Freeze Preaches Patience with Rebels
By Matt Smith
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Hugh Freeze believes that he can take Ole Miss to the top, but realizes that it will take time.
When you walk through the droves of well-dressed, well-fed and slightly inebriated fans in The Grove on a Saturday afternoon in Oxford, it’s easy to think that the Ole Miss football program is as successful as any.
However, if you’ve set foot inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium during the past two seasons, you’ve seen a team that has fallen on hard times, winning just one SEC game in the past two seasons and currently having dropped their last 15 contests in conference play.
Houston Nutt was fired as head coach in the middle of a 2011 season that would end with a 2-10 record. His replacement, Hugh Freeze, met the media on Thursday during his first experience at SEC Media Days. He understands the situation he walked into is far from ideal.
“I’m a realist,” Freeze said. “Our program is in a spot that none of us are happy with. I’m very, very anxious about starting the process and the journey to get us out of where we are to back to where it’s been in years past.”
The 42-year old Freeze has set specific goals for the first year that aren’t directly related to wins and losses.
“In year one, it’s laying the foundational core beliefs, making sure we understand personal accountability. Every action we take, it does affect our teammates. It affects our program and what we do. Then it’s the chemistry part of somehow building a unit and trust with one another that we actually enjoy the process of getting where we want to go.”
The Rebels face one of the most difficult schedules in the country, with road games against four teams who are likely to be ranked in the preseason Top 10 and home games against Texas and Auburn. Sophomore wide receiver Donte Moncrief says that doesn’t bother him.
“It’s something that I want to experience,” Moncrief said. “I’m ready for it.”
Freeze said he doesn’t let the schedule affect preparations for the coming season, choosing instead to focus on just putting the best product possible on the field.
“I really don’t talk about it a lot because, you know, we’re going to play it. We’re going to show up and compete in every game hopefully.”
Freeze has already led one turnaround, taking Arkansas State to a Sun Belt title last season and a 10-2 overall record. However, the Sun Belt isn’t the SEC West.
He does have one familiar face, quarterback Bo Wallace, who played for him at Arkansas State for a year before transferring to community college. When Wallace was looking to get back into major college football, Freeze offered Wallace the opportunity to reunite with him in Oxford despite an up-and-down relationship at Arkansas State.
“There were some rocky points in [the relationship], but I didn’t think it ever got to the point where we didn’t care for one another or share the same aspirations,” Freeze said. “He’s matured. He’s definitely a different kid.”
Wallace is competing with junior Barry Brunetti for the starting role. While Moncrief expects Wallace to ultimately win the job, Freeze said both are even heading into fall camp.
“We will start with co-number one quarterbacks,” Freeze proclaimed. “It wouldn’t shock me for that competition to extend into the early parts of the season.”
Freeze’s offensive system is more up-tempo than what Nutt ran. Arkansas State finished 16th in the nation last year in passing offense. The change in style has even had an effect on the defenders that have gone against it in practice.
“It’s tiring playing against them,” said inside linebacker Mike Marry.
A system though is often as only as good as the talent that runs it. Freeze admits deficiencies in that area.
“We do have certain positions that will take longer to get accustomed to playing that manner, but I do think we’re on track. Hopefully we can accelerate the process here over fall camp and get our kids ready.”
Eventually, Freeze believes the cheer on fall Saturdays in Oxford won’t be limited to just the festivities in The Grove. However, even he admits it will take time. It’s a long road back playing in the toughest division in college football, but it’s a challenge that Freeze has fully embraced since he accepted the job in December.