By Sam Cooper and Nick Bromberg
Hugh Freeze’s wild tenure at Ole Miss, full of ups and downs, tumultuously came to an end Thursday night when it was revealed he used a university phone, at least once, to call an escort service. The school announced Freeze’s resignation just minutes before Yahoo Sports and USA Today reported the existence of the call.
How the call was located in Freeze’s phone records is a wild story in its own right. As Freeze’s program was investigated by the NCAA, he and others at the school were telling a familiar tale: Most of the NCAA violations were from the tenure of Houston Nutt, who preceded Freeze. That, of course, turned out not to be true, and Nutt wasn’t thrilled.
Amid Nutt’s defamation lawsuit against Freeze and Ole Miss, his attorney searched for calls to journalists but found something entirely different — a one-minute call to a Tampa, Florida, escort service. After it learned of the call, the school investigated further and found what it said was a “pattern of conduct.” From there, Freeze fessed up and resigned.
All of that just tells part of the wacky tale of the Hugh Freeze era. That’s where we come in to relay the top 10 moments — good, bad, ugly and weird — of a coach who went from NAIA Lambuth to Arkansas State to the SEC in just four years.
10. Sideline dance
We’ll start this thing on a lighter note because Ole Miss fans could probably really use some levity.
The 2015 season was a happier time for the Rebels. Freeze’s squad won 10 games in a season that was capped off by a thorough demolition of Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl. That win was a high point with the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations landing on the school’s doorstep later that month. But before all that, Freeze did a dance! And he did it poorly.
After an interception early in an October win over Auburn, Freeze did “The Whip.” Remember when that was a thing?
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) October 31, 2015
No “Nae Nae” followed, but look how happy he looks! Ah, simpler times.
9. SEC Media Days filibuster
The timing could not have been worse for Freeze’s turn at SEC Media Days last week. He already had to face the music of the NCAA case in Hoover last year. This time around, Freeze’s press conference came a day after Nutt’s defamation lawsuit hit the public.
In anticipation of the questions to come, Freeze’s opening statement lasted about 17 minutes of his 30-minute time slot. During his time at the podium, Freeze talked about “adversity” quite often.
“Facing adversity is something that we’re familiar with. It’s kind of been around us for a while now, and I sure will be glad for the day to when I can stand here and it’s not. It provides us, though, with a growing season. You can grow as an individual, as a coach. And, obviously, you have an opportunity to model for young men that are at an age where they get to see, you know, how does a man go through adversity,” Freeze said.
And on and on it went. Freeze went through most of his depth chart and finally ran out of steam by the time he reached his punting and long-snapping situation (“Chadwick Lamar and Jack Propst will battle it out”). From there he answered some questions, but he did all he could to avoid them.
8. Freeze’s mock funeral
Freeze had a, let’s say unique, way of trying to motivate his team for the 2016 season. He created what he said was a “funeral scene” for himself, and showed it to the team. We’ll let him explain:
A little dark, huh? And it looks even stranger with the culmination of events this week.
“I created my funeral scene. We don’t know when it happens but we won’t cheat death. And so I wrote on the screen here at our commitment service, ‘This is the result I want at my funeral.’ This is what I want my wife to say about me. This is what I want my kids to say about me. This is what I want my players to say about me. This is what I want my parents to say about me. And really, the rest of the people are probably, no offense, but insignificant. But is this what they’d say about me today?” Freeze asked.
“And if not, I have time to make sure my beliefs that are creating my behaviors are going to get me the result I want. And it’s the same way with a team. The same way with football players. What result do you want? Now are your behaviors going to get you there?”
7. Comparing an NCAA investigation to Jesus Christ
With the NCAA’s investigation casting a shadow over the program — on the recruiting trail, especially — one recruit said Freeze evoked Christ himself when trying to alleviate concerns about the wave of negative recruiting against the Rebels.
“Well, Coach Freeze told me when you’re that big and out there with faith in Christ, he’s like, ‘What do you expect? Jesus got nailed to the cross.’ So, he was just telling me sometimes things like that happen, but that’s never going to change how he’s going to treat his players and take care of them,” said Chevin Calloway, an eventual Arkansas signee, at the Under Armour Combine in December.
Freeze has long put forth the image of an extremely religious man. He often tweeted Bible passages and other messages of Christianity. Thursday’s revelation revealed that Freeze didn’t exactly practice what he so-often preached.
6. Laremy Tunsil’s gas mask
The first round of the 2016 NFL draft was supposed to be a night of celebration for Freeze and Ole Miss. Three of his prized recruits (more on that later) — Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche — were all expected to be picked in round one and Freeze was with them that night in Chicago. That came to fruition with Tunsil going No. 13, Treadwell going No. 23 and Nkemdiche going No. 29. But before that happened, Tunsil’s Twitter and Instagram accounts were mysteriously hacked.
On Twitter, a video of Tunsil smoking marijuana from a gas mask was sent out. Soon after, alleged text message conversations between Tunsil and Ole Miss staffers where Tunsil asks for money to pay his mother’s bills were posted on Instagram. Social media exploded and Tunsil, a projected top five pick, slid all the way to the Miami Dolphins at No. 13.
To make things worse, Tunsil subsequently confirmed the legitimacy of the conversations in his press conference just after being selected. Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel summed it up well in his post-draft column:
At his draft night news conference, first Tunsil denied that he took money from any coaches, then when asked again apparently admitted the accuracy of the Instagram-posted screenshots of texts between he and John Miller, an associate athletic director for football operations.
