JACKSON, Miss. — The University of Mississippi will use the landshark as the school’s new on-field mascot, Ole Miss Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter announced in a letter Friday, upending the short reign of the black bear.
The move came a week after students backed the switch in a campus vote. Vitter wrote that support was “unanimous” for making the change from alumni, faculty, staff and student athlete groups.
“The results of the Landshark poll confirm the sentiments that Ross and I have heard since arriving on campus — that the Landshark and “Fins Up” have become synonymous with the positive spirit and strength of our athletics program and the ‘Never Quit’ attitude of Rebel Nation,” Vitter wrote.
The landshark is based on a “fins up” hand motion started by then-linebacker Tony Fein in an upset of the Florida football team in 2008. Fein, a Washington state native and U.S. Army veteran, died after an accidental drug overdose in 2009.
The nickname for athletic teams remains the Rebels, but Ole Miss retired Colonel Reb from the sidelines in 2003, replacing him with the bear in 2010. Critics saw the bearded old man as reminiscent of a plantation owner. The school has also quit sanctioning other Old South symbols The marching band no longer plays “Dixie.” In 1997, administrators banned sticks in the football stadium, which largely stopped people from waving Confederate battle flags.
Despite those changes, Vitter wrote that the Rebels name is not in danger.
“I want to state unequivocally that we are — and always will be — the Ole Miss Rebels,” Vitter wrote. And I am asking all Rebels to unite around our new Landshark mascot.”
Of more than 4,100 students who voted, 81 percent wanted to replace the current black bear with the landshark. Still, some backers demand the return of Colonel Reb, saying the administration is suppressing the true opinion of the fan base. Two attempts to force a statewide constitutional referendum on enshrining Colonel Reb have failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot.
The Colonel Reb Foundation is selling “Colonel Reb is my mascot” stickers for attendees to wear to Ole Miss’ homecoming game against Vanderbilt University on Oct. 14.
The bear won’t be there. Athletics Director Ross Bjork says the former mascot, launched in 2010 after a poll of students and others, will disappear immediately. Vitter said Bjork’s department will be in charge of designing a landshark mascot to take the field at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.
A small Vermont institution, Landmark College, already uses the landshark as a mascot. It’s also the name of a brand of beer brewed by Anheuser-Busch InBev.