It might be said that Chuck Rounsaville, publisher of The Ole Miss Spirit, loves Ole Misstoo much. After all, he is a lifelong fan of the Rebels and has made it his vocation to be among the most attentive and enthusiastic supporters of Ole Miss athletics. When he enrolled as a freshman at Ole Miss, his exuberance over attending the school where his father Charles “Babe” Rounsaville (36) had played football was such that his classroom duties took a backseat to other, perhaps more spirited, endeavors. It wasn’t long before he transferred to Delta State where, he says he “grew up” and earned a business degree in 1975.
But despite earning his degree down the road from Oxford, his loyalty as a Rebel fan stands unchallenged. A few years after graduation, Rounsaville was toiling away as a sportswriter for The Leland Progress, a weekly newspaper in Leland. One day he came across a copy of a tabloid-style newspaper called The Tiger Rag,which covered LSU athletics. At the time, there was no such publication covering Ole Miss athletics. So Rounsaville went to his publisher, Mac Gordon, and pitched the idea of a similar Ole Miss-themed publication.
This was 1982 and Warner Alford (BBA 60, MA 66) was the Ole Miss Athletics Director at the time. It just so happened, as things often do in the Ole Miss family, that there was a connection—Alford had once been Gordon’s Sunday school teacher back home in McComb. Gordon and Rounsaville partnered with attorney Josh Bogen (BA 66, JD 69) and set off to meet with Alford.
Gaining Alford’s trust was important for a start-up publication that would depend on access to players and coaches. “We told him we wanted to be positive, to provide good news about Ole Miss sports,” said Rounsaville. A few years earlier a fly-by-night operation had announced their intention to start an Ole Miss-focused publication but ended up bilking Rebel fans out of subscription money instead.
“They were from out of town with no ties to Ole Miss,” said Rounsaville. “They sold a bunch of advance subscriptions and just left town with the money. Warner was leery because of that, but we agreed to put all of our money in escrow until they learned to trust us.” The trust would come soon.
Alford was the one who came up with the name for the fledgling newspaper. There was a campus wide promotional campaign going on at the time. It was called “The Ole Miss Spirit” and Alford suggested they capitalize on the momentum of that campaign by naming the newspaper the same thing.
So with the blessing of the Athletics Department, Rounsaville and company produced their first issue. They printed 10,000 copies and handed them out for free at the first home football game. “We got family and friends and whoever would help us,” said Rounsaville. “We passed them out at every entrance to the stadium. As people would drive by outside the stadium, we’d stick them in the window. By the end of the first week we had four or five hundred subscriptions and we were rolling.”
Over the next several years, the publication grew in size and subscribers. They notched followers in every U.S. state and several foreign countries. They grew to more than 7,500 subscribers.
Though the LSU magazine provided the impetus, Rounsaville says he drew much of his inspiration from a publication calledCat’s Pause, which was edited by Oscar Combs and covered Kentucky sports. “I thought that publication was incredible,” Rounsaville says. “The Tiger Rag was a little too controversial for me. They liked to dig their claws into the coaches and that’s not what I was in it for. I’m an Ole Miss fan. I was raised an Ole Miss fan. I think Ole Miss fans want to read the good side of Ole Miss sports. Certainly there’s a market for hard-hitting journalism. Of course there’s no way to sugarcoat it if you get beat 49-7. But we always look for the positive first.”
The publication eventually became one of the most exhaustive resources for all things related to Ole Miss sports. They provided behind the scenes interviews, player profiles, game analysis and news on recruiting. When the Internet began to blossom in the late 1990s, the recruiting aspect blossomed with it. Rounsaville says it’s one of the biggest draws to the website today. Though Rounsaville handled most of the coverage himself in the earlier years, he knew then it was time to seek out more help.
“We went online in 1997 and I knew I had to get a recruiting guy,” he said. That recruiting guy turned out to be Yancy Porter (BA 98). As a high school student, Porter had called the Spirit offices at all hours, wanting to talk about recruiting.
“He was obsessed with recruiting,” said Rounsaville. “He has remained obsessed. That’s a good thing. A major part of the popularity of the The Ole Miss Spirit can be attributed to Yancy and his coverage of recruiting.” At that time, he also enlisted the help of editor Jeff Roberson (BA 83) to accommodate the increasing workload. He had built a team.
By 2002, Rounsaville felt that the technology of maintaining a website was slipping away from him, and he entered into a partnership with a publishing network called Scout.com. They took over the technical aspects of maintaining the website, linking it with many other similar college sports websites, and even took over the printing and distribution of the printed magazine. With the immediacy of the Internet and the wider availability of information, the readers of The Ole Miss Spiritbegan to shift from the print magazine to the online version, where users pay a monthly subscription fee. Though many readers subscribe to online-only or both online and print, a few thousand remain print-only subscribers.
With a monthly subscription model, Rounsaville says the numbers fluctuate with the seasons, with some readers subscribing only during a specific sports season and some signing up only for the months related to recruiting.
But the best thing about the deal with Scout.com is that it has left Rounsaville and his team, which now also includes staff writer Ben Garrett (BA 08), to focus on content, and for them that means Ole Miss sports. So when the topic of conversation turns away from the nuts and bolts of the publishing business and towards the football field, Rounsaville becomes animated. He attends every game, every press conference and every practice. He’s characteristically enthusiastic about this year’s squad, though he steers clear of predictions. He’s particularly excited about the program’s long-term potential.
“I really like the direction of this team,” he said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the quality depth they are building. I’ve always felt that what kept us from getting over the top was depth.” He points to newcomers like offensive linemen Jared Duke and Emmanuel McCray and to running back Jeff Scott who he calls “a 15 pound heavier version of a young Dexter [McCluster].”
Rounsaville has become a sought-after public speaker at alumni and fan events, especially those leading into football season and around recruiting time. This time of year, he stays busy. But for one of the world’s biggest Rebels fans, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m real lucky because my job is also my hobby,” Rounsaville said. “It’s a good busy.”