“I made a mistake,” Tunsil said. “A huge mistake. You know things happen.”
So, he was asked for clarity: Was there an exchange between you and your coach for money?
“I’d have to say, yeah,” Tunsil said.
That opened up another can of NCAA worms for Freeze and the Rebels. Though Tunsil’s apparent conduct wasn’t included, eight new charges were levied against Ole Miss in an updated Notice of Allegations.
5. Houston Nutt’s lawsuit
You can make a significant case that Nutt’s suit against Ole Miss and its now former coach could go No. 1. Because, after all, this is what led to Freeze’s resignation from Ole Miss on Thursday.
Instead, we’ll slot it just inside the top five. Nutt, who preceded Freeze at Ole Miss, alleged the school and his successor waged a public information war against him and attempted to pin the school’s NCAA violations as a product of Nutt’s program. Freeze, Nutt alleged, would call reporters off the record to tell them that Nutt’s program was really the one that ran afoul of NCAA guidelines.
That’s incorrect, of course. Of Ole Miss’ 13 football violations named by the NCAA, nine came while Freeze was the school’s head coach. No amount of misdirection was able to disguise that fact.
And given that the lawsuit has (in)directly led to Freeze’s resignation and hindsight being 20/20, it’s incredibly easy to wonder how Ole Miss would respond to the NCAA if it could do it all over again.
4. Victories over Alabama
Before Thursday, Freeze was just one of two active college football coaches with multiple victories over Alabama coach Nick Saban. The remarkable stat got even more remarkable with Freeze’s resignation. Only Ohio State’s Urban Meyer has more than a single victory over Saban’s Crimson Tide.
Freeze’s wins over Alabama came in 2014 and 2015. In 2014, the Rebels beat the Tide 23-17 in Oxford and vaulted up from No. 11 to No. 3 in the AP poll the following week. It was the only regular-season loss Alabama suffered all season.
In 2015, Ole Miss beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa in a game that was incredibly wild. And, as some Alabama fans may describe it, fluky.
Ole Miss built a 42-24 lead and hung on for a 42-37 win thanks to a couple of big plays including a 66-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chad Kelly to wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo that was tipped by Alabama defenders.
Oh, and Ole Miss scored 10 points off two Alabama fumbled kickoffs and 24 points off Alabama turnovers overall. It was the one and only start in 2015 for former Alabama quarterback Cooper Bateman, who was replaced by Jake Coker after he threw an interception.
The win was Ole Miss’ first on the road at Alabama since 1988 and the first time in school history the school had recorded consecutive victories over the Tide.
3. Tweets about NCAA violations
In 2013, Freeze tweeted “If you have facts about a violation, email firstname.lastname@example.org. If not, please don’t slander the young men.”
That tweet is funny from a college football coach, no matter who the coach is. That the coach was Freeze makes it even more hilarious four years later.
We’re of the mindset that coaches shouldn’t be actively promoting reports to its compliance department. University compliance departments have enough on their plates without siccing crazed fans of other schools on their email inboxes. And besides, if you have a program that has nothing to hide, simply being quiet seems like the most efficient way of going about things.
But as we learned throughout his tenure at Ole Miss, Freeze had a tendency to be very outspoken.
2. Ole Miss’ defense of Freeze amidst NCAA allegations
Until Thursday, Ole Miss was a staunch defender of Freeze and his program. Perhaps because of those recruiting classes that he was able to bring to Oxford.
In June, the school replied to the NCAA case against it. The NCAA charged Ole Miss and Freeze’s program with a lack of institutional control and cited Freeze’s lack of oversight of the program.
Ole Miss’ response made sure to fire back against the NCAA. Ole Miss said Freeze had no idea former football staffer Barney Farrar was breaking NCAA rules and that Farrar “purposefully and actively circumvented the University’s monitoring systems and disregarded his head coach’s repeated directives.”
In his response, Freeze said that he was “stunned” to learn of Farrar’s actions.
With regard to Farrar’s participation in volations, Coach Freeze was stunned and disgusted, remarking at one point, “I want to vomit.”
And on Monday, Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork had this to say about Freeze. What a difference a few days can make, huh?
Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork on *Monday* praising Freeze for promoting right atmosphere, "having the culture that's right for our university." pic.twitter.com/V1wl6x2AVF
— Jessica Benson (@Local24Jessica) July 21, 2017
1. Freeze’s resignation
Ultimately, the NCAA investigation into Freeze’s football program and any potential sanctions from it wasn’t what took down the coach.
After lawyers for Nutt found that Freeze had dialed a number connected to an escort service in 2016, Freeze resigned from the school Thursday after Ole Miss said it found a “pattern of conduct” from its now-former head coach.
Wednesday night, Ole Miss administrators met with Freeze about the unspecified pattern.
“Coach Freeze was very transparent, open, honest and admitted the conduct,” Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork said Thursday at a press conference discussing Freeze’s resignation.
During his media day filibuster (No. 9), Freeze discussed how he was trying to be the best husband and father he could be for his family and the best mentor he could be for the players in his program. It was a reference that, at the time, clearly referred to the issues surrounding the NCAA investigation at the school.
Now, it’s tough to look back at Freeze’s transcript and his remarks about “adversity” solely in the prism of the NCAA investigation. He told Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde on Wednesday that the call to the escort service was a misdial.
“I’ve got no idea, to be honest,” Freeze told Yahoo. “I was in an 813 area code and that was a 313 number, I think that might have been a misdial. I don’t think there was even a conversation. There’s nothing to it.”
Well, there was enough there, somewhere, to lead to his resignation.