Amid the blood-curdling chaos swirling about and above Oxford, Miss. at the moment, one rather quiet question lurks in need of an answer. The NCAA’s four-year proctology examination of the Ole Miss athletics program has bubbled up some of the worst elements in collegiate athletics, and at the center of this firestorm stands — or stood — head football coach Hugh Freeze.
One could forcibly argue that Freeze is the spark that ignited this whole Mississippi burning in the first place. After all, he rocketed off that tweet so long ago challenging anyone and everyone to report evidence of recruiting malfeasance to the Ole Miss compliance office. Smart move, that. So smart, in fact, that he in the end deleted said missive, but not before a deluge of abuse, ridicule, and outright trolling that surely caused Ross Bjork severe headaches.
Then in 2016, Freeze got his wish when the NCAA stomped down on him and his team with a Notice of Allegations that cited 13 compliance violations, some of which dated back to the Houston Nutt administration. Then in February 2017, the NCAA alerted Ole Miss to eight new allegations — all involving the football program, and all linked to Freeze’s tenure. Nutt sued the school and athletics foundation in retaliation for Freeze and others badmouthing him out on the recruiting trail.
A month later, Freeze resigned his post for reasons unrelated to the NCAA probe. He apparently called a Tampa based escort service on multiple occasions, which gave Bjork and the university cause for termination. So he stepped down. It was time, and he’d already reached his zenith with Ole Miss football.
And yet, the question still remains: why didn’t they shitcan him months ago? After the first NOA? Or the second? Why stand so hard by a guy under whom so much NCAA sewage had passed and was passing? Why stick out your neck for someone who so publicly, epically humiliated you? Why, for that matter, did this very sports blog run an op-ed arguing for Freeze’s continued employment mere hours before the resignation was announced? Why did this very editor pass his eyes over said post and give the green light? Why?
He beat Alabama twice
Almost no one else in the country can boast a feat of that nature. The champions of the SEC, and the national champions as recently as 2015 fell hard to the Rebels in Oxford in 2014, then at home in Tuscaloosa a year later. Ole Miss made bonkers plays and white-knuckled their way to the finish line and everyone was happy.
Meanwhile, recruits were receiving impermissible benefits, escort services were receiving regular phone calls from Freeze, Laremy Tunsil may or may not have been having his utility bills paid for, and whatever other nefarious acts attending a high-profile collegiate football program were going on. Never mind all that — they still picked off ‘Bama, though. Roll Tide.
Firing him in the course of the NCAA mess would have looked like an admission of guilt
Here then lies the palace intrigue within the athletics department and the Freeze-Bjork-Vitter triad in particular. Did Freeze the rhetorician convince the other two of his rectitude, honesty, and innocence? Did the Bjork-Vitter side of the triumvirate feel the overwhelming need to save face after standing so long and hard by their man? Would letting Freeze go have freed him up to spill the tea to the NCAA in the future?
In the end, at least according to Bjork and Vitter’s telling, Freeze’s resignation had nothing to do with the NCAA. Freeze stepped away — with undoubtedly a very strong nudge from his chancellor and AD — because of a failure in personal comportment. A sustained and demonstrated pattern of questionable behavior that proved embarrassing to the university and her powers that be. He called an escort service regularly, whether for himself or others it doesn’t matter. He did so, and in deep south Mississippi, that does not pass muster.
Even so, there are really two inflection points when Freeze could have — should have? — gotten the ax. Last summer after the initial NOA, yes, but to a greater extent sometime soon after the February second letter. Fans — this website and editorial board as well — stood in there and argued vehemently for keeping him on, but with the hindsight and oversight of the last two-to-four years, the writing was on the wall. He, his subordinates, the whole project reeks of deceit and fraud.
At least now the university doesn’t have to eat his contract.