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First step forward for Freeze

Phillip Waller

 

After arguably the worst season in school history, new head coach Hugh Freeze won the press conference and took the first step to rebuilding the football program and uniting the fan base.

When reports started to surface, the reaction was mixed, but Freeze won over the capacity crowd at the Ford Center with his love and vision for Ole Miss, both delivered in a charismatic fashion.

“I understand the Ole Miss people and the love you have for the University, each other and the love you have for family,” Freeze said during Monday’s introductory press conference. “I have that love. This is a destination place for me. This is where I want to live and retire. We understand that to accomplish what we want will take tremendous energy, passion and desire.”

After a coaching search that took many twists and turns, the search committee, co-chaired by football legend Archie Manning and Mike Glenn, FedEx Vice President of Market Development and Corporate Communications, tabbed Freeze as their number one choice and made the decision to offer him the job Sunday evening. Chancellor Dan Jones said Freeze, the Rebels 37th head coach, will make approximately $1.5 million per season over the course of a four-year contract, with athletic and academic incentives that could increase his yearly salary to more than $2.5 million.

“Coach Freeze is one of the most highly regarded young coaches in the country,” Glenn said. “He is known as an offensive genius, but he also understands that it takes great defensive to win in the SEC. Bob Beaudine made it very clear that he had placed many coaches throughout his career and that Hugh Freeze has what it takes.”

Freeze returns to Ole Miss, where he served as an assistant on the staff of former head coach Ed Orgeron. 

Since that three-year stop in Oxford, from 2005 to 2007, he has been a head coach at Lambuth University, the offensive coordinator at Arkansas State and, most recently, the head coach at Arkansas State.

“I think whatever level you coach at, you think that there is a different defense or offense being run,” Freeze said. “Every single place I’ve been the kids are the same, their emotions and desire to win are the same, and their desire for someone to love and care for them is the same.”

In his one season as head coach, Freeze led Arkansas State to a 10-2 record and the program’s first Sun Belt Championship, becoming just the third school in conference history to finish undefeated in conference play with a perfect 8-0 record. The Red Wolves also carry the nation’s second-longest winning streak, now at nine games, and were one of just four teams to finish in the top 30 in both total offense and total defense.

He called this past season “one of the greatest rides of his life,” but is ready to make things happen at Ole Miss and help the program get to a SEC Championship. He has put together both short-term and long-term plans to accomplish his goals and realize his vision.

In the short term, he talked about a 90-day plan, which includes getting a partial staff in place to hit the recruiting trails. When asked about putting his staff together, he singled out current Arkansas State assistants Chris Kiffin, Dave Wommack, Maurice Harris and Tom Allen. 

Another assistant from that staff, Darren Hiller, is another possible staff edition. It remains to be seen if Gunter Brewer, who led Ole Miss’ transition team from Nutt to Freeze, will be retained. 

Another name to watch is Frank Wilson, the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator at LSU, who is a candidate for the offensive coordinator position.

In the long-term, Freeze talked about a 12-month plan for recruiting he learned under Orgeron, accountability groups for team discipline and an offensive philosophy he called “basketball on grass.”

I think it is an advantage for teams that may play in a league like this that don’t see that kind of offense all the time,” Freeze said. “I know that it limits exactly what a defense can call. 

“I am not suggesting that defenses can defend it, but it has been very successful for us. We will go very fast. We have three speeds and we like to go the fastest a lot.”

He also spoke in more general terms, talking about F.A.M.I.L.Y. and how each letter represents a different aspect of his coaching values, as well as actions matching goals and the phrase, “Win the Day,” to improve the football program.

Freeze simply won the press conference and took a first step to rebuilding the football program and uniting the fan base.