Hugh Freeze brought down by hubris, vengeance and sex

Geoff Calkins
The Commercial Appeal

And so the rise and fall is complete.

The rise from a high school volleyball coach at Briarcrest Christian School.

The rise to jobs as the head football coach at Lambuth and Arkansas State and finally Ole Miss.

The rise to wins over Alabama, to a contract worth more than $4 million annually, to a pulpit — for Hugh Freeze, it really was a pulpit — he used to preach about God and salvation and living a righteous life.

It was a preposterous, glorious story. With a preposterous, inglorious end.

Mississippi head coach Hugh Freeze argues a call in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013. Alabama beat Mississippi 25-0.

Thursday evening, Ole Miss chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork walked into a press conference and announced that Freeze had resigned because of — in Vitter’s words — “a pattern of personal conduct inconsistent with the standard of expectations for the leader of our football team.”

The man had been caught calling an escort service. That had triggered an investigation into other phone calls.

While neither Vitter or Bjork would reveal precisely what that investigation turned up, when a reporter asked if it involved additional phone calls to escorts, Bjork said simply, “I think we need to protect that information.”

For whose sake, it's not entirely clear.


Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze made call to number tied to escort service

Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze resigns

Why is Ole Miss going to such great, and risky, lengths to save Hugh Freeze?

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But it was enough to cause Freeze to admit his transgressions. It was enough to persuade Vitter and Bjork that it was finally time to stop covering for their coach. And it was enough to cause that coach to walk away from a contract worth more than $20 million.

“No buyout, no settlement,” said Bjork.

Yes, the rise and fall was complete.

And the cause was hubris, and also vengeance, and also sex.

Ole Miss stood behind Freeze through an exhaustive NCAA investigation, through a bowl ban and lost scholarships, through allegations that would have ended the careers of many a coach.

The NCAA accused Ole Miss of paying players. It accused Ole Miss of loss of institutional control.

But as recently as Monday’s meeting of the Rebel Club in Memphis, there was Bjork, praising Freeze for establishing “the culture that’s right for our university.”

It appeared Freeze could survive anything. Enter hubris, vengeance and sex.

Back in 2016, facing a notice of allegations from the NCAA, Ole Miss officials indicated — both privately and publicly — that most of the allegations involved former coach Houston Nutt.

That turned out not to be true. Nutt was understandably displeased. So in May, Nutt asked for an apology. Ole Miss and Freeze declined.

That was the hubris. If Freeze had apologized, it’s possible the matter would have ended there. Instead, Nutt — and here comes the vengeance — decided to sue for defamation of character. In preparation for that lawsuit, Nutt requested phone numbers from Ole Miss for a six-day period in January of 2016, when Nutt suspected Freeze was disparaging him in off-the-record conversations with reporters.

As it happens, a strange number popped up. It was a Detroit number linked to a Florida-based escort service. Nutt’s attorney, Thomas Mars, then shared that number with reporters from USA Today and Yahoo Sports.

“I think it might have been a misdial,” Freeze told Yahoo.

Or a Miss dial, more like.

Because Ole Miss then undertook the more extensive investigation of Freeze’s phone records, which revealed the “pattern of personal conduct” that persuaded the coach to resign.

By Thursday evening, Bjork was presiding over a press conference and answering questions such as: “A lot of people call him a fraud. What do you think?”

“I can only go on the facts,” said Bjork. “What did the record show?”

The record shows Freeze presided over a football program that committed numerous NCAA violations.

The record shows he called at least one escort service and likely more.

The record shows he did all this on his university-issued cell phone.

The record shows he did it while tweeting daily Bible verses.

The record shows that Ole Miss will now be in the awkward position of appearing before the NCAA and defending the integrity of a program whose coach just resigned because of moral turpitude.

The record shows a rise and a fall that will be remembered in these parts for a very long time.

Was Freeze a fraud?

Let's let him answer that.

“Because of Him, you don't need to fear unrighteousness," he recently tweeted. "It’s our delusion of righteousness that we should fear.”