Most of the college football world has made up its mind about the alleged cheating going on in Oxford, and a few well-rehearsed talking points from the head coach wasn't going to change that. Indeed, Hugh Freeze had no way of improving his program's image in the eyes of a judgmental public -- but give him credit for not making things worse.
Dan Mullen's bumbling, tone-deaf defense of the Jeffery Simmons decisions on Tuesday underscored the reality that saying the wrong thing can certainly inflame a negative PR story, and Ole Miss' public handling of the NCAA drama has had its own mis-steps: Freeze issuing his infamous come-at-me-bro Twitter challenge, folks within the athletic program repeatedly leaking info that understated the allegations, Laremy Tunsil slipping up during his post-draft interview.
On Thursday in Hooever, however, a composed, assertive and well-prepared Freeze avoided any potential pitfalls during press conference and various interviews.
There's no update on the NCAA investigation.
Freeze avoided getting into details, falling back on the line that investigation is running through Ross Bjork and the athletic department.
"I have zero update," Freeze told reporters prior to his press conference, per The Clarion-Ledger. "Obviously, our response is out in the allegations and it stands on its own. Obviously, we can't discuss any ongoing matters. That's one of the frustrating things, but out of respect for the process, you can't do it.
"I... did not get any concrete answer. It's moving, I think. I'm not involved with the fact-finding at this point. I think it is moving, but it would be a total guess, and that's exactly what Ross told me yesterday, it would be a total guess if we started talking about timeline."
He doesn't forsee making any changes on his staff.
There have been plenty of rumors that recruiting coordinator Barney Farrar and assistant AD John Miller -- both of whom were implicated in the leaked Tunsil texts -- would be canned. Freeze said he had no such moves planned (a good sign that the NCAA's followup investigation hasn't turned up hard proof of the pay-for-play allegations) but did say he was prepared to do so if necessary.
But I will if need be. My guys know the expectations, and I'm certainly far from perfect, as many of you know. But one area that is not a temptation for me is to cut corners to try to have success. That doesn't interest me at all, and my staff knows that. I'm not talking about you don't make a mistake, and that's the neat thing that we'll have when we get to go in front of the Committee of Infractions. We'll get to discuss some of the things that led to that (mistake) that are not quite as cut and dry as it might be in some people's eyes. But it's still a mistake that we have to be accountable for.
Freeze said he hopes Laremy Tunsil is cooperating with the NCAA, which is comically untrue.
"I can't get into that case, but it's probably not very typical for a kid that has left a program to continue to cooperate, and I'm hopeful that that's the case here," he said when asked whether Tunsil was talking to investigators. "I think that would speak volumes if that was the case."
LOL nope you are not hopeful of that, Hugh. I'd imagine by now Tunsil's voicemail sounds something like "Hey NCAA GTFO I'm rich now."
He's trying to keep the investigation from becoming a distraction.
Tunnel vision. What keeps me up at night right now is Florida State's defensive line. It really is. You can control what you can control. Like I've said from the beginning, the time and place for us to be held accountable is coming. I don't know when. For us to share our view of things is coming. But the only thing I can control is when that happens, so in the meantime, when I look those kids in the eyes — the ones who have nothing to do with all this stuff that have worked tirelessly to become a relevant program in this country — that is what motivates me. They are the ones that are important — the relationship with them and what they become as a player and a man and a student-athlete. Those are the things that are really important. Whatever we did wrong, we should be held accountable if there are things. We should, and we will be. But the time for that to be decided is not in articles or me trying to have another interview. Some of you want me to talk, some of you don't. I can't win either way, and I'm not trying to argue the case. But I am arguing that our core values are important to us. They'll never stop being important to us. Those kids keep me focused.
The media in the main room really didn't lay on much heat.
Only half of the 12 questions asked of Freeze during his press conference were related to the NCAA or Tunsil, and with the exception of an expected sizzler from one Dan Wolken (which Freeze handled well), none of them were particularly tough.
The highlight was Chuck Rounsaville from the Ole Miss Spirit, decked out in a Rebel hat and a powder blue PFG shirt, standing to toss some softball or another. Twitter got a kick out of that.
Guy in Ole Miss hat and an Ole Miss shirt asking a question to Hugh Freeze. Love you, SEC Media Days.— Zach Barnett (@zach_barnett) July 14, 2016
*reporter in Colonel Reb mascot costume stands up*— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) July 14, 2016
"Coach Freeze, why is Ole Miss so great?"
"Wow, that’s a great question."
He regrets making that dumb come-at-me-bro Twitter challenge two years ago.
"Sometimes you make decisions that probably aren't the sharpest. I said that with sincerity, but... I regret doing it, absolutely."