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On Cognitive Dissonance, Football Coaches, and the Ole Miss Rebel Fan Base

In the immediate wake of the announcement that Ole Miss would indeed be hiring its former offensive coordinator and the then-current head coach of the Sun Belt champion Arkansas State University football team, Hugh Freeze, as its next head football coach, the reactions of the Rebel fan base were, on the whole, negative. After a month-long, suspenseful, rumor filled*, "nationwide" coaching search led by FedEx VP Mike Glenn and Rebel demigod Archie Manning, Ole Miss did not make the "big splash" hire that so many of us were hoping for or even expecting.

In fact, Ole Miss appeared to do what many of us explicitly wished it wouldn't, and that's hire a coach due to his connections to the school and relationships with Mississippi's nebulous Good Ol' Boy network. Ole Miss did the thing that was, as fans perceived it, comfortable and predictable, not risky and bold. Ole Miss, despite putting on airs of the contrary, seemed to do exactly what it was that it said it would not.

It seemed to many that we were indeed misled by this entire coaching search process because, truthfully, Hugh Freeze would have taken the job had you or I offered it to him; no Manning was necessary.

The difficulty with this position - that Ole Miss' national coaching search, clandestinely led by two of Ole Miss' most prominent alumni, was nothing more than a smokescreen to make a hire many people dreaded would happen all along - is that it's likely not true, meaning that people are believing it because they want to believe it, and not because they actually have cause to do so.

The only thing about Houston Nutt being fired with several games remaining in the 2011 football season that could have been advantageous to the Ole Miss program was the head start of sorts it gave our administration and coach search committee. At that point, only one other BCS program had fired their head coach (Arizona), meaning that Ole Miss' hat was tossed relatively early into the ring.

This, surely, would give us ample opportunity to find the most impressive, interested candidates available to Ole Miss. This would end favorably. This wouldn't end with Hugh Freeze, right?

Early on, names like Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez, Baylor's Art Briles, Alabama's Kirby Smart and Houston's Kevin Sumlin were suggested and eventually rumored to be interested in the position. All sorts of justifications were tossed about in order to convince ourselves that we were a worthy suitor for any of the above. ("He'd like to prove himself in the SEC." "He's just waiting for a head coaching gig." "He wants to be in Oxford, y'all, because it's awesome 'n' stuff.") We were most certainly going to make that "big splash" hire and get the guy that we wanted, the guy that we could put our full faith in as the next head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels. We went so far as to know that this would happen, allowing us to put our program in a position to start succeeding again.

Yet none of that happened. Instead, the guy we knew would be available to us all along turned out to be the guy for the job. And we were upset by this. We all were.

I do find it hard to believe that Archie Manning, Mike Glen, and Dan Jones conspired to put forth the facade of conducting an actual, nationwide, intense coaching search only to hire Hugh Freeze. I am fully convinced that they did their due diligence with this search, and do believe that they were in a situation where they were both impressed with what Hugh Freeze was selling them and left with few real options for a head coach, after all other potential suitors moved on or decided against Ole Miss. I think anyone attempting to convince themselves of something other than that are simply again falling for the feelings which caused us to believe that big names actually wanted to be with us to begin with - and that's okay.

We love Ole Miss. We love Oxford, and the Grove, our charm, our good looks, our odd Southern way of doing whatever it is that makes us us. It is out of this love for Ole Miss that we see such lofty aspirations and high, unrealistic goals for this football program and how we feel others should perceive it. There's really nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, it's just that we all allowed such to cloud our otherwise reasonable judgment.

In short, our gig really isn't all that desireable right now, especially to coaches who would want to use Ole Miss to either repair a sollied image (Mike Leach, Rich Rod) or improve their stock as a rising star in the football coaching world (Kevin Sumlin, Kirby Smart). That's how far we've fallen. That's how big this mess is. We needed someone who loved Ole Miss for the same stupid reasons we do to take this job, and not because the job itself will be all that easy or glorious. In hindsight, I'm glad that's exactly what we got.

So here we are, with a young, passionate, motivated, articulate-ish and supposedly innovative head football coach whose two largest misgivings are that he's inexperienced and closely associated with Ed Orgeron, Pete Boone, and the Touhy's. We'll be asking him to guide a broken football program to some sort of semblance of respectability, all while offering him middle-of-the-pack SEC facilities with bottom-of-the-barrell fan support and compensation. And many of us still think that, under these conditions, we should be afforded an audience in front of which to simultaneously choose and beg.

Let's come to grips with where this program is and what was and is available to us to fix it. Let's entertain the idea that Hugh Freeze just might be the best option for us right now. Let's get comfortable with the fact that he is our football coach and we will, despite idle proclamations of weakened fan support, still spend an undue amount of time and money supporting his football team next fall.

Let's realize that we can't be with the one we love; let's love the one we're with.

Welcome back to Oxford Coach Freeze. Give us a reason to stifle our criticisms, reservations, and self-loathing. Hotty Toddy.

*Yeah, we have a lot to do with that. We regret nothing. That's kinda what we're here for anyway.