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The day after Ole Miss completed its worst season in 18 years with a 3-8 record and an ugly 35-14 loss to rival Mississippi State, first-year coach Ed Orgeron was back in the office, attempting to start over.

"Today begins a new season," Orgeron said. "I'm here for the long haul, the long run. The things we went through this season, we may have had to go through to build a championship program. I'll take the mistakes I made and turn them into positives."

Orgeron made his first official change the next day, firing offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone after just one year on the job. When Orgeron came from USC to replace David Cutcliffe as Ole Miss' head coach last year, he originally tried to convince USC assistant Lane Kiffin to be his offensive coordinator because he wanted to run the USC offensive system.

After Orgeron was unable to lure Kiffin, he hired Mazzone away from North Carolina State to run the USC system, but the match never worked and Ole Miss finished the season ranked 111th out of 117 Division I-A teams in total offense, 115th in scoring and 116th in rushing, with 281.3 yards, 13.4 points and 73.2 rushing yards per game. Three quarterbacks combined to throw 18 interceptions with only nine touchdowns.

"It (was) self-inflicted wounds, penalties and turnovers," quarterback Ethan Flatt told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. "I don't think anybody has mastered the USC offense other than Matt Leinart. We have shown flashes, but not as much as we can."

Mazzone will still be paid the remaining $460,000 left on a guaranteed three-year contract while Orgeron starts over with a new offensive coordinator.

"I want to go out and find the best coach available that believes he can win at Ole Miss, like I do," Orgeron said. "I want that coach with me. I want him to be able to work very close to me and our staff and be a leader on our offense."

Don't look for Mazzone's replacement to be USC quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian.

"Steve could do a tremendous job, but I think (he's) entrenched at USC right now, and coach (Pete) Carroll told me to stay away from those guys," Orgeron said. "I'm not that good of a recruiter."

Instead, Orgeron may be looking at Cincinnati Bengals receivers coach Hue Jackson, a former USC offensive coordinator who worked with Orgeron from 1998-2000. Other possible candidates include former Ole Miss quarterback John Fourcade, and former New Orleans Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert, a former teammate of Orgeron at Northwestern (La.) State.

"This is a big-time hire," Orgeron said. "So whatever timetable it takes to get the best guy in here, we'll do it. After hiring the coordinator, I'll make some decisions. I have an open mind. We'll discuss that when the times comes."

Whoever runs the offense will have a lot of work to do to find and develop a quarterback. Micheal Spurlock, who started seven games in 2004, has completed his eligibility, and Flatt, who started the last three games of the season, has decided not to return for his senior season. He is scheduled to graduate in May and will most likely turn his attention toward law school instead of playing one more season of college football.

That leaves Robert Lane as the only experienced quarterback on the team, and he moved to a fullback and tight end last season after making one unsuccessful start early in the season. Even Lane, a sophomore in 2005, is no guarantee to return to the program at this point.

Behind Lane, Ole Miss has redshirt freshman Billy Tapp and Taylor Mazzone, who also redshirted as a freshman last year but may not stay with the program now that his father has been fired.

As of mid-December the Rebels had two commitments from high school quarterbacks, Texas' Nick Stephens and California's Michael Herrick, but the Rebels are expected to bring in a junior college quarterback or two. One of their highest recruiting priorities in former Tennessee quarterback Brent Schaefer.


GAME OF THE YEAR: When Ole Miss scrapped and fought its way to a 10-6 victory over Memphis and held Memphis star RB DeAngelo Williams to 85 yards rushing, it seemed to predict bigger, better things for the Rebels. Unfortunately for the Rebels, that was the season opener, and wins became few and far between for a 3-8 team with only two wins over I-A opponents.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: LB Patrick Willis -- By recording a conference-best 128 tackles in just 10 games and playing four games with his entire hand taped up because of broken fingers, Willis should be a legitimate candidate for SEC player of the year.

RAPID REVIEW: Opening the Ed Orgeron era with a strong defensive performance and a 10-6 victory over Memphis looked good at the time, but it also proved to be a sign of things to come. The Rebels played decent defense throughout most of the season but never could it get going on offense, starting three quarterbacks for the second consecutive season. The Rebels even struggled to beat The Citadel (27-7) and Kentucky (13-7) and eventually fell apart down the stretch, losing 40-7 to LSU and 35-14 to archrival Mississippi State.

FAST FORWARD: Orgeron is bringing in a new offensive coordinator, but the real work for Ole Miss has to start with the offensive line and a running game that finished last in the SEC with only 73.3 yards per game. Regardless of who transfers and who stays at quarterback, the Rebels don't have any Eli Mannings ready to step in, so they must get bigger, stronger and better on both sides of the line and find more elusive help at tailback.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "After a while, you learn it's part of the program. You can't get attached to the coach, you have to be here for the program. What happens (now) can't be no bigger shock that what happened here last year." -- Junior linebacker Patrick Willis on coaches being fired and hired. Last year Ole Miss fired David Cutcliffe, who was just one year removed from a 10-3 finish. This year, coach Ed Orgeron fired offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone after just one season on the job.


PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2006: LB Patrick Willis -- If he returns for his senior season after leading the SEC in tackles as a junior, Willis gives the Rebels a playmaker, leader and anchor to build around on defense.

LB Garry Pack -- He often got lost in Willis' shadow, but Pack finished with 61 tackles, six tackles for losses, three sacks and an interception as a sophomore.

SS Jamarca Sanford -- Sanford finally settled in at strong safety after trying his hand at cornerback and linebacker. He started 10 of 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2005, finishing with 58 tackles.

RB Mico McSwain -- McSwain moved from defensive back to tailback as a redshirt freshman and rushed for 612 yards and three touchdowns before a late-season injury sent him to the sideline.

OG Michael Oher -- The coaches knew Oher would someday be a special player for the Rebels, but Oher exceeded early expectations when he moved into the starting lineup at guard in the second game of the season. He's been there ever since and should grow into one of the SEC's best linemen with more time and experience.

CANDIDATES FOR NEXT LEVEL: OT Tre' Stallings -- Ranked 18th among tackles by NFL Draft Scout, Stallings has decent size at 6-foot-3, 317 pounds, but he lacks exceptional quickness and footwork.

DT McKinley Boykin -- Ranked 27th among defensive tackles by NFL Draft Scout, Boykin has a lot to prove concerning his quickness, endurance, conditioning and behavior.

DE Jayme Mitchell -- Not fast enough to play at defensive end and probably too tall to play in the middle at 6-8, 285 pounds, so he could have a hard time finding a place in the NFL.

WR Mike Espy -- Decent speed but must show more exceptional quickness and skills because of his size (6 foot, 195 pounds).

SS Kelvin Robinson -- Returning starter at strong safety moved to linebacker in 2005 and finished second on the team in tackles, but at 6-1, 220 pounds, he'd have to return to strong safety for a shot in the NFL.

WR Taye Biddle -- Could catch someone's attention with his speed, but he wasn't all that dangerous or productive at the college level.

ROSTER REPORT: QB Ethan Flatt spent most of the season on the bench before starting the last three games and Robert Lane started one game at quarterback before moving to a fullback/H-back role. Lane proved to be a productive receiver at his new spot, but Flatt decided not to return for his senior season and Lane is reportedly still considering a possible transfer. ... First-year coach Ed Orgeron has already lost 12 players, including seven from his original signing class. They've either quit or been kicked off the team since last summer, and as many as two more members of that recruiting class could be gone soon, with safety Tyson Andrus and running back Kendrick Perry both expected transfer.

Previous Report: 12/18/2005




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