Since roughly an hour prior to the 2016 NFL Draft, Ole Miss hasn’t hit the headlines in a positive manner. They say any publicity is good publicity, but Ole Miss’ head coach Hugh Freeze told ESPN.com on Monday that he accepts responsibility for the school’s recent troubles, but denied that he or anybody on staff knew of the violation of rules.
Just this past week, the Rebels self-imposed the loss of 11 football scholarships from 2015-18 due to an NCAA investigation. The investigation turned up 28 rules violations in football, women’s basketball and track and field. Of the 13 from football, nine came under Freeze’s time as the man in charge of the program.
“The first thing I would say is that I own it,” Freeze told ESPN. “That’s part of it when you’re the head coach. You take the good with the bad. I don’t have any information that anybody on my staff has been involved in any illegal payments to players or offering any inducements to players, and if I did have that information, I would fire them.”
Time will only tell if firings do take place, and the school is currently further investigating the NFL Draft night comments on former offensive tackle, Laremy Tunsil, and whether or not he received extra benefits from Rebel staff members. Freeze only said so much about Tunsil’s situation.
“That’s something I can’t talk about right now because both sides are still looking into it, but I feel confident with the report we do have from the NCAA that our staff is not involved in any purposeful breaking of the rules,” Freeze said. “Have we made mistakes in recruiting? Yes, and we’ve taken steps to make sure we don’t make those same mistakes again. But to say me or anybody on my staff is out there cheating to gain advantage just isn’t true.”
Three of the four more serious Level 1 violations involve Tunsil or a family member of Tunsil allegedly receiving money, free lodging or extra benefits. During his final season at Ole Miss, the now Miami Dolphin was suspended seven games for his use of loaner vehicles at no cost for a six-month period, and his stepfather, Lindsey Miller, allegedly receiving $800 from an Ole Miss booster, including free lodging.
“The four under the previous staff, we can’t do anything about those,” Freeze said. “There are nine under me, and as I said, I own them. (…) I take it personally when our reputation is damaged, and it’s important to look at some of these things in a little different light than what’s being portrayed out there.”
On Monday night, Freeze talked to GridironNow.com‘s Tony Barnhart about the allegations as well.
“There is a difference between making mistakes and cheating,” Freeze said. “Did we make mistakes? Yes, we did, and we’ve taken action. We’re not perfect. But I’m not going to cheat. I’m not. I’ll lose but I’m not going to cheat.”
Cheating or not, losing hasn’t been a huge concern for Freeze since taking over as the head coach in 2012. Ole Miss went 7-6 in his first year and since then, has increased its win total by one game every season, finishing 2015 at 10-3 overall.