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The Future of Ole Miss and Hugh Freeze

Ole Miss football is a labor of love for so many of its fans. Not many of us choose to be fans of Ole Miss it is more like an inheritance.  We love the school because we are all deeply invested in Ole Miss both financially and emotionally.

Article originally printed in Rebel Nation Magazine

This is not an uncommon situation in the SEC. This deep rooted love for your home state and school is what makes this conference the best in college football.  We all care a great deal about our college football and it matters to us.

So, I won’t tell you to calm the hell down and just enjoy a five win season. I won’t tell you to let Freeze and Ross Bjork do their jobs and stop freaking out on social media.  I won’t tell you this because you, as fans, are the program.

Without you, there is no program. Coaches will come and go, even big money boosters will come and go.  What lasts are the season ticket holders and the tailgaters.  The folks that show up on Thanksgiving, in the rain, in 35 degree weather.  You guys are the program.

So feel free to write letters and argue and fight with other fans and get it out of your system.

In this article, I will try to address (from my perspective) some of the biggest questions Ole Miss fans have after a disappointing 2016 season.

Why are you not mad as Hell, like me?!

I am not that concerned, not because I know how Freeze’s tenure will work out. I have some insight into the program but I can’t predict what the NCAA will do.  We have all seen they are unpredictable in their rulings and enforcement of their own rules.

I am not concerned because Ole Miss is greater than one coach or athletic director.

Hugh Freeze was hired at Ole Miss in 2012 and promised to lead Ole Miss out of the wilderness. A football coach with only one year of head coaching experience at the Division One level was able to take one of the lowest funded programs in the most difficult college football conference (at one of the lowest points in our history) and he did what he said he would do.

He turned Ole Miss around. He took a team with only 60 scholarship players in 2012 and went to a bowl.  He took this downtrodden program that was decimated by Houston Nutt to the point of collapse and won the Sugar Bowl in just three years.  Something that hasn’t happened around Oxford in 50 years.

Perhaps winning 10 games a year so quickly is not sustainable. Coach Freeze may have outkicked his coverage and that’s ok.  He deserves a down year or even two.

But what has everyone most upset is that 2016 doesn’t feel like a down year. It feels like the end of a cycle.  It doesn’t even feel like we have hit bottom yet.  It’s easy to imagine that 2017 will be even worse with the loss of Chad Kelly and other key contributing seniors.

So I will be fine and will support the Rebs no matter what happens going forward.

What kind of coach do we need after Freeze?

If you are interested in looking for a new coach you have to think about who can be successful at a school like Ole Miss. This is a small school, with a small stadium and little national success.  It will always be a struggle to recruit at Ole Miss against the Alabama and LSU type programs.  You better find a coach that can take less talented kids and beat those top programs.

You need a innovative, exciting, high scoring offense in order to outscore the minor league NFL teams you will play every week. You also need a marketing genius and a motivator that can somehow focus teenagers and keep them out of trouble and in class every day.

The guy that would fit all these criteria is hard to find. Ole Miss has been looking for that coach since 1973 when Johnny Vaught walked off the field for the last time.  The closest thing we have found so far is Hugh Freeze.  He has proven he can win at a high level at Ole Miss.

Can Hugh Freeze survive 2016?

I think that answer will largely be answered by you, the fans with a little input from the NCAA. The NCAA is going on 5 years of looking at the books in Oxford and they have found a few violations like they would anywhere over 5 years.  Over the period in question that basically spans three coaching staffs and two athletic directors, the NCAA found 13 violations against the football program which amounted to monetary benefits of $15,608 total over eight years.

No matter your opinion on NCAA rules violations, $15,608 over 8 years is hilariously minor compared to violations with Albert Means at Alabama, Reggie Bush at USC or Cam Newton at Auburn. But just because Ole Miss didn’t commit egregious rules violations doesn’t mean the NCAA won’t penalize Ole Miss egregiously.  We just won’t know until the NCAA committee meets, makes a ruling and they go through the appeals process (Ole Miss most likely will and should appeal this ridiculous 5 year investigation).

If you as a fan can’t stomach any NCAA bad news then maybe Freeze should go and maybe we should prepare ourselves to be the Vanderbilt of the West. That’s just the reality of college football.

I believe Hugh Freeze can survive and win at Ole Miss going forward. Over the last 4 years comparing the other programs in the SEC west, Ole Miss has averaged 8 total wins and 4 SEC wins per year.  Good enough for 4th in the SEC over that period.  While that is not great it is better than Bielema and Mullen and very close statistically to the top of the SEC.

 

freeze-wilderness-1

Hugh Freeze is competing and holding his own, even with a down year.

Everyone wants their team to be successful losing games is very frustrating, but it’s important to have a little perspective on how Hugh Freeze stacks up against the rest of the league’s coaches, some of which have a lot more resources than Ole Miss.

I don’t know what the future holds but I know that Hugh Freeze is very capable of leading this team. And if it doesn’t work out for Freeze, the current SEC salaries are really nice and will attract a long line of qualified coaches putting Ole Miss in a better position for success than any time in the past.

So, let’s all pull the rope together, because it’s up to us, the fans, if this program sinks or swims.

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