Sit­u­a­tion grows hot­ter for Freeze, Ole Miss

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - WALLY HALL Read Wally Hall’s SPORTS BLOG Wal­ly­

HOOVER, Ala. — At a golf tour­na­ment in May, Ole Miss foot­ball Coach Hugh Freeze was asked about the NCAA in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rebels ath­let­ics, in­clud­ing 21 al­leged vi­o­la­tions against the foot­ball pro­gram.

Freeze, who was men­tioned in con­junc­tion with 17 of those vi­o­la­tions, turned and walked away with­out an­swer­ing.

He didn’t have that lux­ury Thurs­day here at SEC foot­ball me­dia days. In­stead, he re­lied on a tired trick: He fil­i­bus­tered.

Coaches are re­quired to spend 30 min­utes in the main me­dia room, which is where the news­pa­pers and ma­jor web­sites work.

Usu­ally, coaches make open­ing state­ments, gen­er­ally

four or five min­utes, and then take ques­tions. Nick Sa­ban’s opener usu­ally takes a lit­tle longer, but he’s won five na­tional cham­pi­onships.

Thurs­day, Freeze was the last of the 14 SEC foot­ball coaches to face the me­dia, and his open­ing state­ment lasted 16 min­utes. It might have been longer, but he ran out of ma­te­rial when he talked about who might be the team’s deep snap­per.

When he fi­nally opened it to ques­tions, our man Bob Holt asked the first one, and it was sim­ple: What was Freeze’s re­ac­tion to Hous­ton Nutt’s law­suit against Ole Miss?

“I would ab­so­lutely love to share my opin­ion on it,” he said. “Un­for­tu­nately, it’s a le­gal case, and I can’t com­ment.”

If any­one in the room be­lieved that, they were wear­ing Ole Miss blue and red.

It was ob­vi­ous Freeze was not com­fort­able Thurs­day, and while he praised his ad­min­is­tra­tion — one that seems to stick its neck out for him more ev­ery day — there was a wee bit of blame by say­ing, you have to be able to trust the peo­ple you hire. When asked about the drama around the pro­gram, he said, “Well, I mean we ob­vi­ously have cre­ated it in and around our pro­gram.”

There were a lot of “we,” “ours” and “us” in the 14 min­utes he used to an­swer eight ques­tions.

All told, he talked 28 of the 30 min­utes.

Ob­vi­ously, Ole Miss is guilty of some­thing. The school self-im­posed a bowl ban for this sea­son but is fight­ing a charge that Freeze failed to mon­i­tor his pro­gram — a ma­jor vi­o­la­tion.

At least Ole Miss has been de­fend­ing him, but for how long now that Nutt has sued for defama­tion? In the 20-page fil­ing, Freeze’s name was used more than 60 times. Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Ross Bjork’s name ap­peared 14 times.

Freeze started rais­ing eye­brows when his sec­ond re­cruit­ing class (2013) ranked sev­enth in the na­tion and in­cluded three five-star play­ers — one from Ge­or­gia, one from Florida and one from Illi­nois.

He fol­lowed that with classes that ranked 19th and 21st be­fore land­ing the No. 7 class again. That one, the 2016 class, is men­tioned promi­nently in Nutt’s law­suit, and it had two five-star re­cruits — one from Florida and one from Texas.

Ed Org­eron coached Ole Miss for three sea­sons, and he was lauded for his great re­cruit­ing. His classes ranked Nos. 30, 15 and 27.

Ox­ford, Miss., is a beau­ti­ful city and the Ole Miss cam­pus is ter­rific, but you have to pass a lot of other beau­ti­ful schools with more foot­ball tra­di­tion when you are trav­el­ing from Florida, Texas, Ge­or­gia or Illi­nois.

Ole Miss has sur­vived big­ger is­sues than a NCAA in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but that was be­fore this ad­min­is­tra­tion and be­fore so­cial me­dia.

After read­ing Nutt’s law­suit, it’s ap­par­ent Freeze and Bjork did things to make Nutt an­gry enough to fight Ole Miss in an Ox­ford court.

Right now, Ole Miss needs to look out for Ole Miss and get this drama over with sooner than later.

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