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Column: Rebuilding the Rebels — After resurrecting Ole Miss women’s basketball, Coach Yo has the Rebs in position for even more

Column: Rebuilding the Rebels — After resurrecting Ole Miss women’s basketball, Coach Yo has the Rebs in position for even more

by TJ Oxley, Evie Van Pelt and Steve Barnes

OXFORD, Miss. – Harken back to Ole Miss women’s basketball just prior to the arrival of head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin, and one sees some pretty bleak times. Fans showed up for games but not en masse. Students knew there was a team, but there was no real following. Ole Miss was the doormat of the SEC in every category that matters — including wins and losses. 

That is certainly no longer the case as the Rebels’ women’s basketball team is now a force to be reckoned with. They are currently in Stanford, California as the No. 8 seed in the first round of the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament where they will face No. 9 Gonzaga.

Back in April of 2018 when McPhee-McCuin arrived in Oxford, she brought with her a wealth of knowledge, a passion for the game, a commitment to succeed at a high level, and the confidence to win fans’ trust. The elevation of the program under her tutelage has been nothing short of remarkable. 

Coach Yo, as she is fondly called, also brought with her a contagious excitement for the program’s future, which won over fans and has created a bond that continues to grow each year she is in Oxford.

Lane Kiffin was paid for his success following the Rebels’ first 10-win regular season. Likewise, defending national champion baseball coach Mike Bianco has been paid for his achievements. Kermit Davis was compensated for his success when Ole Miss reached the NCAA tourney his first season in Oxford. And, now, the Rebels are investing $3.25 million for new men’s basketball coach Chris Beard to resurrect the men’s basketball program.

Coach Yo should also get paid for her achievements in building the Ole Miss women’s basketball program to an upper-echelon team that expects to be in the NCAA tournament each year. 

Just as her fellow coaches at Ole Miss have been compensated for their outstanding seasons, so should Coach Yo. The lady is a champ; let’s show her the money.

No Ceilings

It’s been a story for the ages for the women’s program under Coach Yo, with this season’s exciting ending still yet to be written. She has her squad ready to compete in its second straight NCAA tournament, and that is a feat that hasn’t been achieved at Ole Miss since 2006-07.

Coach Yo lives by her motto of “No Ceilings” — a phrase that perfectly encapsulates her belief there’s no limit to achieving one’s dreams and that one can go as far as he/she is willing to work to earn. 

She puts her money where her mouth is, and her journey to Ole Miss is as inspirational as her accomplishments once she arrived. 

“…A little girl from the Bahamas who migrated to the United States and is now living the American dream,” McPhee-McCuin told the Rebel Walk last fall of her journey. 

I think that, for a lot of people, that’s just inspiring within itself. I just try to speak from the heart, try not to talk about things that I’m not willing to do myself, and be pretty authentic. I share failures and accomplishments. I share both, and I think that’s what allows people to humanize me…I’m relatable. If I don’t mean it, I don’t say it.”

Coach Yo

A season of firsts

This year, for the first time in program history, Ole Miss reached back-to-back 10-win seasons in SEC play, finishing one better this season with 11 victories in league play. This also marks the Rebels’ third season with double-digit victories in conference play. 

The 11 conference wins tie the most in a single-season set by the 1991-92 team. The Rebels also have reached the historic 20-win mark for the first back-to-back 20-win seasons for the program since the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons. 

For those keeping track at home, that’s the first time in almost 30 years….almost three DECADES.

In her five-year tenure at the helm of the Ole Miss program, Coach Yo has truly orchestrated one of the more impressive turnarounds in program and SEC history. 

In the 2021-22 season, the Rebels reached the AP poll for the first time since 2007 and rattled off a 13-game win streak which was a top-3 streak in program history.

A look back

Coach Yo took over the Ole Miss program in 2018. The Rebels had just parted ways with Matt Insell after finishing dead last in league play with a 1-15 SEC record and 12-19 overall finish. 

Ole Miss looked to Coach Yo to transform the program and dig it out of its abyss, and she delivered. 

One coach who believed in what Coach Yo would build in Oxford is Yo’s mentor and friend, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley. 

