“I’m excited to say I’m at home back here at Ole Miss,” said the 1993 Ole Miss graduate who has been an assistant coach at Florida the past four seasons. “Not for a homecoming but to compete and win championships. That’s the goal, bar none, year in and year out.”
O’Neal and the Gators won their first ever Outdoor Track and Field National Championship just last weekend in Des Moines, Iowa. That title joins the Indoor Track and Field National Championship won not only this year but also in 2010 and 2011.
The women’s team also collected three top-10 NCAA finishes during O’Neal’s time in Gainesville.
O’Neal, an assistant at Ole Miss for 15 years after his track days with the Rebels, was named National Assistant Track Coach of the Year in 2009.
Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork said O'Neal is the fit he and the search committee, headed by senior associate athletics director John Hartwell, were looking for.
“We’re here to celebrate the greatness of Ole Miss athletics and the greatness of Ole Miss track," Bjork said. "When we set out to develop our profile and said ‘Who is our ideal candidate?’ we scoured the country and got different names thrown at us. We investigated those names. We talked to a lot of different people. There was one name that kept popping up for a variety of reasons.”
And that was Brian O’Neal.
“He’s a winner," Bjork said. "He’s a winner as he mentors student-athletes. He’s a winner because he’s a Mississippi guy. He grew up in Pontotoc. He ran track here. If you look at an ideal profile for what we need in this track program to get us to compete for and win championships – and that’s what we say every single day, compete for and win championships – Brian is that perfect candidate. He has a plan. But the best thing about him is he’s a great person, he cares about our athletes, and he’s going to push them in the classroom, on the track, on the course, and on the field.”
O’Neal thanked numerous people who are and have been a part of his life.
“First and foremost I’m a family guy. Without the blessing and support of my wife and kids and my mom and all my family over in Pontotoc, I wouldn’t be standing here before you today,” he said.
“I want to thank Coach (Joe) Walker for being a great role model and mentor for me,” O’Neal continued. “I also want to thank Coach (Mike) Holloway for bringing me in at the University of Florida and giving me the opportunity there to learn how to build championship teams and what championship teams look like.”
Bjork also agreed it was time to thank Walker for his three decades of service to Ole Miss.
“The reason why this job is so attractive is because of the program that’s been built,” he said. “We owe a lot of credit to Coach Walker for doing that.”
Walker said he believes O’Neal is ready to lead the Ole Miss program.
“He was a runner for me, and then I got him into coaching,” Walker said. “He coached with me for quite a while, and then he went to the Florida Gators. He’s had a lot of success. He knows Ole Miss. He knows the area. I just think he will do a good job.”
Former Rebel stars Lee Ellis Moore and Brittney Reese said O’Neal was one of the main reasons they came to Ole Miss, and that he was an integral part of their success as Rebels and since.
“It was a great fit for me here at Ole Miss,” said Moore, a Memphis University School product who will compete in the Olympic qualifiers in the 400-meter hurdles in Eugene, Oregon, in the weeks ahead. “I’m certainly thankful to Coach O’Neal for giving me that opportunity to come down here. He knows the area and what it takes to win at Ole Miss.”
“I think it’s a great pick for the Ole Miss track and field family,” said Reese, a Gulfport High alum who currently holds the world record in the long jump and will also head to Oregon for the Olympic trials. “He recruited me. I know a lot about him and he knows a lot about me. He was in Berlin (Germany) when I won my first World Championship. He’s a great guy and it’s good for the track and field family here that he’s back.”
Hartwell said O'Neal is here to win, and it's obvious that's the case.
"His philosophy and mentality is not just being in this to be competitive or middle of the pack, but we're in this to win championships," he said. "You can talk to him and see that fire in his eyes. It's real."
O’Neal said he would continue to recruit Mississippi with passion as well as other areas of the South and nation. And even beyond.
“My job is to lock down this state and guarantee that every student-athlete knows the flagship school of this state is Ole Miss," O'Neal said. "And if you’re from Mississippi, you need to be on this campus because we're winners.
"We will find the best athletes on this planet and bring them here to Ole Miss.”
Because after all is said and done, and as far back as his recruitment to Ole Miss in high school, this is what O'Neal wanted.
“Ole Miss is my dream job and always has been since I set foot on this campus in the fall of 1989," he said. "This is always where I wanted to be.”