Head Coach Hugh Freeze made the first major staff changes during his tenure in Oxford, and neither side of the football was spared. A little over a week after it was announced that Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack would not return for the 2017 season, Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner was let go. Here are some things you may have missed over the break.
1. Ole Miss hires Phil Longo as offensive coordinator:
Longo arrives in Oxford by way of Sam Houston State, where he led the most prolific offense in the FCS for three seasons. Longo comes from the Mike Leech coaching tree and runs an air-raid offense with a little more emphasis on running the football. Longo is known for making life easier on his quarterback by putting a lot of pre-snap responsibilities and reads on the receivers. It’s his first crack at the FBS level, and he’s stepping into a pretty good situation with Shea Patterson at quarterback and a stable of receivers.
2. Wesley McGriff comes in to run the defense: McGriff is making his second stop in Oxford after coaching the defensive backs during Freeze’s first year at Ole Miss. After stints with the New Orleans Saints and Auburn, McGriff will give it a go as a coordinator for the first time. He’s known as a strong recruiter and is a good fit, seeing that Ole Miss has a good bit of young talent in the secondary that needs to be developed. Myles Hartsfield, Deontay Anderson, Jalen Jones and Jaylon Julius got thrown into the fire this year as freshmen, but that experience coupled with McGriff’s presence should help sure up what was a weakness for Ole Miss in 2016.
3. Rebels miss on Cam Akers: The ongoing NCAA investigation has killed Ole Miss recruiting, and prized Clinton running back Cam Akers choosing Florida State over Ole Miss and others on Dec. 27 was the latest example of that. Akers’ commitment was streamed by thousands, most of whom watching in Mississippi were disappointed to see him choose the Seminoles. Akers was considered by many to be the best running back prospect this state has produced since Marcus Dupree, and he would have been an immediate game changer for a program looking for any form of offseason momentum. This 4-year long investigation doesn’t have a clear end date in sight, and it his taken a toll on the Rebels’ recruiting efforts.
4. New position coaches: Ole Miss has experienced a lot of staff turnover this offseason, and the most rapid example came when ex-Oregon offensive coordinator Matt Lubick agreed to become the Rebels’ next receivers coach (his second stint in Oxford) but bolted to Waco, Texas, a few days later to become Baylor’s next offensive coordinator. It was a promotion for Lubick, and a hard one to turn down at that. Freeze and Longo then replaced him with Jacob Peeler, who spent the four previous seasons at Cal.
Defensively, McGriff said when he was hired that he wanted to bring in a coach who specialized in stopping the run, and he did just that by hiring Bradley Dale Peveto to coach the linebackers. Peveto has been around the block a time or two, with stints as an assistant at Arkansas, Kentucky and LSU, where he won the national championship in 2007. He’s also been a head coach at the FCS level and is known for being a strong recruiter. Ole Miss rounded out its staff by hiring Tray Scott as its defensive line coach. Scott spent the previous two seasons coaching the defensive line at North Carolina and has been on Freeze’s staff before.
It’s been a busy offseason for the Rebels, and the new staff will have its work cut out for it as it tries to piece together a recruiting class leading into signing day. These next few weeks leading up to National Signing Day will likely be the most crucial period in this offseason for Ole Miss.