By Parrish Alford | NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The name Hugh Freeze surfaced early among possibilities to be the next Ole Miss coach and never went away.
It wasn’t always the hottest name, but Ole Miss fans can’t say they’ve been blind-sided.
The question is will they buy it? Will a fan base divided throughout the football season with an anonymous group seeking the ouster of the athletics director, a fan base battered further by a late-season coaching change only to watch its team outscored 110-13 in its last three games, fall in line behind Hugh Freeze?
Obviously, everyone will not, at least not right now.
Freeze brings certain characteristics that will endear him to fans. He’s personable and friendly; he’s won at each of his few stops; he’s coached a productive and innovative offense.
The key word there is “few.”
How far down the road the committee got with Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart (the hot assistant name) and Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora (the experienced head coach) is open for speculation.
However, Archie Manning’s name is attached to this, and Manning does nothing second-rate. That fact alone may be enough to rally a large segment of the Ole Miss population. I had many people tell me during the process, “I trust Archie.”
Here’s something else. One source in the process relayed the opinion that Manning would pursue Smart, build the program with defense, then pursue Freeze as offensive coordinator with a really big salary and possibly a coach-in-waiting designation.
That would have been outside-the-box thinking that would remain in line with Manning’s conservative personality. It’s quite possible that was considered or pursued.
in it to win it
One thing that became clear was that Freeze was in this process for the long haul. This wasn’t going to be a search that dragged to an unqualified surprise candidate. If it reached Freeze with an offer, it was almost certain to end there.
The fate of Ole Miss football now rests with Freeze.
If early names floated are an indication, he’ll go after a young and energetic staff that can recruit – some guys, possibly, who were with him on staff here during the Ed Orgeron Era.
I was of the opinion that Orgeron had good coaches who could recruit and help the team win. That theory may soon be tested.
Freeze has been highly successful each season since the Orgeron staff was fired, going 20-5 in two NAIA seasons at Lambuth, igniting the Arkansas State offense in 2010, then fixing the defense with Dave Wommack and going 10-2 as the head coach this season – while maintaining the dynamic offense.
If you’ve met him, Freeze has the personality that can make you say, “wow,” as Manning did in his video introduction early Monday morning.
However, the body of work question will follow Freeze until he creates more of one. Ole Miss will be his training ground.
It’s not the ideal situation to start, but everyone knows what needs to happen next.
Win games, and all in the Ole Miss fan base will warm up to Freeze.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.