When Hugh Freeze was named as the head football coach of the Mississippi Rebels in 2012, he was tasked with turning around the fortunes of a program that had sunk to the bottom of the Southeastern Conference. In 2011, Ole Miss went 2-10 which led to the termination of Houston Nutt as the school’s head football coach. Freeze was tasked with being able to once again make the Rebels respectable and potentially rub elbows with the top teams in the SEC. In Freeze’s first season at Mississippi, he was able to get the Rebels to a bowl game. In 2014, Freeze led Ole Miss to a 23-17 upset at home against the Alabama Crimson Tide. And to show that the victory wasn’t a fluke, Ole Miss followed this upset up in 2015 by beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa for the first time since 1988, while it also marked the first time in school history that the Rebels had defeated the Crimson Tide in consecutive seasons. In 2014, Freeze got Mississippi to the Peach Bowl for the first time since 1971, and at the conclusion of the 2015 college football season, he led the Rebels to the Sugar Bowl for the first time since 1969 as his squad was now looked at as a perennial top 20 team. Freeze was also winning battles on the recruiting front as he was putting players such as wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil into the National Football League. And with these players being selected in the first round, it was only helping the credibility of Freeze and his Ole Miss program.
However things began to shift for Freeze at Ole Miss when the NCAA began to probe his program for illegal benefits to his players. Ole Miss gave itself a bowl ban for the upcoming college football season after their own review cited a lack of institutional control. And even with that Ole Miss is set to appear in front of the NCAA later this year as the possibility of them facing sanctions still looms. But even with all of this going on, Ole Miss stuck by Freeze, until this week.
This past Thursday night Freeze was fired by Ole Miss after an investigation by the school illustrated that he made numerous phone calls to an escort service on a university issued cell phone. Initially Freeze denied it, but after the school had concluded its investigation they gave him an ultimatum to either resign or get fired. Freeze chose to resign as either way his reputation is tarnished. And now Ole Miss is left to pick up the pieces and keep their football program afloat, but it will be easier said than done.
With the start of the college football season right around the corner, the upcoming campaign already appears to be a wash for the Rebels. Offensive coordinator Matt Luke will be the interim head football coach for the upcoming season as this will be his opportunity to audition for the job on a full-time basis, but school officials at Oxford might be ready to clean house and start over from scratch.
Ole Miss needs fresh blood to lead their program, while also hiring an established head coach that the alumni will get behind. One of the first names that will be thrown around is former LSU Tigers head football coach Les Miles. In nearly 12 seasons at LSU, Miles was 114-34 which included winning a pair of Southeastern Conference Championships, and one national championship. Miles knows how to win in the SEC and he has a tremendous record in regards of being a great recruiter as he has sent the likes of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Patterson to the National Football League. But what did Miles in at LSU was his inability to defeat Alabama in recent years as that prevented the Bayou Bengals from getting back to the SEC Championship Game. And as Miles is set to be 64-years of age in November, that could steer the big time programs that have openings away from hiring him.
Another name that people will be linking to Ole Miss is former Oregon Ducks head football coach Chip Kelly. In four years as the head football coach at Oregon, Kelly’s record was 46-7 as he was an innovator due to his uptempo spread offense. Kelly left Oregon and he spent the last four years trying to make his system work in the National Football League as he was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers respectively. In four years in the NFL, Kelly’s record was 28-35 as his system could not translate to the next level. And once Kelly was fired by the Niners this past January, the speculation about him returning to college has begun.
The name of current Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Lane Kiffin could be thrown around as well. Kiffin is familiar with the Southeastern Conference from his time as the head football coach of the Tennessee Volunteers and most recently as the offensive coordinator for Alabama. Kiffin’s name alone produces intrigue, however he is a man who has burned bridges at every stop on his football journey, and as Ole Miss is attempting to escape from its current mess, they don’t need another headache.
It appeared to be a marriage made in heaven between Freeze and Ole Miss as he was the native of Oxford who loved everything about the school. However Freeze was done in by his arrogance which got the school into trouble. And just as Freeze could be shrewd salesman on the recruiting trail, he figured that he could have wiggled his way out of having issues after placing calls to an escort service. But as fast as Freeze made the Rebels respectable is how fast that is came apart.
Ole Miss isn’t the first school to be investigated by the NCAA for giving improper benefits to “student athletes”, and it won’t be the last. As long as head coaches are receiving at least $5 million per year like they currently are, they are going to do whatever it takes to get the top athletes as they must win games in order to keep the alumni and boosters happy. Freeze cut some corners to get Ole Miss among the top teams in the Southeastern Conference, but just like that he has gone from being one of Oxford’s favorite native sons to a man that cannot get out of town quick enough.