By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork says the school can compete with big-name universities who might want to lure away football coach Hugh Freeze, but the competitive approach does not necessarily mean writing a big check at the end of such a courtship.
Since inheriting a program on a 14-game SEC losing streak, Freeze has gone 10-6 at Ole Miss. He has the Rebels ranked for the first time since 2009 and at 3-0 for the first time since 1989.
Ole Miss is off this week after winning 44-23 at Texas last week and climbing to No. 21 in the AP Top 25. The Rebels are at No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 28, the third of four road games at the front end of the schedule.
The still-young college football season has seen struggle and turmoil at some of the sport’s most traditional programs – Nebraska, Southern Cal and Texas. Angry fan bases and the speculation of change follow suit after struggle and turmoil.
“We can be very competitive as our budget grows, as our season tickets grow, donations grow and our (capital) campaign evolves,” Bjork said. “I think we can be very competitive within our league and within college football.”
In December Freeze’s salary was bumped from $1.5 million to $2 million in recognition of a winning record and bowl victory which exceeded the expectations of many in his debut season.
In addition, the assistant coach salary pool increased by 10 percent.
Freeze, a native of Independence, is under contract through 2016.
“We were proactive last year, and I think that meant a lot to him,” Bjork said.
“This investment – particularly the facility improvements – are a major step in providing our players the best student-athlete experience and creating an environment that will attract the nation’s top recruits,” Freeze said when his modified contract was announced.
Taking similar steps throughout the life of a program are part of the plan to remain competitive if Freeze begins to draw interest from other schools.
The school’s football building, recently renamed “The Manning Center,” is in the midst of a $12.5 million renovation, and expansion of Vaught- Hemingway Stadium – specifically the bowling-in of the north end zone – is planned as part of the on-going capital campaign.
“We have to compete, and we understand that, but I think we can do things a little bit different maybe that just paying a big salary,” Bjork said. “I think we can show that commitment elsewhere, that we want football at the highest level, and that includes his assistant coaches.”
Bjork was named AD at Ole Miss in late March of 2012, almost four months after Freeze’s hiring the previous December.
“We’ve got ideas, we’ve got plans. We want coach Freeze here for a long, long time. He’s the right fit for us,” Bjork said. “I think he sees it that way as well.”