Ole Miss Football: Explaining the continued support for Hugh Freeze

Oct 1, 2016; Oxford, MS, USA;  Mississippi Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze looks onto the field during the second quarter of the game against the Memphis Tigers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Many are wondering why the university is standing behind Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze amidst an NCAA investigation, and here”s why.

Throughout the entire NCAA investigation into the Ole Miss football program, the administration has stood behind head coach Hugh Freeze. For many outside the Ole Miss fanbase this is baffling, but in truth there are a litany of reasons for Ole Miss to stand behind its coach.

Freeze came to Ole Miss in December of 2011. The school was less than a month removed from a program low of a 2-11 season. Ole Miss needed someone that could right the ship correctly and quickly.

In his first season, Freeze led a resurgence of the program leading Ole Miss to a 7-6 record, including a bowl win over Pittsburgh. The season was lightyears beyond what Ole Miss fans or anyone expected.

In turn, the events of that season and the recruiting efforts by the coaching staff lead to a top 5 signing class for the 2013 recruiting class. This made waves in the college football world. Ole Miss signed prospects such as the top overall recruit, Robert Nkemdiche. The top offensive line recruit, Laremy Tunsil. A top three receiver in Laquon Treadwell and Tony Conner, a top two safety prospect.

That class and the shockwaves it sent led to presumptions that Ole Miss had to be cheating and paying players. To this day people, including national sportswriters, peg this class as the reason why Ole Miss and Hugh Freeze are in the trouble they’re in now.

Here’s the thing, however, none of these players, except for Laremy Tunsil, are mentioned in the Notice of Allegations (NOA), and this incident comes well after he signed to play football in Oxford.

Ole Miss had connections with all of these players, that is why they were able to sign them. Nkemdiche’s brother Denzel was a DB/LB for Ole Miss. One of Treadwell’s best friends, Anthony Standifer was a DB for Ole Miss. Tony Conner was from Batesville, Miss., not even thirty minutes from the Ole Miss campus. Tunsil is the only outlier, in that Ole Miss had to really work at getting him to come to their school. In the end, Chris Kiffin’s relationship with Tunsil won out.

From 2013 on, Hugh Freeze led Ole Miss to increased wins, including back to back wins against Alabama in 2014 and 2015. Freeze led Ole Miss to a Sugar Bowl Championship in the 2015 season, the best bowl an SEC team can be in besides the playoff. Ole Miss hadn’t won the Sugar Bowl since 1970.

Hugh Freeze has done things for Ole Miss that fans hadn’t seen since the legendary Johnny Vaught was coaching the Rebels. Because of the unreal level of success that Freeze has had, he has earned unwavering support throughout the NCAA investigation. Even with charges such as lack of institutional control, the university hasn’t changed its position of support.

Despite the struggles of the 2016 season, Freeze has the support of pretty much the entire Ole Miss family. Whether that be fans, players, students, the athletic administration and everywhere in between. Freeze has this support because he is vital to the future of Ole Miss football.

Ole Miss took steps to impose penalties on themselves in the hopes that the NCAA wouldn’t do much more harm. These self-imposed penalties culminated in the bowl ban the university gave itself for 2017. The Rebels and Hugh Freeze can survive this NCAA cloud. They just need to hope the Committee of Infractions doesn’t drop a nuke on them when their hearing comes around in the fall.

Should the Rebels improve in 2017, support for Freeze will only increase. He means that much to the program. Freeze took Ole Miss from the bottom of the SEC cellar and developed in a matter two years, a stable and nationally relevant program. Ole Miss plans to stay there and in order to do that, Hugh Freeze will continue to be the head coach.

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