For the past five years, Hugh Freeze has been the head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels football team. For the past four, he has been mired in an NCAA investigation that seemed to pull him further and further down like an animal in quicksand. But that’s all over now.
Hugh Freeze resigned.
In case you went to bed early Thursday, or perhaps turned your phone, T.V. or computer off after lunch, you may not be aware that Freeze is no longer the Ole Miss football coach. And you may not be shocked. The fact that Freeze is no longer with the University is not surprising in and of itself, given the NCAA investigation and looming punishment. Rather, the way he left is what has sent shockwaves across the football, and social media, world.
To truly understand the impact the last week has had on Ole Miss and Hugh Freeze, you have to understand who Hugh was, or at least claimed to be. Freeze stepped onto campus in 2011 and inherited a program devoid of positive momentum and SEC wins. He took over for Houston Nutt (you’ll want to remember that name for later) and essentially had a bare cupboard with which to work. Now, Freeze was not a flashy hire. He wasn’t a big-name coach from another conference. Hell, he barely had any collegiate head coaching experience up to that point, having spent two years at Lambuth University and another at Arkansas State. He was the recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach under Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss from 2005 to 2007, and even served as the interim head coach after Orgeron’s dismissal. But none of that is new to you if you have any rooting interest in college football in the South. It merely sets the stage for what is to come.
One year into his reign at Ole Miss, Hugh Freeze did the unthinkable. After a 6-6 year, he signed a top-5 recruiting class. Everyone wondered, how did a wet-behind-the-ears coach in the nation’s toughest conference pull that kind of talent to a school that had not only not been successful in recent years but wasn’t near the pedigree of many of its peers, such as LSU, Alabama, Florida and the like. How did Freeze get so many highly touted players to switch their commitments, to choose Ole Miss over programs like the aforementioned? The rumors started flying almost immediately, and the accusations were not far behind. And nobody would expect anything less from upset fans on message boards. Freeze’s response, however, was very unexpected.
“If you have facts about a violation, send it to email@example.com. If not, please do not slander these young men or insult their family”
— Hugh Freeze (@CoachHughFreeze) February 1, 2013
The tweet was, of course, deleted, but the impact it had on the college football world is still felt to this day. Hugh Freeze was defiant in the face of accusations. He scoffed at anyone who thought that he could possibly be cheating. And the ground on which he stood was steadfast, or so he thought. You see, Hugh Freeze was a self-proclaimed “Godly man.” And for the most part, his outward actions tended to back up that claim.
To be perfectly clear, I am not here to argue whether or not Hugh Freeze is a Christian. Only God and Freeze himself can answer that question, but I’m not sure if the latter can be believed on anything at this point. I am merely here to point out a “pattern of misconduct,” as Ole Miss Chancellor Jeff Vitter so eloquently put it, that seems to disagree with the public persona Hugh Freeze put forward. It was this persona that ultimately was his downfall. And it wasn’t just opposing fans, coaches or media members who were taken aback by the brazen arrogance of this young coach who had just shocked the world. The NCAA was watching too. And they took it personally.
Whether you want to argue that the way the NCAA has handled its investigation of the Ole Miss Athletic Department is right or wrong is irrelevant at this point. There are a number of charges that can be proven without a doubt, and some that the University has said themselves did happen. And that’s why the Administration decided to impose a reduction in scholarships and a one-year bowl ban to the football team (other punishments were handed down to the various programs found at fault as well, but they don’t matter to this story). But Ole Miss, and its fans, stood behind their head coach. No way could an upright citizen like Hugh Freeze commit such atrocities. Not our guy, no way.
Now most rational people would ask this follow up question: in a sport known for its recruiting violations, why would an entire fanbase believe so wholeheartedly that their coach wasn’t cheating? The answer is simple: because of who he appeared to be. To the world, as dictated by social media and University press releases, Hugh Freeze was a great father, husband, and all-around man. I mean, the man went on mission trips and posted inspirational Bible verses on his Twitter account. He went to church every Sunday. He was the type of man every Southern mom wanted their son to be or their daughter to marry. And so, the Red and Blue nation stood with Freeze.
And for a little while, it paid off. The Rebels did some incredible things with that class and the ones that came after it. In 2014, Ole Miss beat Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide en route to a Peach Bowl berth. In 2015, they beat Alabama again, this time in Tuscaloosa, and Hugh became just the fourth coach in history to beat Saban in back-to-back years. He took Ole Miss as close to the top as you can be without hoisting a National Championship trophy, as the Rebels beat Oklahoma State to win the Sugar Bowl. But in the background of the glory and confetti, there was a different movement picking up steam. And it wasn’t a pretty one.
As soon as the ink was dry on National Signing Day in 2013, the NCAA began its probe into Ole Miss athletics, specifically football. The investigators began accumulating evidence and interviewing witnesses. As the weeks turned into months and the months to years, the investigation grew in scale. Players from other Universities were questioned under promises of immunity, much to the chagrin of Ole Miss fans everywhere. People began to wonder if the NCAA was on a personal witch hunt to make an example out of Ole Miss. Articles like this began popping up everywhere, asking a simple question: why was the NCAA targeting Ole Miss?
You see, to the everyday Rebel fan, Hugh Freeze was the closest thing to Jesus Christ to walk the face of the Earth. His inspirational quotes and seemingly zealous attitude toward Christianity was only mirrored by his love of Ole Miss. Freeze said when he was hired he wanted to retire at Ole Miss. He was a lifer. And that meant everything to Ole Miss fans. As the investigation progressed, campaigns began to unite the Rebel Nation behind Freeze. The now-infamous “I Stand With Coach Freeze” campaign was started by an editorial written on hottytoddy.com by Ed Meek. Meek made the following claim in his declaration of support:
“His faith and commitment are the foundation of his leadership for God, his family, Ole Miss and others he reaches.
