By Parrish Alford | NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Search committee co-chair Mike Glenn was grateful to know he was getting “it,” as defined by his search firm.
Defining “it” for Ole Miss football is now the job of Hugh Freeze, who was introduced as the school’s 37th head coach to a capacity crowd of roughly 1,250 at the school’s Ford Center on Monday.
Freeze told the group the “its” of the job are of the utmost importance.
“Our its will be very clearly defined. On offense it will be to be a fundamental efficient scoring machine, on defense to relentlessly pursue the football and knock the ever-loving stink out of the opponent and in recruiting it will be to develop dynamic relationships with every student-athlete we recruit and with everyone involved in that decision-making process,” Freeze said.
For Glenn, the FedEx vice president who said his contributions to the process were less about X’s and O’s and more about identifying leadership, the praise from Bob Beaudine of the Eastman and Beaudine national search firm really struck home.
“He said, ‘The guy has it. I want to tell you what a gem you have for a head coach,'” Glenn said.
Committee co-chair Archie Manning was not at the Ford Center but participated in a conference call with Glenn afterward.
Freeze said Arkansas State assistants Tom Allen (linebackers), Maurice Allen (tight ends, recruiting coordinator), Chris Kiffin (defensive line) and Dave Wommack (defensive coordinator) will join him at Ole Miss.
He said he will take his time filling the remainder of his spots on staff.
Gunter Brewer, who coached receivers at Ole Miss this season and has served as the transitional coach, has not had a discussion with Freeze about a permanent position.
Freeze, who made approximately $200,000 as head coach at Arkansas State this season, will make $1.5 million a year over the life of a four-year deal.
It’s an incentive-heavy contract that will allow Freeze to earn in excess of $2.5 million if he meets markers both on the field and off.
“It’s a market-based, competitive salary,” Ole Miss chancellor Dan Jones said.
The figure starts Freeze at $600,000 a year more than the former Ole Miss coach who hired him received when Ed Orgeron, a Southern Cal assistant at the time, followed David Cutcliffe as Ole Miss coach in December of 2004.
The decision to hire Freeze was made Sunday after his meeting with Jones, Glenn said.
Glenn and Manning declined to name other coaches who interviewed for the job.
Glenn called the pool of candidates “significant” and said it included NFL assistant coaches, Division I head coaches and coordinators.
Freeze said he had received an encouraging phone call from Orgeron in the days leading to his hire. He repeatedly thanked Orgeron for giving him his first college football job.
Freeze joined one of his Briarcrest Christian players, Michael Oher, at Ole Miss in 2005. He served as the operations assistant for two years, then as tight ends coach and as wide receivers coach in his third year. Freeze was the recruiting coordinator for the last two seasons. The staff was let go after three years.
The next coaching opportunities for Freeze were not such that made him an automatic choice, except with the people who ultimately mattered most, the search committee.
“We selected the candidate that stood out the most to the committee,” Glenn said. “He was our No. 1 choice. We got our guy.”
Freeze went from Ole Miss to Lambuth, an NAIA school, where he was 20-5 in two seasons.
He held the job of offensive coordinator at San Jose State but never coached a game, opting to move his family back to the region as offensive coordinator at Arkansas State.
As the lead offensive assistant in 2009 he helped the Red Wolves make great strides on offense. The team finished 4-8, though, and Freeze was promoted to head coach for 2011.
Arkansas State capped a 10-2 Sun Belt Conference championship season last Saturday with a 45-14 win over Troy.
Freeze’s coaching career began at Briarcrest, and he was there 13 seasons as a teacher, coach and administrator.
“It’s a God thing to go from high school to here,” Freeze said. “The time I spent here then left, that was devastating for me because of my love for this place. My whole aspiration was to find a way to get back.”
The casual observer might not think Lambuth was the way to get back.
“People told me I’d lost my mind taking the job at Lambuth,” Freeze said. “I told my wife we’re going to go somewhere they have nothing and see if we can’t win.”
Freeze showed that he could win. That fact, plus an interview in which he gave a very detailed account of his vision for Ole Miss – The plan was entitled “Ole Miss, the Journey: SEC champions – were enough to override any concerns the committee might have had about experience.
Manning sounded almost offended when asked if Freeze’s hire had been predetermined.
“If this was a predetermined hire, I don’t think Mike and I would have been so consumed for the last three weeks like we have been,” he said. “I don’t know how much FedEx business he got done. If it had been predetermined, I would have gone to grandchildren’s baptisms and done a lot of other things that did not get done. There was nothing that was predetermined.”