As the Hugh Freeze era shatters at Ole Miss, no winners to be found
As first seen on MississippiToday.com, by Rick Cleveland
Hugh Freeze made $5 million a year to coach Ole Miss football. He was a rock star. He took Ole Miss to its first Sugar Bowl in 46 years and won it by four touchdowns. He beat juggernaut Alabama two straight games and almost a third.
He won recruiting battles against national powerhouses. He was a master motivator, who quoted Bible verses to his more than 190,000 followers on Twitter.
His official Twitter page reads: “Husband to a wonderful wife, Dad of 3 awesome kids, Saved by a Gracious God.”
His last two tweets in the past 12 hours were both in an effort to raise money for the Palmer Home for Children, a Columbus orphanage.
He had it all, a loving family, a monster salary and tens of thousands of adoring fans. Over the last few days, all that came tumbling down. Into a gutter.
Apparently, phone records that included one call to an escort service led to an investigation that revealed “a pattern of personal misconduct,” Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said in a press conference Thursday night.
Freeze officially resigned, but that is a euphemism. He effectively was fired. He will receive no settlement.
Matt Luke, for my money a fine guy and an Ole Miss man from an Ole Miss family, will take over as interim coach. Practice starts in less than two weeks. The season opener is six weeks away.
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Like most, I was stunned by the news. Ole Miss has stuck by Freeze during an exhaustive NCAA investigation that still hasn’t reached its end. Freeze was charged with a failure to properly oversee his program. Ole Miss faces a charge of lack of institutional control. Surely, the Ole Miss administration could have served up Freeze as a human sacrifice to the NCAA in hopes of a lighter penalty. Ole Miss did not.
That’s why I thought for sure the Rebels would go into this season with Freeze at the helm, at least until the NCAA completed its investigation and levied its penalties.
That’s not the case, and I don’t know – and you don’t either – whether what happened today will have any effect on the NCAA’s final decree. I doubt that it will.
Two days ago, Hugh Freeze tweeted: “One thing I’ve learned … Adversity teaches us to have greater compassion for others in their hours of adversity. Thankful for this lesson.”
I read that tonight and tried to think of who deserves our compassion in all this. Freeze’s wife, Jill, certainly. Their three daughters, ages 18, 17 and 14, absolutely. Hard to imagine what they are going through. And anyone who takes any joy in that, well … I won’t go there.
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On June 21, Hugh Freeze tweeted: “Everyone you meet or know is fighting a battle you may know nothing about. Be kind. Always, Be Kind! Have a great day!”
Good advice, surely. And who knows what Freeze had in mind when he tweeted that?
It now appears it could have been himself. Freeze is not the first to lose this particular battle and he won’t be the last. We’ve had presidents, so many preachers and evangelists, doctors, lawyers, journalists, et al. who have done what Freeze apparently did.
Ole Miss Chancellor Jeff Vitter opened Thursday night’s press conference with a statement that included these words: “While Coach Freeze served our university well in many regards during his tenure, we simply cannot accept the conduct in his personal life that we have discovered.”
That had to hit especially close to home for Vitter. You may recall that Vitter’s brother, former U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, admitted to using an escort service and prostitutes.
It is a sin as old as man.
On May 17, Freeze tweeted: “We celebrate God’s grace because we admit that every day, somehow, some way, we fall short of his righteous standard.”
And so we do …
ABOUT RICK CLEVELAND
Rick Cleveland, Mississippi Today’s sports columnist, in June was honored as Mississippi Sportswriter of the Year — an honor he achieved for the 10th time — by the National Sports Media Foundation. Rick was executive director and historian of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame before joining Mississippi Today. Reach Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org.