Freeze warms up Ole Miss base
Posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 7:02 pm
By DAVID BRANDT
AP Sports Writer
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Hugh Freeze choked up less than a minute after being introduced as Mississippi’s new football coach, acknowledging his wife and three daughters sitting on the stage behind him.
“I’ve taken them all around the country to bring them back to one place,” an emotional Freeze said. “And that’s the University of Mississippi.”
Freeze, 42, was named Ole Miss’ 37th football coach on Monday afternoon at a press conference on the university campus. He takes over for Houston Nutt, who was fired following one of the worst seasons in Ole Miss history. The Rebels finished with a 2-10 record, including a 0-8 mark in the Southeastern Conference.
Freeze could be a considered a risky hire considering his relative lack of experience. When Ole Miss started its search, names like Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach were on the market, but the Rebels went with someone who’s coached on the college level for less than a decade.
Freeze, however, has capitalized on that short window of opportunity.
He comes to the Rebels from Arkansas State, where he led the Red Wolves to the 2011 Sun Belt Conference championship and 10-2 record in his first season as a coach at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. It was Arkansas State’s first 10-win season since 1986.
Freeze will not coach Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl game Jan. 8 against Northern Illinois in Alabama.
Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones said Freeze has a four-year contract that pays a base salary of about $1.5 million per season. Jones said incentives could raise that salary to as much as $2.5 million per year. The Rebels already owe Nutt a $6 million buyout on top of the $2.7 million he was paid last season.
Freeze made just $202,160 last season, according to USA Today, which made him the lowest paid coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Freeze attacked his opening press conference like a Baptist preacher, galvanizing the packed Ford Center with an emotional address peppered with jokes and jabs that included the occasional remark about dominating the state of Mississippi — a not-so-subtle jab at Mississippi State and coach Dan Mullen.
While Nutt never completely seemed to grasp the state’s culture — especially the Egg Bowl rivalry — Freeze jumped into the fray unabashedly. He went to high school less than 45 miles away in Senatobia, Miss.
“This is home to me,” Freeze said. “This is a destination job.”
He’s known for a high-powered offensive philosophy, that he called a “fundamentally efficient scoring machine” when it’s going well.
Freeze is a Southern Mississippi graduate, but has Ole Miss ties, serving as an assistant under then-Rebels’ coach Ed Orgeron from 2005-07. During that time, he coached receivers, tight ends and also served as the program’s recruiting coordinator. He had a 20-5 record as head coach at NAIA-level Lambuth in 2008 and ’09.
After his successful two-year stint at Lambuth, he joined Arkansas State’s staff as the offensive coordinator in 2010. The Red Wolves broke nine offensive records that season and ranked second in the Sun Belt in total offense, but head coach Steve Roberts was fired after a 4-8 season.
Freeze was promoted and the Red Wolves took a dramatic step forward this fall, finishing undefeated in the Sun Belt. They finished first in the league in scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense and total defense.
His high-powered, spread offense has worked everywhere it’s been, though it’s never been tested against SEC competition.
Published in The Messenger 12.6.11