Rebel Reunion

The enthusiasm Hugh Freeze displayed in his first public appearance as the head football coach at Ole Miss was infectious. He needed to win over a fan base that is desperate to hear something good. For more than half an hour Monday afternoon, they got that.


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He walked on stage with his wife and three daughters. He himself was actually applauding, motioning it toward the audience of a filled Ford Center.

It's the most togetherness seen from a group of Ole Miss fans since the Cotton Bowl two years ago and a 21-7 win against current powerhouse Oklahoma State.

The Rebels went downhill since that January day in 2010. The Cowboys were within a whisper of a national title showdown with LSU next month.

The scenario which played out the past 24 months as much as anything was why Freeze was introduced Monday as the head football coach of the Ole Miss family.

That, and a 41-27 loss to Mississippi State in Starkville the game prior to the Cotton Bowl. If that didn't set the former regime on its way out, it certainly got the ball rolling faster.

Freeze, a native Mississippian and a former Ole Miss assistant coach, was asked if the administration had told him how important the Battle for the Golden Egg is each November.

"It's not big, it's paramount," he said, to thunderous applause again. "I have great respect for the job he's done there. Certainly take nothing away from that job. But being raised here (a Senatobia High graduate), I have quite a good understanding of what that means. The administration doesn't have to tell me that. I get it and understand it. Again, I have great respect for what they've done, but it's about us regaining the momentum."

The "he" Freeze was referring to was obviously Dan Mullen. But Ole Miss' new head coach did not mention Mullen by name. Maybe there is something to be read into that. Maybe not.

Freeze took the mic from the podium and moved to the front of the stage, nearer his supporters, family, and fans. He presented himself to them in the setting Monday with such fervor and passion it allowed one scribe to ask, "Did you ever consider the ministry?"

"Absolutely. I feel blessed by God. I think this is a ministry," he said, bringing laughter and applause from those assembled.

Freeze presented the Ole Miss search committee with a plan to make Ole Miss football relevant again – and beyond. He called it "Ole Miss: A Journey. SEC Champions."

Certainly he knows what a conference championship is all about. He and his Arkansas State team just won one this season. Many in Jonesboro, it seems, wanted him to stay with the Red Wolves. Freeze had bigger and better on his mind, although he had every good thing to say about his time in northeast Arkansas.

"I've taken (my family) all around the nation to get back to one place and that's THE University of Mississippi," he said, once again clarifying the rightful Ole Miss moniker that other schools have tried to claim. "There are a few who think they are the Flagship of the state of Mississippi. But this is the Flagship of the state of Mississippi."


Freeze acknowledges an appreciative crowd
Bruce Newman

The crowd loved it and once again roared its approval. Both Mullen at MSU and head coach Larry Fedora at Southern Mississippi along the way have proclaimed their schools as Mississippi's leaders or Flagship.

Freeze knew in that regard Ole Miss' origin as the first university in Mississippi. He knew it was just the right button to push for a fanbase grown tired of being verbally assaulted as well as beaten down on the gridiron.

He expressed those same sentiments to his players Monday when he spoke to them.

"I met with our team today. I told them we are in a wilderness," he said.

He has a plan to get those players and all associated with Ole Miss out of that wilderness.

"The plan I presented to the committee talks about the journey," Freeze said. "Our plan will start with core values, and the fans are a big part of it. I understand the Ole Miss people and the love you have for this University; the love you have for each other."

He expressed no intentions of leaving Oxford again.

"Obviously I have that love. This is a destination place for me. It is not a stop along the path," he said. "It is where I want to live. It is where I want to be. It is where I want to retire. This is home to me."

He said he heard from Ed Orgeron, his former boss, a couple of days ago.

"Freeeeeze," the Rebels' new head coach growled with his best Orgeron imitation.

The crowd growled back, roared again, and applauded their new coach's sense of humor.

More Freeze comments from Monday's event:

On offense: "Our offense will be a fundamentally efficient scoring machine. That's it."

On defense: "Our defense is to relentlessly pursue the football and knock the ever-loving stink out of the opponent."

On special teams: "Our special teams will be to provide the winning edge."

On recruiting, which he really didn't get into all that much on this day: "In recruiting, we have to win the state of Mississippi."

On a short period of time to recruit this signing period: "I'm an optimist but I'm also realistic. I know that we're behind. I put together a 90-day plan. We'll have to double time it a little, but we'll at least recruit with the people that are currently here. The guys that we'll bring in, you can only put seven on the road anyway. We'll be close to that."

On his plea to Ole Miss fans: "This to the Rebel Nation, it is really simple. To be united as one."

On moving forward as the work begins: "We understand that to accomplish what we want will take tremendous energy, passion, desire. Our kids have to play like that. One of the gifts we will have is being able to go into the homes and developing a relationship with the people that are a part of that decision-making process. I've recruited very few kids who did not look at someone in their circle of trust and say ‘What do you think?' Those are the ones we have to capture. I do think being from here, being born and raised in this state is a huge advantage."


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