Wags in the NCAA, national press and at other institutions are talking about a possible suspension of Coach Freeze — the first ever under what may be a flawed process put in a few years ago. Some are even attacking this fine man on his faith, some even saying it is not real. God knows and we know, Hugh Freeze is for real.”
This type of fervent, cult-like adoration was rampant among a fanbase that had an “us-against-the-world” mentality toward anyone and anything that dares challenge their leader. I could post millions of tweets, Facebook posts and message board arguments that centered solely around one defense: Hugh Freeze couldn’t have cheated, he’s a Godly man.
But what if he wasn’t?
The day before Coach Freeze and Ole Miss were to make their appearance at SEC Media Days, former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt filed a lawsuit against the University, Freeze and Athletic Director Ross Bjork. Nutt’s claim was simple: the University and some high-ranking administrators conspired to push a false narrative to reporters, and the public in general, that all blame in the NCAA allegations regarding the Ole Miss football team was the responsibility of Houston Nutt.
This was a bombshell. A conspiracy to commit defamation and ultimately defer blame is tantamount to a guilty verdict in the eyes of the NCAA. And Nutt wasn’t shooting warning shots. His attorneys had dug through hundreds of phone records, citing numerous occasions where Freeze and Bjork contacted both state and national media members who, in turn, pushed the false narrative they were spoon-fed by Ole Miss. Now, we don’t know for sure if this is true or false. A judge will ultimately decide that. But that doesn’t matter right now. You see, that wasn’t the true bombshell that Houston Nutt’s attorneys found. No, that was hidden deeper in those phone records. A place so deep, only Hugh’s dark soul could have possibly seen it coming.
Thursday around mid-afternoon, Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports tweeted out an interesting tease, that something was coming out on Hugh, and it could change the whole story in Oxford. Five years into an NCAA investigation, it didn’t seem like much more could come forward from the NCAA, who isn’t scheduled to hand down a verdict until the Fall. That meant it had to be something personal. Perhaps something in the lawsuit. What came forward was beyond most people’s comprehension. Unless you had been saying it all along.
Yes, after all the NCAA allegations, the accusations of cheating and paying players, after the Laremy Tunsill draft night fiasco and the Rebel Rags lawsuit, Hugh Freeze resigned because of a call to a prostitute.
Let that sink in.
The man many considered to be a saint was nothing close. And don’t get it twisted, yes the reason this story broke is because of one call, but as Chancellor Vitter said, “We simply cannot accept the conduct in his personal life that we have discovered.” It was a pattern. It was consistent. And it was the exact opposite of who he claimed to be.
I have no issue with a mistake. We all make mistakes, myself included, and if we learn from them and improve upon them, we have bettered ourselves because of those mistakes. But that isn’t the case here. This wasn’t one mistake, or two or three. This was a blatant manipulation and falsification of who he was at his very core. Hugh Freeze may or may not be a Christian. But he damn sure didn’t act like it. He paraded himself around on a platform of righteousness, deeming himself to be above the muck in which he so freely threw himself behind closed doors. He used his faith as a shield, convincing the Rebel faithful that he was being attacked for what he believed in. In reality, he was using “what he believed in” to hold off the attack on his true character. And the icing on the cake is that some Ole Miss fans STILL SUPPORT HIM.
But not all. Not the ones in the know, who have heard the rumors and just didn’t want to believe. You see, the misconduct is not something Hugh learned at Ole Miss. This is who he is at his core. There have been unsubstantiated rumors floating around the message boards since his time at Briarcrest High School. Former players or students that felt his attitude toward the girls’ basketball team was not always above board. Rumors of infidelity were circulated almost as soon as he was hired at Ole Miss. And while none of that is admissible in a court of law or yet to be proven, you know the saying. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It just took a whole University burning to the ground for people to believe it.
After five years of standing with Freeze, the film was beginning to lift from the eyes of Rebel nation. The red flags that many opposing fans, both from Mississippi and across the country, had been seeing all along have begun to make sense to those that don the red and blue. And while the NCAA has still not rendered a verdict, the writing on the wall is there. But it isn’t about that anymore. It’s about the lies. It’s about the deceit and the manipulation. Most importantly, it’s about their true love. Ole Miss football.
I have to say I agree with Ben. It’s an incredibly disappointing outcome if you’re an Ole Miss fan. You put your faith in this man. You stood up for him. You defended him against friends and coworkers, at school and at church. And I feel bad for his wife and daughters. This isn’t about them, but they will endure more grief and heartache than Hugh himself. And there’s nothing they can do about it. This is beyond Mississippi, it’s beyond the SEC. There is no running away from it, and at some point, Hugh will have to make an appearance or deliver a statement. And it will be interesting to see if he continues to stand on the platform he so precariously balanced on for so many years before it came cascading down around him.
The question now is, what does Ole Miss do moving forward. And how will the NCAA respond to this new revelation? Those are questions for another time and another site. For now, there is enough to think about and discuss. Who we put our faith in, who we trust, is important. Truly knowing those people even more so. It isn’t always easy, and as Hugh Freeze showed us, it’s a lot easier to sell an ideal rather than a truth. But in the end, the truth always comes out. And as the Good Book says:
“Then you will know truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32