Hugh Freeze’s brash front at Ole Miss puts him on his coaching back
In the midst of a 13-minute joint press conference with Ole Miss Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter, one that was quickly thrown together Thursday night after the school dropped a bomb on the college football world by announcing football coach Hugh Freeze’s immediate resignation, athletic director Ross Bjork took a sentence to include those closest to Ole Miss’ former coach.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his entire family,” Bjork said.
It was a nice gesture because that’s who needs support the most right now. Freeze’s wife, Jill, and the couple’s three teenage daughters are left to deal with the aftermath of their husband and father losing a cushy, $4.7-million job because he used a university-issued cell phone to call an escort service.
But oh, the irony.
Because it’s Freeze who’s usually doing the praying. At least that’s what you’d think about a man who promoted his Christian beliefs about as often as he’d draw up plays.
I’m not here to judge Freeze. We’re human beings, which by definition makes all of us flawed. But when you’re as brash as Freeze was in using religion as a selling point in your program — routinely making it a talking point in team meetings, constantly tweeting out Bible verses and making it part of your recruiting pitch when you’re sitting in a prospect’s living room — and then have to resign because of moral reasons, it’s the ultimate hypocrisy.
Neither Bjork nor Vitter specified exactly how many calls to strange numbers showed up in Freeze’s phone records, but Vitter called it “a pattern of personal misconduct” while Bjork said the full examination of the records revealed “a concerning pattern.”
In other words, it wasn’t a one-time thing. Freeze placed calls to escort services and massage parlors, according to a source.
Of course, the issues started long before the phone records came to light.
That infamous tweet in 2013 asking anyone who had facts about violations to contact the compliance department gave birth to Freeze’s constant denial when it came to accusations that his team was cheating in recruiting. Yet four years later, he leaves behind a program that’s facing 21 alleged rules violations with 15 of those being Level I charges.
But Freeze denied knowing about anything (sounds familiar, right?) and would routinely say he was confident in the way the program was run despite being hit with the failure to monitor his coaching staff while the program faces a lack of institutional control. Ironically, Freeze’s last act of defiance did him in.
Go back to January 2016 when Ole Miss received its first Notice of Allegations in its NCAA case and Bjork said most of the football-related charges dated back to Houston Nutt��s tenure. That was a lie since more than half of the Level I violations are under Freeze’s watch, so Nutt asked for an apology.
But neither Freeze nor Bjork offered one, and from that came the lawsuit Nutt recently filed against Ole Miss’ athletics foundation that, in part, accuses Freeze, Bjork and other school officials of conspiring to pin most of the charges on him. Nutt’s lawyer, Thomas Mars, filed an open records request for Freeze’s phone records, and that’s when the calls popped.
It all added up to a coach who wasn’t what he said he was, instead putting on a front that three wins over Mississippi State, two wins over Alabama and Sugar Bowl victory nearly let him get away with. But it all eventually caught up to Freeze, whose sudden fall from grace sent him tumbling from the highest-paid state employee to flat on the back of his coaching career.
He may never get back up, and he’s only got himself to blame.
Davis Potter is the Ole Miss beat writer for the EAGLE. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.