Back in the 2019-20 season, when Coach Yo was in the middle of an 0-16 SEC drought, national-championship winning Coach Staley talked about the Rebels’ head coach and the future she saw for her. 

“….You have to stay true to who you are and who you want to become, meaning that you have to be disciplined to your culture. Sometimes that means you might lose a player here or there, but the results will take care of themselves. If I’m a betting woman, I’m betting that Coach Yo is going to turn this program around.

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley

That’s a bet Coach Staley easily won. 

Comparison to the best

Coach Yo has been open with her respect and high regard for Coach Staley — and she’s also following in her footsteps. 

In fact, Ole Miss won three SEC games to South Carolina’s two in both of their first seasons. 

Coach Staley finished tied for fourth (10-6 in league play) in the SEC in her fourth season (2011-12) with an appearance in the NCAA Sweet 16, and then followed that up with a tie for fourth place, again, in her fifth season with an 11-5 record (2012-13) and an appearance in the NCAA second round. 

Likewise, Coach Yo finished in 4th place, outright, in SEC play in her fourth season (2021-22), with an identical 10-6 league record to Staley in her fourth year, punctuated by a trip to the NCAA tournament. 

She has followed up last year’s remarkable season with another 4th-place finish in conference play with, yet again, an identical league mark to Staley in her fifth season at 11-5 in SEC play. 

After her fourth and fifth seasons, Coach Staley and the Gamecocks broke through and finished in sole possession of first place in the SEC in her sixth season in Columbia. 

Next season will be Coach Yo’s sixth in Oxford — provided Ole Miss keeps her as there will be many programs looking to steal a coach of her stature.

Changing the culture 

Rome wasn’t built in a day — not even with the legendary Coach Staley — as it takes time to change a culture. But like South Carolina’s head coach, Yo has built an incredible foundation in Oxford and that has produced extraordinary results. 

The culture she began five years ago has taken hold. The program started attracting highly-touted players, both via the transfer portal (Angel Baker, Shakira Ausin, Myah Taylor, to name a few) as well as from the high school ranks, including Madison Scott (a McDonald’s All American) and Snudda Collins. 

Ole Miss commit Zakiya Stephenson just won a state championship. The future is truly bright in Oxford for women’s basketball. 

Coach Yo’s never-quit mentality, charisma, dedication and character are attracting the nation’s top players to Oxford, and there are those who believe next season could be an even bigger one for the Rebs. 

You are what the numbers say you are – ‘We Defend’

The defensive turnaround during Coach Yo’s tenure is a thing of beauty, as she builds the program her way. 

Yo’s motto of “WE DEFEND” is evident with the performance of her defense, as it is ranked 21st in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of just 55.9 points. 

Ole Miss is 20-0 when holding its opponent to 60 points or fewer. The Rebels are 12th in the nation in three-point percentage defense, keeping its opponents at bay from the perimeter by allowing just a  25.7% clip. The Rebels have held 25 of 30 opponents to five three’s or fewer. 

Ole Miss struggled in years one and two, but in the 2019-2020 season, Ole Miss’ defensive rating was a 98.3. For those unfamiliar, a defensive rating shows how many points a team allows per 100 possessions. This season in 2022-23, that number has dipped down to 80.3, a huge improvement.

In 2019-2020, the Rebels had an overall defense that ranked in the 16th percentile. In 2023, that number has improved to the 96th percentile for this season. That includes the 97th percentile in the half court, 96th in man defense and 90th in zone defense.

The same improvements go for the offensive end. Comparing to the 2019-2020 season, the Ole Miss offensive rating also saw a massive improvement. An offensive rating is how many points a team scores per 100 possessions. 

In 2019-2020, the Rebels had an offensive rating at 80.8. This season it is up to 98.1. Between the two years, Ole Miss has also experienced a huge shift in its overall net rating, going from a -17.6 to a 17.8.


What makes some of the numbers so special for this year’s bunch is how the team has been able to come together and retool after the special season they enjoyed last year. 

Ole Miss was left to replace nearly 61% of its scoring production from last year’s squad that featured the No. 3 overall pick in the WNBA Draft, Shakira Austin.

Some would consider that a rebuilding project, but Yo has managed to retool and reload as this team has taken another step in the right direction.

