2011 was a rock-bottom year of disappointment and embarrassment for the Ole Miss program.
The 2010 Houston Nutt led Ole Miss Rebels had just finished 4-8 on the season. They lost to FCS foe Jacksonville St. and going into 2011, had no true identity on either side of the ball.
Rebel Nation morale was at an all-time low. The “Forward Rebels” Campaign was splitting the fan base and no one knew where they wanted the program to go.
The 2011 season started off just as 2010 had ended, with inconsistent play, academically ineligible players, and fans calling for Houston Nutt’s job.
When Nutt was fired at the end of 2011 after a devastating 2-10 season, it gave the fans hope and excitement with some high profile coaches available, such as Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach. But the coach chosen for the job was a young coach from Arkansas State University by the name of Hugh Freeze. Everyone, admittedly even myself was like “Hugh who”?
Hugh Freeze, best known as a high school football and women’s basketball coach at Memphis’ Briarcrest Christian (94-30) had only been a D1 head football coach for only one season (10-2 Arkansas State 2011) before being named as the Ole Miss head coach.
A lot of Rebel fans were simply not yet sold on the guy. He would have to prove himself, against impossible odds. Ole Miss’ program was in shambles. As many as 25 players were in danger of academic probation and Ole Miss plays in the best division of the best conference in the nation.
Hugh began as very humble and honest, saying at the time that it would take him 3 years to put together a bowl team. Fast-forward to November 24, 2012 and the Rebels beat MSU for the first time since 2008, and Ole-Miss became bowl eligible for the first time since the 2009 season.
The program was immediately back on track, fans were happy and traveled in droves to Birmingham for the Compass Bowl. Top recruits were starting to inquire about Ole Miss. The downtrodden Ole Miss fans were happy with a 7 win season, but still had no idea of what was yet to come. From 2012 to now, Hugh Freeze has had 3 top 25 recruiting classes, (Consensus top 10 in 2013) two bowl wins, and has beaten every SEC west opponent at least once in his tenure, including the famous Alabama win in 2014.
At Tuscaloosa Alabama today, Ole Miss is again the underdog, but not quite as much as in years past. It’s nothing the Rebels should worry about, as the Independence, MS Native Freeze has been an underdog all of his life. With great confidence, hard work, and the motto “Win the Day”; no matter the outcome Saturday night Ole Miss has arrived. They are not only a top 15 Football program but just as important; there is a unified fan base. Coach Freeze has proved he belongs here, he has proven he can win in the SEC.
Today, win or lose, Hugh Freeze has changed everything in Oxford and you better believe that the best is yet to come.