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Thursday Answer: The One With the 4.25 Million Dollar Contract

Tuesday, I asked whether Hugh Freeze was worth his contract. Today, I'll give my opinion on the subject.

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There seemed to be two branches of answers to Tuesday's question: answers that talked about what Hugh Freeze had done and answers that actually looked at the financial impact of 4.25 million dollars. I got texts from people about both factors, including a friend who calculated how much the average salary for a Power 5 coach win 9+ wins in the previous season (3.6 mm).

By that line of reasoning, Freeze would definitely NOT be worth the contract he just received. Those aforementioned coaches earning 3.6 million dollars on average also averaged nearly 11 wins the year before. So if we simply look at things that way, no. Hugh Freeze is overpaid by nearly one million dollars under those parameters.

But I think that the real question doesn't hinge on other coaches or even really the actual dollar figure. The real question is: "Is Hugh Freeze worth giving a whole bunch of money to?"

So that's what I'm going to spend this time on: what has Freeze done as a coach, what is the program trajectory, and is Ole Miss smart to be paying him like a top ten coach?

What Freeze Took Over

Any discussion about Freeze's worth has to touch on what he inherited. The program was in shambles when he stepped in as head coach. The fans were unengaged. The team had just gone 2-10 without a player on roster who many fans believed would ever play in the NFL. They didn't have much talent anywhere, but they especially didn't have a quarterback or any offensive weapons (Tobias Singleton was second on the running back depth chart during Freeze's first spring).

More than that, the athletic department was a mess. There was a lame duck athletic director. There was a downturn in athletic giving. The facilities weren't where they needed to be. Suffice it to say, Freeze had a tremendously difficult job on his hands. He was working with a program with little to no history of winning, and half the fans absolutely hated him, seeing his hire as just more of the same "good ole boy" goings on of Ole Miss.

Freeze's Response

Freeze managed to sign Bo Wallace, an immediate impact player at quarterback who could enroll in January and learn the offense for a semester before having to start. In his first season, Freeze led the team to an improbable 7-6 finish, setting the stage for his biggest coup to date: signing a recruiting class the likes of which Ole Miss had never seen.

He knew he needed to get talent on campus quickly, and he and his staff did everything in their power to make that happen. They brought in five players who would make a tremendous instant impact, winning starting jobs as true freshmen and being named to various All-SEC and All-American teams as sophomores.

It's difficult to argue that what Hugh Freeze did in his first year and two months on the job was anything short of miraculous.

Year Two

Year two saw the Rebels go 7-5, losing dumbfounding games to Missouri and Mississippi State to end the regular season but beating a top ten LSU team earlier in the year. The team wasn't quite as much fun to watch as they had been in year one, but the Rebels were still very good and obviously improved on their record. There simply wasn't as big of a level of surprise like there had been in the unfathomable bowl year during Freeze's first season.

Still, the team was young, and there was tremendous promise heading into the offseason.

Freeze and his staff took a significant step back in recruiting, signing a class that was full of athletes who will ultimately contribute to the Rebels but one that was short of immediate star players (Marquis Haynes excluded).

This Season

In Freeze's third and most recent season, Ole Miss went 9-4, upsetting Alabama but losing, in devastating fashion, two of its final three games (excluding FCS Presbyterian College) by a combined score of 72-3.

The recruiting class appears to be alright but not great. There's still time for that to turn around, but some prospects who appear to be leaning elsewhere would need to change their minds quickly for the group to be significantly better than the underwhelming 2014 class.

So far, the problems everyone sees in the program (the running game, general play of the offensive line, linebacker recruiting, quarterback development) don't appear to have been solved. More than that, there hasn't been a visible push to resolve those issues outside of recruiting. Freeze said recently that he doesn't expect staff changes other than his recent promotion of a graduate assistant to replace Tom Allen as linebackers coach.

The Verdict

All things considered, it's obvious that hiring Freeze has been a success. I have very strong and reasonable sources who suggest Florida wanted to hire Freeze, regardless of what their athletic director says after-the-fact. Still, one has to wonder whether paying such a tremendous amount of money is warranted, based on a perceived sense of complacency of sorts. This offseason saw Texas A&M, Auburn, and Georgia make significant staff changes, but Freeze has stood pat with a glaring issue in the running game. Time will, inevitably, tell whether that was justified. I've seen people calling for the head of Matt Luke, and that could potentially be the answer. It could also not be, though. What if the problem really will be remedied by a class full of star offensive linemen (like the one the Rebels are building now)? We, as fans, can't totally diagnose the problem. We can simply recognize it.

If Hugh Freeze ultimately solves it, however that may be, he would be worth every penny. The rest of the team is ready to go. But if he stubbornly does nothing to improve something that has been a glaring weakness for the past three years, it will be a sign that the big contract was big mistake.

Let me be clear. I like Hugh Freeze a lot. I want him to succeed, and so far he has. He has done a remarkable job, and retaining him was important to building continuity within the program. But right now, his legacy is still defined by that 2013 recruiting class, and most of the impact players from that group are likely to leave after next season. If there's little to show for their time at Ole Miss, save for a nine win season or two, and Freeze isn't able to replace them (somewhat), the administration could look pretty foolish two or three years down the road when they're paying an offensive-minded coach 4.25 million dollars to go 6-6 or 7-5 with a one-dimensional offense.

I actually anticipate that things will work out and Ole Miss fans will be happy with Freeze (for at least a while), but there are issues he needs to fix. When you're getting paid top ten money, you're compared to other coaches in the same salary bracket. At some point, that has to yield something of significance, like a trip to Atlanta... playing against another SEC team.