Hugh Freeze, in his first press conference of the 2017 spring football season, calmly and, at times, ambiguously responded to a barrage of questions on Tuesday regarding his involvement in the Ole Miss recruiting scandal.
“I’m grateful that the investigative part of the NCAA case is over and we can now move forward. I look forward to getting our response completed and submitted to the NCAA and getting in front of the Committee on Infractions,” Freeze said. “We’ll get our day to stand before the Committee on Infractions and be accountable for the things we agree with and hopefully share our perspective to change some of those.”
Freeze, head coach of the Rebels since 2012, did not appear to be overly concerned with the 21 allegations, 15 of which were level one offenses, put forth by the NCAA or the effect they’ll have on his program. Rather, he spoke of the experience as an opportunity for him and his players to grow.
“I get a remarkable opportunity to lead in a difficult time. This is a preparation for life. Life doesn’t always give you what you want. It’s all about perspective to me,” Freeze said.
If the NCAA chooses to stack punishments on top of already self-imposed sanctions, including a bowl ban and recruiting restrictions, Rebel football could be crippled for years. Thus, it should come as no surprise that many are inquiring about Freeze’s future as coach of the program. After all, allegations include a lack of institutional control and failure to monitor, perhaps the most damaging allegations of the 21, and place much of the blame on the head man himself. Freeze, however, feels comfortable at the helm of what some believe is a sinking ship.
“I’m not really concerned. I’ve got administrators who’ve watched me and how I do things closely for five years. They’ve supported me and been unwavering in that,” Freeze said.
The entire recruiting scandal, allegations and ensuing madness in Oxford have repeatedly called Freeze’s character into question.
“That’s the toughest part of this whole deal, really, is your integrity being questioned. Public opinion forms some people’s opinions. Your wife and kids have to read all that. Some’s true. Some’s not,” Freeze said. “Growing up in Tate County, you dream of a job like this. This certainly is not part of the dream. I never thought I’d go through something like this. It’s taught me that God is not near as concerned about my comfort as he is my character.”
The players, according to Freeze, have taken the situation in stride, which he said is remarkable because they seem like the real victims. Many turned down offers to play at other top tier universities, and their entire careers could be at stake. Still, Freeze says they remain optimistic.
“I was blown away with how they handled it,” Freeze said. “They said they’re going to make the most out of the 12 opportunities that we have. I haven’t seen any of our kids be negative toward anybody. They’ve all been positive about uniting.”
Over the weekend, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy referred to his team’s 48-20 Sugar Bowl loss to Ole Miss in 2015 as an “uneven playing field.” He felt the Rebels had certain advantages that created an “unfair” playing environment. Freeze, after being asked to respond to Gundy’s comments, expressed an unusual amount of confidence for a coach under investigation by the NCAA.
“Maybe we can meet up in another Sugar Bowl and see how that one goes, too,” Freeze responded on Tuesday.
The Rebels began spring practice on Tuesday, and one would have to think that returning to the simplicity of life on the field will serve as a refreshing change pace for a program that has had its fair share of troubles off the field recently.