Ole Miss preps for spoiler role
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.”
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.
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.