clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Hugh Freeze showed a willingness to change, and it paid off with a Sugar Bowl trip

New, 32 comments

After the Memphis loss, Rebel fans were up in arms over Freeze's perceived stubbornness. But some key adjustments -- like handing over play calling and letting Chad Kelly run more -- saved the season.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Early in the season, Ole Miss fans noticed problems with the football team: the interior of the offensive line couldn't get any push, the secondary played too far off their receivers, and the coaches continually tried to use strange gadget plays even when the rest of their offense was already working. Chad Kelly was inexplicably pulled out of games due to some perceived difficulty taking the snap from under center and handing it to someone behind him. The coaches were making third and fourth down calls that were counter to everything they saw each game, constantly running similar plays to those that had already failed countless times.

Lots of people called the staff out on Twitter and in the blogosphere. At halftime of the Memphis game, I honestly melted down. I thought the coaches were just too stubborn to ever get over the proverbial hump. I couldn't envision a scenario in which they would finally learn from their mistakes. At that point, things didn't look very good for Ole Miss, and some people went so far as to suggest the Rebels could lose their final five games and miss a bowl. Luckily, I didn't go quite that far. I did, however, anticipate the Rebels would finish the season at 6-6 or 7-5.

Then, the inexplicable happened. Hugh Freeze gave up playcalling duties to Dan Werner. He continued to help devise the packages the team would use, but he apparently allowed Werner to call nearly 90 percent of the plays. The offense exploded. The rushing attack drastically improved due in large part to Laremy Tunsil's return, admittedly, but it was more than just that. Chad Kelly started to scramble more and had more designed runs called for him. The coaches found success in Akeem Judd's ability to find holes after a stutter step that became his signature. Kelly threw the ball to Laquon Treadwell and Damore'ea Stringfellow more. Jeremy Liggins and Robert Nkemdiche stopped having offensive plays called designed around getting them the football.

I have to say it really came out of left field for me. "Stubborn" was a term I constantly used to describe Freeze through the offseason, and I believe until a few weeks ago it was an accurate descriptor. That changed, though. Freeze showed a willingness to recognize faults and try to rectify them. Certainly, the coaching staff still makes mistakes (like going for it on fourth-and-6 at midfield against Arkansas with 20 seconds left in the game), but things are better.

I imagine it was a difficult decision for Freeze to let someone else be the play caller. He has been incredibly successful doing as much in his career, calling plays at every stop since he left Ole Miss in 2007. It may be that his biggest strengths, though, are in game preparation and recruiting. Perhaps it's better for someone else to be actually implementing his game plans. That doesn't make him a faulty coach. Nick Saban doesn't call plays either. That's not something vital to the evaluation of a coach. When it comes down to it, a coach's legacy is based on wins and losses. Freeze has now shown a mature willingness to analyze his flaws and work through them. That's a welcomed shift.