Following the surprise announcement that head football coach Hugh Freeze was resigning, Ross Bjork emphasized throughout the attendant presser that the decision was completely independent of the NCAA investigation. That’s no good for a program that’s hoping to get out from under serious NCAA sanctions, as distance from the man in charge would seem to have no positive effect on the NCAA’s case against Rebel football.
The news bombshell heading into the presser was that Freeze made a call to an escort service, and that was the basis of the resignation.
While Bjork and Vitter made sure to not release details of what they found about Freeze’s personal life, the press conference made it easier to piece together a timeline. It was fairly clear that a records request for six days in January 2016 came from the Houston Nutt lawsuit.
“I think we all know the outlet by now...they were looking for some sort of discovery as to who he was talking to. They asked for my phone records as well.”
After finding a concerning call from Freeze that lasted less than a minute, they deemed it important to more fully assess his off-field behavior.
“We had an obligation to do the right thing, so we proactively looked into his phone records. In our analysis, we discovered a pattern of misconduct that was not consistent with the expectations of the leaders of our football program.
“Chancellor Vitter and I spoke with Coach Freeze last night to discuss the situation. He was very transparent and admitted the misconduct.”
According to Bjork, they made the decision earlier today that they needed to move on.
“Coach Freeze addressed the coaches and players within the last few hours and told them of his decision. As you can imagine, those were very raw, emotional, and tough meetings for our coaches and players.”
The athletic director then turned to the future to endorse interim head coach Matt Luke.
“Matt is a great coach. He’s a leader. He’s a rock. He’s an Ole Miss Rebel. I’m especially confident after watching him address the team that he will lead this program through this difficult time.
Wesley McGriff will be elevated to associate head coach. He’s an important voice and face for our program. He provides an enthusiasm that our program needs at this time.”
It’s important to note that this matter is not related to our NCAA case. We believe our response speaks for itself.”
Vitter emphasized that he fully supported Bjork: “Ross has continued to provide outstanding leadership, and I know he will handle this transition with integrity and the utmost care.”
The very first question, of course, was if he was referring to calls to escort services when talking about misconduct. Bjork said they needed to protect that information and that privacy was important. Evidently, it was serious enough that they had to cut ties immediately.
Bjork made sure to draw the line between this personal matter and the issue of compliance. When asked about whether he had any regret about putting so much trust in Freeze: “I believe he has an established record...in terms of how he ran the program around compliance, and we still believe in that.
“The team is the focus right now. I haven’t even thought about a search. We start practice in less than two weeks. There will be a lot of time to conduct a search for a permanent head coach.”
Aside from whatever final punishment the NCAA decides upon, the other source of anxiety will be the possibility of players transferring out of the program. Bjork, understandably, didn’t give away anything too substantive on that front, emphasizing that they had a game on September 2nd and that the players were locked in for that.
On the short list of certainties in the program’s future was Bjork’s assertion that there will be no buyout and no settlement, and they will be sure to field a full staff of nine assistants and a head coach.