When Dave Wommack announced his retirement hours before his defense was eviscerated in the Egg Bowl, Ole Miss fans immediately began dreaming about big-name replacements who could help turn around a unit that ranked 77th in defensive S&P+ in 2016. Rumored candidates ranged from Charlie Strong (who was hired as USF’s head coach over the weekend) to Tom Allen (promoted to head coach at Indiana) to Jim Leavitt (snatched up by Oregon as DC). In the end, however, Freeze reached for the type of candidate that has historically filled his staff: a former assistant.
Ole Miss made the official announcement on Friday morning that its next defensive coordinator will be Auburn defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff, who spent a season on Freeze’s staff in 2012.
Freeze will likely be criticized by Rebel fans for once again staying inside his inner circle and for hiring someone with no DI experience as a defensive coordinator (in the mid-90s, he was a coordinator for DII Kentucky State). Realistically, though, Freeze’s options were limited. Established names like Strong and Leavitt were probably pipe dreams considering the ongoing NCAA investigation. It’s likely that Allen, who coached under Freeze at Lambuth, Arkansas State and Ole Miss, was the first choice; but that plan was dismantled when Indiana abruptly fired head coach Kevin Wilson and promoted Allen in his stead.
Ole Miss also filled its offensive coordinator spot on Thursday, hiring Phil Longo away from FCS powerhouse Sam Houston State. Longo has no connection to Freeze and an established track record as a coordinator, though none at the FBS level.
Rebels AD Ross Bjork said Friday that McGriff has signed a three-year deal worth $3.3 million. Longo will make $1.3 million over two years.
McGriff may not have outright DI coordinator experience, but he was listed as a co-defensive coordinator at Ole Miss, where he also coached defensive backs and helped tutor Trae Elston to an SEC All-Freshman selection. After leaving Oxford, McGriff spent time as an NFL defensive backs coach with the Saints. In 2009 with Miami, he coached All-America defensive back Brandon Harris and future NFL players Kenny Phillips and Sam Shields. He coached current San Diego Charger Casey Hayward at Vanderbilt in 2011, a year the Commodores’ secondary snagged 12 interceptions.
McGriff is also renowned as an elite recruiter, having helped bring in Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner and Devante Kincade in his lone season in Oxford.