Ole Miss preps for spoiler role

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT

HOOVER, Ala. — No mat­ter how many games the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­sis­sippi wins, the Rebels know this sea­son is end­ing Thanks­giv­ing night in Starkville, Miss.

Ole Miss is in­el­i­gi­ble for the SEC cham­pi­onship and won’t play in a bowl game as part of self-im­posed penal­ties an­nounced by the school ad­min­is­tra­tion, so the Rebels will stop play­ing Nov. 23 af­ter their reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale at Mis­sis­sippi State.

Other penal­ties in­clude the loss of a com­bined 11 schol­ar­ships over the next four years, and Ole Miss is for­feit­ing $7.8 mil­lion from its por­tion of the SEC’s post­sea­son rev­enue from last year.

The bowl ban is what hits

play­ers es­pe­cially hard as the Rebels pre­pare to open the sea­son against South Alabama on Sept. 2.

“Of course it sucks we can’t play for a bowl this year, but it doesn’t change the vi­sion,” Ole Miss sopho­more quar­ter­back Shea Pat­ter­son said at SEC foot­ball me­dia days last week. “We still have one goal and that’s to win.

“I be­lieve we can win a cham­pi­onship some­time. When­ever that is.”

Ju­nior de­fen­sive tackle Bree­land Speaks said the Rebels have to em­brace a spoiler role and try to keep the teams they’re play­ing from win­ning the SEC cham­pi­onship or go­ing to a bowl game.

“If we’re not go­ing, you’re not, ei­ther,” Speaks said at SEC me­dia days. “That’s our at­ti­tude.

“That’s what Coach Freeze has in­stilled in us, and if that’s what our head coach wants, then we’ve got to give it to him.”

Ex­cept Hugh Freeze isn’t the Rebels’ coach any­more.

Freeze resigned un­der pres­sure Thurs­day night, a week af­ter he ap­peared at SEC me­dia days with Pat­ter­son and Speaks.

“Ev­ery­body’s be­hind Coach Freeze at Ole Miss,” Pat­ter­son said at the time. “The team’s be­hind him, the ath­letic di­rec­tor and the chan­cel­lor are be­hind him. Ev­ery­body’s got his back.”

That might have been the case last week, but that was be­fore Ole Miss Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Ross Bjork and Chan­cel­lor Jef­frey Vet­ter said they dis­cov­ered a pat­tern of per­sonal mis­con­duct by Freeze that they de­ter­mined was un­ac­cept­able for their coach.

Nu­mer­ous me­dia out­lets re­ported an Ole Miss in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed Freeze made calls from an uni­ver­sity-is­sued cell­phone to an es­cort ser­vice.

The calls were dis­cov­ered as a re­sult of Hous­ton Nutt — the for­mer Arkansas coach who was Freeze’s pre­de­ces­sor at Ole Miss — and his Lit­tle Rock at­tor­ney, Thomas Mars, re­quest­ing phone records as part of a law­suit Nutt filed last week.

The law­suit ac­cuses Freeze and ath­letic depart­ment ad­min­is­tra­tors of en­gi­neer­ing a long-run­ning smear cam­paign with the me­dia to blame Nutt for the ma­jor­ity of al­leged NCAA rules vi­o­la­tions against Ole Miss.

Ole Miss has been served with a no­tice of 21 al­le­ga­tions from the NCAA, which in­cludes 17 com­mit­ted dur­ing Freeze’s ten­ure that started in 2012.

The NCAA charged Ole Miss with a lack of in­sti­tu­tional con­trol and Freeze of vi­o­lat­ing his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as coach, but the ad­min­is­tra­tion had shown sup­port for Freeze prior to giv­ing him what Bjork said was the choice of re­sign­ing or be­ing fired.

Bjork said Freeze’s res­ig­na­tion was not re­lated to the NCAA in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Matt Luke, the Rebels’ of­fen­sive line coach and co-of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, has been ap­pointed in­terim coach for this sea­son. He’s a for­mer Ole Miss player in his 10th sea­son as an as­sis­tant coach for the Rebels.

SEC me­dia picked the Rebels to fin­ish sev­enth in the SEC West, and that was be­fore Freeze’s res­ig­na­tion.

Re­cent his­tory sug­gests Ole Miss will strug­gle to win with an in­terim coach.

The Univeristy of Arkansas, Fayetteville was ranked No. 10 na­tion­ally go­ing into the 2012 sea­son, but the Ra­zor­backs fin­ished 4-8 un­der John L. Smith, who was hired as in­terim coach af­ter Bobby Petrino’s fir­ing.

South Carolina went 3-9 in 2015, in­clud­ing 1-5 un­der Shawn El­liott, an as­sis­tant who was pro­moted to in­terim coach af­ter Steve Spurrier resigned six games into the sea­son.

Rob­bie Cald­well was 2-10 as Van­der­bilt’s in­terim coach in 2010 af­ter Bobby John­son resigned shortly be­fore the sea­son.

Ole Miss will hope to do as well as LSU did last sea­son un­der in­terim coach Ed Org­eron, who went 6-2 af­ter Les Miles’ fir­ing to se­cure the job per­ma­nently.

Pat­ter­son said at SEC me­dia days the Rebels are fol­low­ing Freeze’s ad­vice

to worry about what they can con­trol as far as working hard to pre­pare for the sea­son and not fo­cus­ing on the NCAA in­ves­ti­ga­tion and bowl ban in par­tic­u­lar.

The post­sea­son ban for this sea­son was an­nounced by Ole Miss last win­ter.

“When it first hap­pened it was kind of dev­as­tat­ing, be­cause we all came here for one rea­son and that’s to win a na­tional cham­pi­onship,” Pat­ter­son said. “But all the ad­ver­sity has re­ally brought us to­gether.

“I think we’re go­ing to take that chip on our shoul­der and head into the sea­son with an added edge.”

That chip fig­ures to be feel­ing a lot heav­ier on the Rebels’ shoul­ders with Freeze’s res­ig­na­tion adding to the team’s other is­sues.

“We still get to go out and play in the best con­fer­ence in the coun­try,” Pat­ter­son said last week. “We’re re­ally look­ing for­ward to that.”

AP file photo

Matt Luke, for­merly Mis­sis­sippi’s co-of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and of­fen­sive line coach, was named the Rebels’ in­terim head coach Thurs­day when Hugh Freeze resigned af­ter five sea­sons as coach.

AP/BUTCH DILL

Ole Miss quar­ter­back Shea Pat­ter­son said at SEC me­dia days that the Rebels are wor­ry­ing about what they can con­trol and not fo­cus­ing on the NCAA in­ves­ti­ga­tion and bowl ban the team is fac­ing.

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