All former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze had to do was apologize. Had he done so, he might still be leading the Rebels out of the tunnel this fall.
When the NCAA first knocked on Mississippi’s door, Freeze followed the Universal College Coach in Hot Water Playbook and blamed everything on the prior staff. As a result, Houston Nutt has been a pariah in coaching circles since 2011.
Had Freeze simply apologized to Nutt for throwing him under the bus, then Nutt’s lawsuit against his one-time employer for defamation of character probably never gets filed. The request for phone records perhaps never gets made. The call to an escort service — from a school-issued cell, Coach? — maybe never comes to light.
Now Freeze is out of a job and the millions of dollars he was owed to do it contractually, all because he failed to issue an apology.
Having gone silent publicly since his resignation last week, Freeze finally spoke on the record Wednesday to USA TODAY Sports. In just six days, the image he created for himself as a God-first football coach had been blown to smithereens.
This was his opportunity to say “I’m sorry.” To Nutt for unnecessarily sullying his reputation. To his players for adding even more turmoil — they’re not going to a bowl game no matter what — to their season. To Ole Miss fans for not being the good Christian man he professed to be and potentially putting the future of the entire program in jeopardy.
Most important, to his wife and three daughters for the snickers they’re surely hearing around Oxford these days.
“God is good, even in difficult times,” Freeze said. “Wonderful wife and family, and that’s my priority.”
But they obviously weren’t a priority when he called that escort service, and anybody thinking this was a harmless wrong number or accidental butt dial isn’t paying very close attention. Freeze is trying to convince us it’s all lovey-dovey at home, though.
“Oh, gosh, yeah,” he said.
Whether he realizes it or not, the jig is finally up. Aside from the most hopelessly loyal among the cardinal red and navy blue crowd — the ones who worshipped Freeze’s ability to run a high-powered offense and sign 5-star recruits — nobody is buying his shtick anymore. Yet here he is spinning a tale about having more time now to be dear old Dad.
“The girls have volleyball and then I’ll watch them,” he said. “I know I’m going to meet with my pastor tonight, too.”
His comments are tone-deaf and completely out of touch. Freeze has clearly learned nothing from his ordeal. He continues to hide behind a broken facade.
Understand that I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but I know there are plenty of passages in The Bible discussing forgiveness. Of course, having the capacity to actually realize your mistakes and express some regret comes first.
Chris Brooks is a host on ESPN Radio 105.9 The Game in Jackson, plus he’s publisher of Mississippi Gridiron Magazine. Not only does he cover Ole Miss and Mississippi State but also JUCO and high school football in those areas. He was the ideal guest to discuss the Freeze fiasco for the latest installment of the Saturday Down South podcast.
The fact that Freeze couldn’t muster anything resembling an apology was stunning to Brooks, not to mention disappointing.
“The first thing I thought when I see it, and I’m coming from an angle I want to see him say the right thing, and all he has to say is ‘I’m sorry’ in that situation first,” Brooks said. “But you’re reading his first public comments and you’re hoping something good’s going to come out of it, maybe some remorse. And I know that we have a lot of legal things going on, so I understand not trying to say too much, but it’s not that hard just to drop those two words in there.”
Brooks has his finger on the pulse of Ole Miss fans, as they’ve been burning up the phone lines at his radio station since the news broke. Freeze’s oblivious remarks didn’t make much of an impression on his passionate listeners.
“So as soon as I saw that, immediately you know Ole Miss fans aren’t going to receive that very well,” he said. “And if you just kind of looked around Twitter immediately after that came out, that was exactly the reaction that they had.”
There have been worse scandals in college football recently — Bobby Petrino’s embarrasing exit from Arkansas in 2012, naturally — and there will be more down the road. But keep in mind that Petrino never treated a press-conference podium like a church pulpit. Freeze did. Petrino was just a sleaze. Freeze comes off as both sleazy and hypocritical.
“The faith part of this, it becomes difficult for me to talk about some aspects of it because professionally you have to talk about his personal life as it relates to the job that he had,” Brooks said. “Personally, you don’t want to rip anyone, but you want their actions to match up with what they’re saying.”
There’s no way to predict how the Rebs will actually play, although crumbling to 4-8 is more foreseeable than rallying to 8-4.
“The first thing, when I saw that, I was hoping to open it up and (see) some type (of) message to fans,” Brooks said, “and (it) completely went over his head.”
Say what you will about interim coach Matt Luke’s introductory presser Monday, but at least it was honest. That’s a welcome change from what we’ve seen walking around The Grove lately. Freeze did nothing to shed his dubious new label as a fraud.