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UM Fanbase Split On Freeze, But He Wows Those In His Corner During His Opening Presser

Talk to a hundred Ole Miss fans today and fifty will tell you new head coach Hugh Freeze is the perfect man for the job in Oxford. 

The other fifty will say the Rebels should have aimed higher. 

At a time when the Ole Miss fanbase desperately needed some healing, the school’s new hire has only added to the feeling of consternation.  That’s not Freeze’s fault, of course.  If you could move up the ranks from high school coaching to SEC assistant coaching to NAIA head coaching to low-level FBS head coaching to SEC head coaching in an eight-year span, you’d do it, too.

And Freeze has done well at every step.  You don’t rise like that without winning over a lot of people — a lot of skeptics — along the way.

But are there enough accomplishments on the coach’s short resume to make you believe Freeze is the man to lead Mississippi to its first SEC title since 1963?  That he’s got a better shot of reaching Atlanta than Houston Nutt, Ed Orgeron, David Cutcliffe or Tommy Tuberville had?

The answer, of course, is no.  And for that reason, we understand why the half of the UM fanbase that wanted Mike Leach or another more proven commodity as head coach are disappointed.  “A guy who could’ve at least guaranteed some fun on fall Saturdays wasn’t given a look… but a guy who was coaching girls basketball in 2004 was?”  Yeah, we hear ya.

Yesterday, Freeze was greeted warmly on the Ole Miss campus.  At his opening press conference he thrilled the 1,500 souls who showed up to hear him by announcing, “It’s good to get back to the University of Mississippi.”  Take that, Dan Mullen.

Freeze won the press conference, as they say.  But Nutt won his press conference with his folksy charm four years ago.  Introductory press conferences only go so far.

In the end, Freeze will be judged only by the number of wins he records.  And if that number is less than the number of wins put up by Leach at Washington State — fair or not — the UM fans who are scratching their heads today will be wagging their tongues in the years to come.

Other notes from Freeze’s grand unveiling:

* Mike Glenn, the FedEx executive who led the Ole Miss search committee alongside Archie Manning says Freeze was the #1 choice all along.  “I know leadership when I see it.”

* The search committee told UM chancellor Dan Jones that Freeze “is the best fit for Ole Miss.”

* Freeze — who’ll make $1.5 million per year with bonuses that could bring the package to $2.5 — said yesterday:  “If you want to walk into our offices and meeting rooms after about a week that we’ve been together and ask them what is our ‘it’ here, their answer will be real simple.  Offensively our ‘it’ will be to be a fundamentally efficient scoring machine.  That’s it.  That’s simple.  If you walk into our defensive room and ask our kids what is our ‘it,’ our defense will say, everyone of them will say, it is to relentlessly pursue the football and knock the ever-loving stink out of the ball-carrier.  That’s how it is.”

* Freeze wouldn’t say the words “Mullen” or “Mississippi State,” but he did say of the Egg Bowl:  “It’s not big, it’s paramount.  I have great respect for the job he’s done there and certainly take nothing away from that job, but being raised here, I have a quite good understanding of what that means.  The administration doesn’t have to tall me that. … Again, great respect for what they’ve done, but it’s about regaining the momentum.”

* Regarding his quick ascent in the coaching world, Freeze said:  “It’s a God thing to go from high school to here.  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.”

* Freeze cried openly as he met with his Arkansas State team before leaving.  After a 10-minute talk, his ex-team gave him a standing ovation as he left the room.  That’s pretty impressive in its own right.

* The Rebels’ new coach made it clear that Ole Miss is his dream job:  “This is a destination place for me.  It is not a stop along the path.  It is where I want to live, it’s where I want to be, it’s where I want to retire.  This is home to me.”

* Some UM fans summed up their backing of Freeze’s hire with three words: “I trust Archie.”

* Freeze calls coaching his “ministry” and this long-time Jackson writer says that if the new guy “coaches as well as he preaches” then the Rebs got a winner.

* Freeze’s next big job?  Connecting with Ole Miss’ recruits.


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