broome, a transfer from Pensacola State College, were ruled ineligible to compete at Ole Miss after failing to meet NCAA transfer eligibility standards.
At the time, Ole Miss Athletic Director Ross Bjork called it a "sad day for the University of Mississippi, our profession and most importantly our student-athletes." He said Friday the school still hadn't received a notice of allegations from the NCAA regarding the rules violations, and that he didn't know when the school would receive that notification. He said the school will have 90 days to respond once it receives that notice from the NCAA. He said there will be a committee of infractions hearing or a summary disposition, which will determine penalties levied against the program and school.
Ole Miss self-imposed a postseason ban on the program that prevented it from participating in the SEC tournament last month in Duluth, Ga.
Bjork said the public nature of how the school handled the situation removed any impediments as it searched for a new coach. He thanked Frank and his assistant coaches for guiding the program through a difficult transition period, and said he had a "very good conversation" with Frank about the head coaching opening.
But when it came time to make a decision about hiring a coach, Bjork, who came to Ole Miss after working as athletic director at Western Kentucky University, relied on work he did at WKU and things he learned about Insell at that school. He said he spoke to Insell about the vacant women's basketball coaching job at WKU and was interested in him as a candidate before he had to take himself out of the process because he was leaving to go to Ole Miss.
After getting a chance to complete the hiring process, Bjork is confident Insell can help Ole Miss re-discover its place as one of the best programs in the SEC.
In 2007, Carol Ross guided Ole Miss to the Elite Eight. Van Chancellor won 20 or more games 15 times and helped the program reach four Elite Eights and three Sweet 16s from 1979-1997.
"Getting to know him last year, to me it was a matter of time before somebody at the highest level hired him," Bjork said. "It is only a matter of time before he was going to be a head coach. I knew he had it, so then it was a matter of is he the right fit, is he ready for our job? I just thought the fit was perfect. He knows the region, he has been in the SEC, he has seen the highest level, so we knew Matt could do the job at this level. It didn't take long for me last year. It didn't take long for me this year."
Rick Insell said more of his wife, Deb, is in his son. Both were in attendance Friday. In fact, Matt joked his mother chastised him for getting only two hours of sleep a day at the Bridgeport, Conn., Regional as he helped Kentucky prepare for the University of Delaware and the University of Connecticut and as he took his first steps as Ole Miss' new coach. Even though UConn beat Kentucky 83-53 on April 1 en route to its eighth national championship, Rick Insell feels Matt is ready to lead a program. After all, it has been something he has been working toward since he was 13. That's when he recalls his son telling him he planned to be head coach in the SEC before he was 30.
Now it's time for Insell to get started on his next goal: helping the Rebels compete for SEC titles and getting back to the NCAA tournament.
"I have never seen anybody as excited and as motivated as he was (Thursday night)," Rick Insell said. "As he was walking me through his practice facility and telling me about his goals and telling me about his players and his staff, it was like I was talking to a different person. I was talking to a guy I wished was on my staff. Even though he is my son, I went back to the room and was telling Deb how excited he was and where he is right now, he is very deserving of it. There is pressure that goes with it, but he has been in pressure all of his life being my son because everybody has expected more of him, or more of Tom, or more of Kyle (his other sons). He will handle that."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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