Angel Baker recently won the Gillom Trophy for the best women’s player in the state, keeping it with Ole Miss for the third straight season following Shakira Austin’s wins in 2021 and 2022. 

Baker was named first-team All-SEC after leading the Rebels in both points (15.0) and assists (2.7) per game. 

Joining Baker on the All-SEC team was junior forward Madison Scott. Scott earned second-team honors after averaging 11.6 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds during the regular season. She was also named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, holding down the paint with at least one block and one steal per game.

Coach Yo has made it clear she loves her team, she loves Ole Miss and she loves the Oxford community. 

Earlier this season she made a plea for fans to come to the games. 

We are in the community. We are giving you all everything we have. We are accessible. We love Oxford. We need the support back. Love us like we love you, Oxford community. Come out and support us.

Coach Yo

The call was answered — in part because the product on the court is undeniably fun and exciting to watch, and they’re winning, but also because Coach Yo puts her money where her mouth is. She and her team are in the Ole Miss community more than any other program at Ole Miss.

At her Selection Sunday press conference, the Rebels’ coach was asked about all the fans who were there to support the team, and she spoke to the importance of the connection they have with Oxford.

“The Oxford community shows up,” Coach Yo said. “We feel a connection. We are a family. Just like how they admire us, we admire them. One of the things I asked them to do is take us in as their women’s basketball program. We’re going to continue to thrive and going to continue to build this program,” she added.

The outreach to their community means the world to Coach Yo and her team as evidenced by the importance they place on giving back.

As long as I’m the head coach here, we’re going to be Oxford’s team. We really like to live what we’re saying. We’re in the community. We have done a community service project every month, and that’s just not normal for a team. They usually do it in the beginning for pictures and then that’s it. Two weeks ago, we did More than a Meal. We provided the food and fed people that didn’t have a meal in the community. We are community based and I think that’s important and that’s how we are going to continue to build our fan base. We believe that’s why people in Oxford have a connection with us. Not just Oxford but Ole Miss fans everywhere….that’s what we want to be. We want to be the community’s team. I’m grateful to be the head coach and lead that charge.

Coach Yo on the Rebels’ involvement in the community

Coach Yo is indeed building the fan base as the attendance numbers confirm.

According to 2021-22 records, 33,972 fans attended 15 Ole Miss women’s games last season. This year, that number jumped to 45,930 total attendance across 16 games. 

To show just how far the program has climbed, when South Carolina visited Ole Miss on January 30, 2020, there were just 1,225 fans in attendance in The Pavilion – with the majority of those of the Gamecock persuasion. 

Fast forward to February 19, 2023 where a whopping 6,563 fans were in the SJB Pavilion to watch the Rebels take South Carolina to overtime. 

There can be no doubt Coach Yo is changing the culture in Oxford. Her teams are fun to watch and fans are responding.

Show Me the Money

Following Ole Miss’ success and appearance in the Big Dance last season, many feared the Rebels might lose Coach Yo to another program. There were even reports out that she would leave the Rebs for the Bulldogs in Georgia. (Click here for story.) 

But she stayed. 

Now, she’s even more successful with yet another top-four SEC finish and back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances — and you can bet suitors with big pocketbooks will be calling. 

SEC women’s basketball coaches made an average of $1,122,956 in 2022-23, with four of those earning over $1 million: Coach Staley, LSU’s Kim Mulkey, Texas A&M’s Joni Taylor and Tennessee’s Kellie Harper. 

The highest paid coach in women’s basketball in 2021-22 was UConn’s Geno Auriemma, and he joins Staley as the only other coach making $3 million in 2022-23. Behind Auriemma, the highest-paid coach outside of the SEC is Texas’ Vic Schaefer, who coached at Mississippi State for 8 years before leaving for the Big 12 in 2020. The former Bulldogs’ head coach is making $1.8 million with the Longhorns this season.

The Big Ten had the next-highest average salary in 2021-22 at $824,852, led by Maryland coach Brenda Frese. This year, Freese is making $1,451,140 and ranks fifth among women’s basketball coaches nationally. The Big Ten has at least two other coaches making more than $1 million: Iowa’s Lisa Bluder and Ohio State’s Kevin McGuff.

