HOOVER, Ala. — It was hardly the way the SEC wanted to finish up a week of chest-pounding and optimism.
The coach of the one football program that is dealing with a bowl ban and an ongoing NCAA investigation wrapped it up with a hangdog expression and a lot of no comments.
Hugh Freeze went from an early filibuster to a plea for sanity to late acknowledgement that there is a reason he’s not asked football questions anymore at events such as this.
“We obviously have created it in and around our program, you know, the length of it, we can sit here and debate all of that,” Freeze said. “But we’ve got to be responsible for the areas in which we were deficient in, that we didn’t — that we didn’t either react or act properly, or whether it was staff or whether it was boosters.
“So we have to own that. And me being in the position I am, I’ve got to stand and look people in the eyes and take that. And, you know, I’m — I have been doing it for several years now, and it’s — I’ll certainly be glad and rejoice and thank God when it’s over, but in the meantime, I’ve been charged with leading us through this time. And so I’ve got to look at myself, our staff, our boosters, our people and our players and try the best I can to manage that while we go through it.”
As if the pending NCAA penalties and the ones Ole Miss has self-imposed are not enough, on the eve of Freeze’s Media Days appearance former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt filed a defamation lawsuit against the school. Nutt and his attorney claim Freeze was part of a smear campaign to save last year’s recruiting class by throwing shade on Nutt concerning the NCAA violations.
“I’m disappointed in the timing,” Freeze said.
It seems to always be something over the last two years and while Ole Miss has backed Freeze throughout, there has been almost an assumption that his future is shaky and his legacy badly scarred.
“There’s no question that it’s been negative in some people’s eyes, and I think you have to come back to what I want my legacy to be, and that doesn’t get to be determined probably 20 years from now,” Freeze said.
This much we know — there will be no bowl for Mississippi at the end of the year for the second straight season. That’s not what these guys signed up for.
“It’s devastating,” said offensive lineman Javon Patterson. “But we still are in the SEC and we gotta go play football in a great conference.”
Freeze tried to look at the bright side, if there is such a thing in Oxford these days.
“I think this has the potential to set up our staff to have our greatest hour,” he said. “One of our finest moments could be the fact that our team could be a model for whoever chooses to watch us, for the Ole Miss family, for whatever outsiders.”
But he also talked about the toll the negativity has placed on him and his family.
“The family is maybe the most difficult part,” Freeze said. “It’s just — the social media world is — some of it can be true, some of it can not be true, and, unfortunately, kids my kids’ age seem to always know what’s going on on it.
“And I’ve kind of gotten to a point now where I’m almost callous, and really you focus on the people I can control loving on, my wife and kids, my mom and dad and my family, my brothers and sisters and those, and then the friends I have that know me for who I am, then your players and the Ole Miss people.”