Freeze disgraces what he stood for
FAYETTEVILLE — If Burt Lancaster lived today he would be bombarded with Elmer Gantry remake scripts converting the disgraced, Bible-thumping evangelist to a disgraced, Bible-thumping college football coach.
Unlike Elmer Gantry, based on the Sinclair Lewis novel with Lancaster’s portrayal winning him the 1960 Best Actor Oscar and winning the movie Best Picture, Lancaster’s role would not be based on fiction if he could play versions available today.
Fired Baylor coach Art Briles and now just-resigned-underpressure Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze live with the vast talents for coaching football offense that Lancaster’s Gantry displayed with his charismatic gift of gab.
Like Lancaster’s Gantry, Briles and Freeze spouted Scripture to piously self-serving degrees while operating football programs apparently far from holy.
Briles from 2008-15 went 65-37 at Baylor, 50-15 for his last five years. In 2014 he authored the book Beating Goliath: My Story of Football and Faith.
By May 2016, Briles was fired after revelations confirmed by investigations since 2011 that at least 19 of his players had been subjects of assault allegations reported by 17 women.
Baylor’s athletic director also was ousted and its president, Ken Starr — of prosecuting President Bill Clinton fame — resigned.
Freeze was compelled to resign Thursday after coaching Ole Miss since 2012, including two victories over Alabama.
He was fired amid an ongoing NCAA investigation of alleged recruiting violations, some of which Ole Miss has acknowledged with self-penalties including no bowl game this season, yet his firing is a separate entity.
A lawsuit filed by Houston Nutt — the former Arkansas coach and Freeze’s Ole Miss predecessor — claims Freeze initially attributed the bulk of the allegations to the Nutt regime. Nine of the original 13 charged to football ultimately proved to be on Freeze’s watch. The lawsuit also revealed Freeze had dialed a female escort service on his university cellphone.
Further Ole Miss investigation of what was assumed to be a misdial revealed what Ole Miss Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter called: “A pattern of personal misconduct inconsistent with the standards we expect from the leader of our football team. While coach Freeze served our university well in many regards, we simply cannot accept the conduct in his personal life that we have discovered.”
Freeze resigned without receiving further payments from Ole Miss, it was announced.
Violating terms of his Arkansas contract similarly led to Bobby Petrino’s 2012 firing without settlement compensation.
One difference: Petrino never professed piousness like Briles and Freeze.
While another example that not all who profess being good Christians and good men are either one, it shouldn’t be ignored that some are both.
Ken Hatfield comes to mind. Though this very column space sometimes criticized the thenArkansas coach as crossing boundaries of church and state with Bible verses from his UA forum, I’ve covered no better person in 44 years.
So if there is a moral to this story, it’s look deep beyond the labels regardless of whether they initially turn you on or turn you off.