Ole Miss Football: Five Years With Hugh Freeze, Was It Worth It?

OXFORD, MS - OCTOBER 01: Head coach Hugh Freeze of the Mississippi Rebels reacts during the second half of a game against the Memphis Tigers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
OXFORD, MS - OCTOBER 01: Head coach Hugh Freeze of the Mississippi Rebels reacts during the second half of a game against the Memphis Tigers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

 Ole Miss football will kick off their 2017 season in less than a week.  There has never been a more dramatic off season in the history of Rebel football.

Like many Ole Miss football fans, as I reflect on what has transpired over the last six months from the Notice of Allegations to the resignation of Head Coach Hugh Freeze

, I went through the stages of loss.  I will never forget the evening of July 20th when I got the phone call of Freeze’s resignation.

First I was in total shock, then a few days later came the sadness followed by anger.  With that, I’ve asked several of my Rebel friends a question that I will ask you.  Would you still have hired Hugh Freeze if you knew what the end result would be.  So, I thought long and hard what my answer to that question would be.  So here goes.

How It Began For Me

Ole Miss Rebels Football
Ole Miss Rebels Football /

Ole Miss Rebels Football

On November 19th, 2011, my good friend and fraternity brother Brien Straw and I had fifty yard line seats in Vaught Hemingway Stadium and watched LSU completely obliterate Ole Miss 52-3.

Not only was it one of the worst losses in Ole Miss football history but we sat there and watched LSU take a knee with around six minutes left in the game which was a gift of mercy by then LSU Head Coach Les Miles.

For me, at least, this was the all time low in my forty-two years of watching Ole Miss football.  It was such a feeling of helplessness and despair that I thought we would never climb out of the hole that we were in.  Houston Nutt left us in a state of total devastation to the point I thought about giving up.

When Archie Manning and Mike Glenn led the search for a new coach, I was certain they would land the next Nick Saban for Ole Miss.  Surely they would go after the big name or home run hire.  When Hugh Freeze was hired I was surprised and was quite frankly disappointed.  I watched his introductory press conference and I could tell there was something special about Hugh Freeze, so I was willing to give him a chance.

Freeze Era Begins

That first season in 2012 was one of low expectations as we had many holes and players that were on thin ice academically.  I attended my first Freeze led game against Texas where we were soundly defeated 66-31 but there was something different about this team.  We had some heart breaking losses down the stretch but when we went down to LSU and came within an inch of beating a truly great team, it was obvious things were changing.  It came to fruition with an emotional Egg Bowl victory over MSU and Dan Mullen and an overwhelming victory over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham.  That was only the beginning.

The 2013 recruiting class was one of legends and the publicity that Ole Miss received by bringing in Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil, Tony Conner, etc. was like nothing we have ever seen in Oxford.  The 2013 season had it’s ups and downs with beating Texas in Austin to  the big upset over LSU to the heartbreaking loss to MSU in the Egg Bowl.  We salvaged the season with a victory over Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl in Nashville.

Then came 2014. Oh what a memorable season that was. Saturday, October 4th is a day that I will never forget.  College Game Day came to Oxford for the Ole Miss-Alabama game with Katy Perry and a beautiful fall day. The come from behind victory over Alabama may be the best experience I’ve ever had at an Ole Miss football game. We started 7-0 that season for the first time since 1960, but a horrific injury to Laquon Treadwell against Auburn turned our season south a bit culminating in a loss to TCU in the Peach Bowl.

The Beginning Of The End

The 2015 season started off great again and Ole Miss beat Alabama for the second year in a row in Tuscaloosa.  Who beats a Nick Saban Alabama twice in a row?  Nobody except Ole Miss!   Only a fluke play by Arkansas kept Ole Miss out of the SEC Championship game but we returned to the Sugar Bowl and destroyed Oklahoma State behind Chad Kelly, Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil and company.

We were on top of the world and we thought in a position to win it all in 2016.  Right before signing day in 2016 things began to change with the news that the NCAA was investigating Ole Miss for recruiting violations.  Freeze and company still landed another top five class so it seemed business as usual.  Or at least we thought it was.

I’m not going to rehash the 2016 season as it was a painful one. We had both Florida State and Alabama beat and let both games slip away.  By the time we played Mississippi State we were minus eleven players to injury who suited up against Florida State.  In April, 2016 we had the Tunsil draft night disaster which I still believe was a set up, but that’s a discussion for another day.

After the 2016 season ended, we began our defense of the program and Hugh Freeze versus the NCAA.  We stood behind Coach Freeze and believed he was the man to lead us through this wilderness.  The revelations of July 20th and the phone calls on the University phone by Freeze to an escort service ultimately led to his dismissal. This in my mind was one of the saddest days in Ole Miss football history.

So Was Freeze Worth It

So, back to the question at the beginning of this article.  Was it worth it?  If you knew where we would be today, would you still have hired Hugh Freeze?  I thought long and hard about this before I made my decision.  I believe Hugh Freeze is a great football coach and a good and Godly man.  It’s not for me to judge his personal life for I am a sinner so I’m not going to cast stones.  I believe he made mistakes as we all do in both our personal and professional lives.

I believe for whatever reason there was sloppiness in the recruiting practices that ultimately led to his downfall with the NCAA.  My belief on cheating by most SEC schools is something we can debate for hours.  So, for me after over thirty days to think about this, for me,  it was worth hiring Hugh Freeze.  The two wins over Alabama, the Sugar Bowl victory, College Game Day coming to Oxford, the wins over Mississippi State and Dak Prescott in 2014 and 2015 were priceless.  I experienced some of the best moments since Archie Manning was scrambling all over the field in 1969 and 1970.

Next: Season Predictions!

So there you have it.  I would have still hired Hugh Freeze. I believe his lack of experience in big time college football recruiting cost him with the NCAA. His personal life is something he and his family have to work through and they deserve their privacy to do just that. So thank you Coach Freeze for some great victories and memories. I for one, will cherish them the rest of my days on this earth.  Hotty Toddy!