Similar Paths

Their teams won't get together at Legion Field until Jan. 5, 2013, in the BBVA Compass Bowl. But Thursday afternoon in Birmingham, Ala., Hugh Freeze and Paul Chryst talked about their first seasons as head coaches at their respective schools.

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Ole Miss, where Freeze coaches, and Pittsburgh, where Chryst leads the program, are both 6-6 and have some similarities. Both the Rebels and the Panthers could have had better records. Neither was able to win most of their close games.

Ole Miss was 1-3 in those games that might have gone either way, with a 30-27 win at Arkansas and losses to Texas A&M (30-27), Vanderbilt (27-26), and at LSU (41-35).

The Panthers, meanwhile, had six wins that wouldn't necessarily be considered close encounters. But, like Ole Miss, they also had three close losses that could have changed things in a positive way. There was a 14-13 loss to Syracuse, as well as a 24-17 setback to Connecticut.

And then there's the one the nation still talks about, a 29-26, triple overtime loss at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish will play Alabama for the national championship on Jan. 7.

Paul Chryst
File Photo

"Unfortunately, we didn't finish it," Chryst said of the game that would have changed the course of the entire college football season had his team prevailed. "There were some good things that happened in it, but obviously not finishing it and having a chance to win, we still didn't get it done. The Notre Dame game was a big story to a lot of people, but there have been a lot of things that have kind of shaped this group. We've got one more chance to finish this storybook."

It's basically been a storybook for Freeze and the Rebels. Taking over a year ago a program coming off its worst season ever at 2-10, the Rebels rebounded with a season that left fans hungry for more. That's why ticket sales all week have been brisk, and why 25,000 to 30,000 Ole Miss fans being in attendance is a possibility, if people continue to buy tickets over the course of the next month.

"It makes me appreciate the effort of our kids, because I really think that's what got our people most excited," Freeze said of the rush to buy tickets for the bowl game. "Even more than the wins and coming here, I think we've been a very exciting team to watch. It didn't always come out in favor of us, but they can't argue with the excitement that our kids created. I think the Rebel Nation is going to show up here on January 5th. I want to deliver so badly to those fans. I obviously am from there and to be able to create some excitement for them to enjoy is quite gratifying. I think they'll show up in force to invade this great city and enjoy a week here together in early January."

As expected, there was the expressed mutual respect from both coaches by their comments, which seemed to be genuine.

Hugh Freeze
Bruce Newman

"This program's been through some things, and Coach Freeze and I were just talking about playing your best football at the end of the year," said Chryst, a longtime assistant coach at Wisconsin before taking over the Panthers a year ago. "That's what I respect tremendously about our opponent. In a bowl game, you want to play as good an opponent as possible. I got a little nervous watching film of them (Ole Miss), because I think we got that and then some.

"Ole Miss and how they finished the season, and the athletes, and certainly a lot of respect nationally," Chryst continued. "I know they're well-coached, I know about Hugh. So, it's great for your players (to play an opponent like Ole Miss) and great for your program, and I'm proud to be here representing the University of Pittsburgh. And most importantly, the players did it on the field and earned the right to come here."

Freeze talked a little about his team and then a little about Chryst's team.

"It's an absolute joy to stand here and represent our Chancellor and AD, our administration and our great university," he said. "The opportunity for our kids, I echo the sentiment of Paul, they earned the right to play another 60 minutes of football. It wasn't the easiest of tasks for us to accomplish. The thing that I think was the most remarkable trait for our kids was through very difficult losses and gut-wrenching ones that you go through with those young men, for them to rally again the next week in a very difficult league to get to this point.

"I did a little homework on Coach (Chryst) here. I know we've got our hands full," Freeze continued. "The first thing I look at it when I watch film is what kind of effort is the team giving and his team gives phenomenal effort which is a great tribute to him and his coaching staff and what he demands of his players. You're talking about a storied program, just like Ole Miss. We're very, very similar. There's a lot of great tradition. Those guys have won many national championships and many bowl games. They've had some difficult, trying times like we have in recent past. There's no doubt in my mind he has them back on the right track where Pitt football is known to be."

Paul Chryst
File Photo

Freeze said he's taken a look at Pitt and sees a formidable foe for his Rebels.

"We've got a great challenge," he said. "They've got a quarterback who's thrown for over 3,000 yards, a running back that's rushed for over 1,000, and a receiver that's caught about a 1,000 yards. And they have a guy who has 18 and a half tackles for loss and about six sacks. We've got our hands full with them and we're serious about coming here and being very competitive in this game, as I know his (Coach Chryst's) crew is."

Notable Notes:

Chryst on staying put at Pitt after possibly having an opportunity to return to Wisconsin as head coach: "I'm appreciative of where I'm at. I didn't feel the need (to talk about it this week). The need was for the guys in the room and the guys we're trying to recruit. That's what we're here for and what coaches do."

Freeze on the goals for his team this season: "The only goal I would ever speak of this year, from day one when I got the job through the whole season, was that our kids play passionate football for our fans and our university, and I don't think there's any question that they did that for 12 straight games."

Chryst on facing an Ole Miss team that has improved over the season: "You want to play a great opponent. As much as it's an SEC opponent, it's Ole Miss that got me excited. You can see how they've developed and the confidence. He (Coach Freeze) was talking about the momentum, but what they've got is confidence."

Freeze on beating Mississippi State and going to a bowl game: "No question, anytime you win a rivalry game to end your season, it's great momentum for you heading into recruiting, and hopefully, into a bowl game which we're fortunate to be in this year. If you'd have asked me last spring if we'd have an opportunity to play in a bowl game after year one, I'd have thought maybe that was an unrealistic goal. Due to the effort and attitude of our young men and our coaching staff, I think they earned the right to be here."

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