I stepped on to the Ole Miss football beat for The Daily Mississippian at the beginning of the 2010 football season and immediately realized that the Ole Miss football program, which had won 18 games and back-to-back Cotton Bowls over the past two seasons, was headed in a drastically different direction.
The Rebels lost 49-48 that day in double overtime against Jacksonville State, and my first game on the beat was the beginning of the downfall of head coach Houston Nutt.
Ole Miss won just a combined six games over the 2010 and 2011 seasons, losing games to teams like Jacksonville State and Louisiana Tech. Discipline issues and attrition took a toll on Ole Miss’ team depth and chemistry.
The football program had stagnated under Nutt, and the athletics department had done the same under then-athletics director Pete Boone.
Fast forward to today, as the Rebels await a Sunday announcement on which bowl the team will be headed to, and there is nothing stagnant about the Ole Miss football program and the athletics department.
The school made a home-run hire in luring current athletics director Ross Bjork from Western Kentucky. Bjork pumped energy and creativity into the department, transforming the atmosphere at all Ole Miss sporting events and around every program.
On the football field, the Rebels’ choice of Hugh Freeze has so far proved to be a good one, and Freeze and his staff have turned the program around in just under a year.
Freeze recruited a junior college quarterback named Bo Wallace, who promptly put up one of the more prolific offensive seasons in Ole Miss history.
Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack turned a young and untested defense into an average unit built around the speed and desire to win, from players like 5-foot-10, 200-pound redshirt freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche.
The Rebels still have a long way to go, but the difference in attitude and atmosphere around the football program is strikingly different. Freeze has the Rebels headed in the right direction, that much I can say.
I’ve enjoyed my time on the Ole Miss football beat. It was never something I expected to have any interest in doing or have the opportunity to do, but I’m grateful for getting the chance to do so.
I want to say thank you to all of the editors and sports editors during my time at the paper, as they’ve somehow managed to shape what I write into something legible.
I also want to thank all the readers of The DM for reading, sharing, commenting on and criticizing my contributions to the paper.
A paper is nothing without its readers, and I’m grateful that so many people have read and enjoyed my work.
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