The highest disclosed salary in the Pac-12 was Oregon’s Kelly Graves, who made $1.025 million last season.

Staley’s newest contract includes a base salary of $1 million plus an additional $2 million in salary. This season, she will be the highest-paid coach in all of women’s basketball, thanks to a $300,000 life insurance payment carried over from her previous contract.

Mulkey won three NCAA titles while coaching Baylor from 2000-2021 and will earn just under $2.68 million this season. Harper received a one-year extension prior to the 2022–23 season that included a $200,000 raise to bring her annual salary to $1 million. Taylor was hired by the Aggies this season after seven years with Georgia and earns $1.45 million from her first-year contract.

According to the terms sheet given The Rebel Walk by Ole Miss last May for her newest contract, Coach Yo has a base salary of $850,000 in 2022-23, $875,000 in 2023-24, $900,000 in 2024-25 and $925,000 in 2025-26. The contract includes performance-based incentives as well as academic ones.

She will receive $35,000 for Ole Miss finishing in the top four of conference play. An appearance in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament affords another $25,000. Any wins in the NCAA Tournament prior to the Elite Eight are $25,000 per win.

While these incentives are great and Ole Miss Athletics will undoubtedly offer to extend her contract with a raise, our hope is that it is a substantial enough raise to make sure Coach Yo stays in Oxford for a very long time to come.

As mentioned previously, Coach Beard has just been hired at over $3 million per year to turn around a program in the way Coach Yo already has. The new men’s coach mentioned Coach Yo in his presser Tuesday. “I want to congratulate Coach on building the program the right way.” Beard said. “We’re going to be really cheering for her and the team in the NCAA tournament. Good luck, Coach Yo.”

Forward Together: A champion on and off the court

Simply put, Coach Yo has placed the Ole Miss women back on the  basketball map and in the national conversation. 

This season, the team played back-to-back top five teams in the country in LSU and South Carolina. While they didn’t pull out a win, they took the Gamecocks to overtime and, in the process, announced Ole Miss is here to stay. 

For the Rebels to reach that next level, investments should be made on both ends. Coach Yo can continue to commit to the university — but the university and the athletic department should continue to commit to her and the program, as well.

Coach Yo has represented Ole Miss in the best fashion and is a credit to the athletic department, the university and to Oxford. When Ole Miss baseball was in Omaha last summer, en route to a CWS title, they were cheered on by Coach Yo who traveled there to support Coach Bianco and the team.

When the students lined up and camped out for days to snag their right-field seats at Swayze, Coach Yo took them food and encouraged them to come to women’s games.

She has been a big champion of the Pride of the South band, supporting them and showing her gratitude for all their hard work. She also gives to the Ole Miss Food Bank and the Women’s Leadership Group. She supports Coach Kiffin and the football program as well as the men’s basketball team. One look at her Twitter account and you can see she is there for all the teams at Ole Miss and for the people of Oxford she appreciates so much.

Giving back to her community is an integral part of who Coach Yo is at her very core.

After the Rebels’ success last season, Athletic Director Keith Carter rewarded Coach Yo for her achievements with a contract extension that goes through 2026. It is our hope that following another historic season with a second-straight NCAA tourney bid and a bright future, Ole Miss will do whatever it takes to keep her in Oxford. 

With Coach Yo at the helm in Oxford, anything is possible because there truly are no ceilings.

(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy)

TJ Oxley

TJ Oxley

TJ Oxley is the Vice President of Operations and the Director of Community Relations for The Rebel Walk. He is also the Director of Basketball Content and Senior Basketball Writer. He has over five years of experience providing in-depth analysis of college basketball through multiple platforms. A former MBA graduate of Ole Miss, TJ started with The Rebel Walk in 2019.

About The Author

TJ Oxley

TJ Oxley is the Vice President of Operations and the Director of Community Relations for The Rebel Walk. He is also the Director of Basketball Content and Senior Basketball Writer. He has over five years of experience providing in-depth analysis of college basketball through multiple platforms. A former MBA graduate of Ole Miss, TJ started with The Rebel Walk in 2019.

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