“It’s About the Journey”: Mike Bianco looks back ahead of his 20th season at Ole Miss
Published 8:00 am Friday, February 14, 2020
In the Southeastern Conference, there’s not a single baseball coach who has been in the business longer than Mike Bianco.
Entering his 20th season, Bianco is the longest-tenured coach in any of the big three sports — football, basketball and baseball — in the SEC. For some, that is a milestone that would seem unachievable in the current “win now” climate of sports.
Sitting in Bianco’s office, surrounded by all the accomplishments his last 19 seasons have produced and a month away from his 20th season commencing, the milestone has not, and is not, on the mind of the Rebels’ skipper.
Even on the cusp of a historic season, Bianco continues to remain focused on the year at hand.
“The truth is I really haven’t (reflected),” Bianco said. “Every year is different. I know some people say, ‘Hey, it’s incredible,’ or ‘How can you be at one place for 20 years?’ Every year is different. I think every team is different.”
Looking back at all the trophies, championships, Regionals hosted and College World Series appearances is only a small sample of what Bianco has achieved in Oxford. What gets lost inside the bubble that is coaching at a collegiate level is the fact that he has accomplished what is nearly unattainable today — raising an entire family in one place.
Upon arriving in Oxford in June of 2000, Bianco and his wife, Camille, began laying down roots into a community that would learn to embrace and support their entire family. Three of the Bianco children had already been born: sons Michael, Ben and Drew, but since living in Oxford, two other children, son Sam and daughter Catherine, have been born and are nearly off to college.
That is the part of Bianco’s time in Oxford that goes unseen. Everyone knows Mike Bianco the coach, but when the lights go out at Oxford-University Stadium and during the offseason, there is Mike Bianco, the father.
Oxford is one of those rare communities that has a Division I athletics program in a conference where coaches are put on a pedestal. People forget that those coaches do not just go back into a closet and wait to come back out onto their chosen field or court for the next game. Most of those coaches have families, and Ole Miss coaches are no exception.
In the fall, you can find Bianco sitting inside the Oxford High School gym cheering on his daughter, who plays on the varsity volleyball team. The same can be said on those spring nights when he is watching Sam play on the baseball field, though those opportunities are tougher to come by given Ole Miss plays during the same months.
“Some of my best moments are when I’ve gotten to watch my kids play in their different sports and activities growing up,” Bianco said. “That’s the way it should be. Yeah, I’m the coach at Ole Miss but I’m also a father, I’m also a husband. The truth is, and the way I like it, is I’m more Sam’s dad or Catherine’s dad to their friends than I am the coach at Ole Miss. Or Camie’s husband, more so than anything else.”
Balancing that high-wire act of coaching in the toughest baseball conference in Division I, while also being the best father and husband possible, is something Bianco constantly does. In spring 2018, Ole Miss had just defeated LSU on a Saturday afternoon. Immediately after the game was over, Bianco got in his car and headed north on Interstate-55 to Southaven, Miss. to cheer on his sons in a playoff game.
Those trophies that are sitting all around Bianco’s office, including the 2018 SEC tournament championship, are nothing to overlook. The effect he has had in raising the program to a perennial national championship contender cannot be overstated. From 2005 to 2007, the Rebels posted consecutive 40-win seasons for the first time in program history and have tied the most wins in a season at 48 three times, most recently in 2018.
The berth to Omaha in 2014 has thus far been the crowning achievement in Bianco’s cap.
“I’ve gotten a lot of credit over the last 20 years, but obviously you don’t do it without a lot of great players, great coaching staff and great support,” Bianco said. “Great support here from the administration and great support from the fans. One of the coolest things for me is to look out, and look at pictures on our camp website and seeing the crowds and just saying, ‘Wow, we’ve come a long way,’ and it’s been that way.”
The product on the baseball diamond has become some of the nation’s best, but during Bianco’s tenure Oxford-University Stadium has become one of the premier venues to take in the college baseball experience.
Expanding the stadium and turning the right field seating area into one of the top student sections in all of collegiate sports would not have happened if Bianco had not provided the success he has over the last two decades. Ole Miss baseball has ranked among the nation’s top 25 attendance leaders in all of Bianco’s 19 seasons, and is close to setting a new season ticket record for 2020.
In his time at Ole Miss, 114 former Rebels have been selected in the Major League Baseball draft, including 15 over the past two seasons.
“There’s a lot of things about the program that I’m proud of, not just the wins,” Bianco said. “What it means. What it means to Ole Miss and the athletic department, what it means to the fans and I think what it means to the Southeastern Conference and nationally. Those are things that you hope for when you start and that’s been a neat part of it.”
It is unknown when Bianco’s time at Ole Miss will come to an end, even to Bianco himself, but when that day comes, it will be a key moment in the program’s history. He has meant a lot to Ole Miss baseball, but Ole Miss and the Oxford community have meant just as much to Bianco and his family.
Making it this long at one place is a surprise even to Bianco, but he has been grateful for every day.
“You know that (Ole Miss) was a place that you could (stay for a while), but I think in coaching, you never look too far,” Bianco said. “Even now, where does the next eight to 10 years, or however long we’re going to do this, go? It’s not a direct path. It’s a curvy, windy, bumpy road and you just try to enjoy the good and the bad. It is about the journey.”
Read this and more stories in the February-March 2020 edition of Oxford Magazine, available on newsstands today!