Hugh Freeze finally committed an offense that Ole Miss couldn’t defend.
Freeze tendered a shocking resignation Thursday, not because of the pot of boiling water the school finds itself in amid a years-long NCAA investigation but because of a “pattern of personal misconduct.”
No one at Ole Miss would say what that pattern was, but it reportedly stemmed from a call Freeze made to an escort service. That led Ole Miss to dig into the rest of Freeze’s phone records, and that opened the trap door beneath the pricey loafers he was able to afford with his $4.7 million salary.
Mississippi football coach Hugh Freeze resigned Thursday after university officials found a …
That the initial call came to light was reportedly because former coach Houston Nutt’s attorney brought it to Ole Miss’ attention. And Nutt has an attorney in contact with Ole Miss because he has filed a defamation lawsuit against the school and Freeze for what Nutt termed a smear campaign against him over some of the program’s 21 alleged NCAA violations.
So, you see, the NCAA mess claimed Freeze after all — just in a way no one quite expected.
"The Blind Side," indeed.
Can't see the video below? Click here.
“You can’t survive a personal scandal when you’re already on thin ice,” ESPN’s Rece Davis aptly summed up Thursday night.
Just over a year ago on "The Paul Finebaum Show,” Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork put his reputation on the line in Freeze’s defense.
“I’ve never been around a man who runs his program with as high a level of character and integrity,” Bjork said then.
The Ole Miss A.D. should be checking the deck beneath his feet now, too.
Thursday, a grim-faced Bjork declined to specify what defined Freeze's personal misconduct at his school’s hastily called news conference. But he did say Freeze was going to resign or be fired, and he did say Ole Miss will not have to buy out Freeze’s contract.
It isn’t even a challenge to connect those dots. The one thing Ole Miss doesn’t have to worry about is Freeze suing for wrongful termination.
If Ole Miss didn’t know about Freeze’s personal conduct, it’s likely because it didn’t want to know. It had a winning coach in hand, someone who looked like he could be winner at Ole Miss for a long time, giving the school consistency and respect in football that it has desperately longed for since probably all the way back to the 1960s.
Talking to reporters who cover Ole Miss last week at SEC media days, there was speculation that even if Freeze had to serve some sort of suspension as part of the NCAA sanctions, the school might have been willing to let him sit in some football version of a penalty box, bringing him back once his sentence was up.
That won’t be the case now. Ole Miss was willing to put up with a lot, but apparently not everything.
Some immediately speculated whether jettisoning Freeze would help Ole Miss with the NCAA Committee on Infractions — a committee chaired by a recused SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, by the way.
Perhaps that’s true. But if the speculation can be reasonably proved that Ole Miss was going to keep Freeze’s motor home idling in the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium parking lot until, ahem, the heat was off, that will not sit well with the committee. That would demonstrate an unrepentant flouting of the rules.
Either way, Ole Miss’ football program is sinking to the bottom of the SEC West for the foreseeable future. Imagine the Titanic scraping the iceberg on its starboard side and striking an undersea mine to port.
One last point: Ole Miss quickly moved to promote co-offensive coordinator and former Rebels center Matt Luke to interim head coach. Given the school’s proximity to the start of preseason camp, it was probably all Ole Miss could do.
But the school could have, and still possibly could, serve itself well by calling Les Miles for help.
The former LSU coach is without team this fall. Miles certainly has his detractors, but it’s hard to dispute that, when he found himself and his program smack in the middle of a crisis as he began his LSU tenure in 2005, a crisis brought about by Katrina and Rita, he led LSU exceptionally well.
Ole Miss now faces a hurricane largely of its own doing, and it’s doubtful many a coach will want to hitch his career wagon to the Rebels’ troubled star.
But Miles might. Once the Freeze scandal thaws, it may be worth considering.