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Freeze preaches 'patience and positivity'

Alex Edwards/The Daily Mississippian

Win the day.
That was first-year head coach Hugh Freeze’s message when he spoke before the Rebel faithful for a capacity crowd at the Gertrude Ford Center last December after being named the new Ole Miss head football coach. Today – one day before he coaches the first game of his tenure – the message remains the same.
Freeze walked into an ugly situation at Ole Miss. The Rebels had just completed one of their worst seasons in history, winning just two games for the first time since 1946.
There were so many internal problems, and Freeze acknowledged that would be one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in the first few months on the job.
“You have to have personal accountability for what’s required of you, and you have to be faithful to do that,” Freeze said. “I think that somewhere along the way that was kind of missing, from everything from classroom attendance to social behavior to the decisions we make on the field and off the field. That’s been the biggest challenge, but again, we’re making progress.”
Although it may be hard to see that progress in terms of wins and losses, it is certainly being made.
When Freeze took over, there were many players who were in trouble of being academically ineligible this fall. Those players bought in to what Freeze said and nearly all of them got themselves straightened out in the classroom.
“I think the buy-in percentage is up toward 80-90 percent of our team,” Freeze said. “It’s been a process and will continue to be, but the attitude is starting to be one that you can sense is a team that is hungry to change.”
And according to Freeze, he expects things to turn for the better pretty soon.
This year’s Ole Miss team may not have depth to be in every game, and a brutal road schedule doesn’t help. However, there are plenty of positives to look at in the future, and when Freeze was asked where he sees his program two to three years down the road, he didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Competing for the SEC West Championship,” he said. “That’s where we want to be. We want to be positive citizens and vital parts to the University of Mississippi. The message is patience and positivity. Give us some patience, but be positive with us. We’re asking our team and our coaches to do the same, and I think we’ll get it there.”
Freeze understands it will be a process, but he’s up for the challenge. In fact, it’s a dream come true for Freeze. He’s wanted to be a football coach since he was a sophomore in high school. He grew up in Senatobia, and when he was growing up, Freeze only had a few options.
“It was basically in my community that you either go coach ball or go milk cows,” Freeze said. “I knew that coaching was what I wanted to do.”
Growing up so close to Oxford, Ole Miss has always meant a lot to Freeze.
“One of my first memories is standing in line as a 10-year-old to get Archie Manning’s autograph and coming to the Grove on game day with my family and seeing the love and passion that people have for this place,” Freeze said. “I wake up with the desire every day to deliver to these people. It’s a special fan base. Rebel Nation is a very passionate and loyal group, and I want to give them what they deserve.”
That job was made a little easier in the spring when Ross Bjork was named as the new athletics director at Ole Miss.
Since taking over the reins of the athletic department days before the annual football spring game, Bjork and Freeze have been on a mission to raise Ole Miss to heights it hasn’t seen in quite some time.
The dynamic duo traveled throughout the state in the inaugural Rebel Road Trip last spring. Shortly after the road trip, Bjork talked about how the two finish each other’s sentences and acknowledged how well they get along. It’s easy to see the energy both Freeze and Bjork bring to the table.
“I couldn’t ask any more out of Ross,” Freeze said. “He’s been a terrific boss side-by-side with me trying to reunite the fan base and the people here. I think when they see us together and see that we are on the same side preaching the same message that it can only help us.”
Aside from getting the Ole Miss fan base to come together as one, Freeze knows he has to do more than that to get Ole Miss to the level he expects of his program. Because of that, Freeze has spent seemingly every second that he’s not on the practice field or in the film room devoted to recruiting.
Freeze learned his first lessons in recruiting from former Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron – who is widely considered one of the best recruiters in the country. Freeze said he uses the same 12-month recruiting plan that Orgeron implemented when Freeze served as the Rebels’ recruiting coordinator from 2006-07. He knows how vital it is to his program’s ultimate success.
“You’ve got to recruit,” Freeze said. “You’ve got to have talented players, and many of them to create depth. That’s what we’re lacking in right now.”
Recruiting is easier when you’re winning every Saturday, but right now Freeze doesn’t have that luxury. Instead, he and his staff take a different approach.
“We don’t talk about last year,” he said. “If we want to talk about last year, let’s talk about the other past years also – the six SEC championships, the three national championships, 13th all-time bowl wins. If we’re going to talk about one past year, let’s talk about all of them.”
It’s easy to see the “it” factor that FedEx executive Mike Glenn and Ole Miss legend Archie Manning saw in Freeze. And if the energy and passion he brings to Oxford translates to the football field, the check marks in the win column will speak for themselves.
For continuing coverage of Ole Miss football, follow @thedm_sports and @DavidLCollier on Twitter.