By Parrish Alford | NEMS Daily Journal
This is the year-end column, the column in which we go looking for Ole Miss highlights of the past year.
However, highlights by way of wins or individual achievement are not in great supply.
In fact, this column may require me to produce a creativity highlight, but I embrace the challenge.
From January to December, basketball, in the senior season of Chris Warren, the program’s third-most prolific scorer, came up short in its NCAA tournament bid. Baseball posted an uncharacteristic 30-25 overall mark, a sub-.500 SEC mark and failed to reach postseason for the first time in eight years. Football went 2-10.
To paraphrase former Saints coach Jim Mora: “Highlights? Highlights? …”
Highlights by definition are not necessarily positive in nature, so by broadening the boundaries, the Forward Rebels campaign against Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone could be a highlight.
Certainly it was “unusual,” and in Beginning News Reporting professor Mike Albertson made sure we understood that unusualness was is a key element in news value.
It’s not every day you see full-page newspaper ads targeting a high-profile university administrator.
In the traditional sense of the word, though, I submit Hugh Freeze as the 2011 highlight.
Certainly he’s the newsmaker.
Ole Miss has the reputation of a football school, at least one that cares about football much more than its other sports.
The football program certainly generated the most news, from the January hirings of three new assistants that former coach Houston Nutt hoped would help spark a turnaround from a 4-8 2010 campaign, to favorable eligibility rulings from the NCAA for players Kentrell Lockett and Barry Brunetti, to a Randall Mackey arrest and various suspensions.
Ultimately the four-win total was cut in half, and Nutt was fired.
The big news
Freeze is the biggest news, today’s news, because he’s yet to coach a game, and because of the hope that goes along with a coaching change.
Freeze’s experience level is a matter of debate. He’d been a Division 1 head coach for just one season, a D1 offensive coordinator for just one season prior to that.
But he’s been highly successful in all his previous stops, at NAIA Lambuth, as a position coach at Ole Miss and at Briarcrest Christian School before that.
He’s considered a bright offensive mind, and that creates hope.
Ole Miss fans want to believe, and many are hopeful they’ve hired a diamond in the rough. Maybe they have.
Transforming the football program will not be an easy task, but there’s hope that Freeze’s energy and contacts and in recruiting, his playbook creativity and the discipline he says he’ll bring to the program will be the impetus for change.
The hiring of Freeze made news, and since then he’s certainly said the right things and pushed the right buttons. “Win the day, every day,” he says.
The rebuilding of the Rebels won’t be complete in one football season, but between now and September, Freeze and Ole Miss football will continue to make news.
And a year from now we can reevaluate hope and belief and see where the project stands moving forward.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at Djournal.com.