Exclusive: Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze adamant 'I'm not tempted to cheat'

Hugh Freeze (AP)
Hugh Freeze (AP)

HOOVER, Ala. — Hugh Freeze will spend much of the day Thursday saying less than he’d like.

That’s the nature of being in the middle of the NCAA investigative machine, which is where Freeze and his Mississippi football program are currently. A Notice of Allegations was delivered to the school in January alleging 28 violations – 13 of them within the football program, nine during Freeze’s tenure. The investigation was reignited in April when first-round draft pick Laremy Tunsil’s phone was hacked and text messages implying that he was seeking money from an Ole Miss staffer were released on social media.

That secondary element of the investigation is ongoing, and the NCAA doesn’t want anyone discussing an ongoing investigation. The school’s lawyers concur. So there are weeks of no-comment answers from Freeze to questions about his program – and those questions will be plentiful at Southeastern Conference media days.

What Freeze would love to do is to address his critics, defend himself and fight back against the assertions that he’s running an outlaw program.

“That’s the hardest thing, when they call you a liar,” Freeze told Yahoo Sports on Thursday morning in a one-on-one interview before his media tour began. “I’m a lot of things, but I’m not tempted to cheat in recruiting. I’m just not. That doesn’t interest me at all.

“Now, can a coach control everything in this crazy atmosphere of college football? No. And we will answer for it. … I’m not running from the mistakes that were made, and we’ll be held accountable for them.

“When your name is being drug through the mud, it’s hard. But I’ve kind of come to [a] sweet spot with this. The audience I need to be concerned with is the Committee on Infractions. I can’t try to win the battle today.”

The date of Ole Miss’ hearing before the Committee On Infractions is yet to be determined. The additional Tunsil issues that arose draft night are still being sifted through, more than two months later. If there are additional charges against Ole Miss, they have yet to be presented. The school then would have several weeks to prepare a response and then a hearing date would be scheduled. So there is no end in sight.

“I ask weekly, at least,” Freeze said. “They’re still in the process of collecting documents. I’ve asked 100 times. The time frame is totally out of our control. … I hope they look at every single thing, and whatever it is, it is, and we get to the end of it.”

Freeze said he has no update on the status of staffers John Miller and Barney Farrar, both of whom were implicated in the alleged Tunsil text messages. In those messages, the offensive tackle is asking Miller – the Ole Miss assistant athletic director for football operations – for money. In one exchange, Miller directs Tunsil to Farrar, who is the school’s assistant athletic director for high school and junior college relations.

One staff issue Freeze did clarify to Yahoo Sports: former assistant recruiting coordinator Branden Wenzel’s February resignation was not related to any NCAA issues. Freeze said he was not at liberty to discuss why Wenzel left the school. Wenzel now works in the private sector in the Atlanta area and did not answer Yahoo Sports’ attempts to reach him this spring.

Freeze said his staff is informed repeatedly about his expectations for running a clean program.

“I know what my staff hears from me every single day,” he said. “I know what our players hear. On our campus and in our building, there is an atmosphere of compliance. They’re all around us every single day. We preach it.

“We’ll see what is factual and what was innuendo from people trying to tear us down. … We have to go through a trial by fire before you get to the trial that matters.”