New Rebel Football Coach Hugh Freeze met with the media Monday morning after a whirlwind beginning to his tenure as the Ole Miss mentor.
Freeze: We've been running wide open for eight days now, trying to make up some ground in recruiting. That's our priority. We are behind, we acknowledge that, we are realists, but we are also glass-half-full guys. We think we will still do OK in this recruiting class. We are anxious to get back out there in January and see if we did make up some ground in the last week or so. The staff is working extremely hard. We are evaluating juniors today for next year's class so we properly recruit them for next year. We are trying to finish out getting our staff in place in the next two weeks during the dead period. I am looking forward to finalizing all that. I am grateful to have this opportunity. I know there are great challenges, but great challenges present opportunities for greatness. We're looking forward to it.
Q: Talk about the response you have gotten from in-home visits you took last week.
Freeze: Obviously, there was some uncertainty with the change of staffs here, particularly from the time the old staff was told they would not come back and from the time we were hired because there was probably very little communication. Some of them were very uneasy. I think we have rekindled the fires and the love of Ole Miss in most of those, but we are not taking that for granted. The response was great and our staff has done a great job so far. Hiring Matt Luke was a home run in that regard. He's helped a lot with some key recruits. The relationship-building is something we like to do in a year or two and we are trying to do it in a short period of time right now. That's difficult, but I am optimistic we will get a good class.
Q: What is your timetable for completing your staff and how is that coming?
Freeze: We interviewed a DB coach yesterday and have a couple of strength coaches we are interviewing today. We'll have a couple of more interviews later this week. I have said all along I am going to take my time and get it right, but I believe it will all be final before the next contact period. One slot may still be open on certain people I really want and am willing to wait on, but we'll be close to finished by the next contact period.
Q: Has it been a little easier for you coming here as opposed to say if you went to North Carolina because you know the lay of the land being from this area and having coached in this area before?
Freeze: No doubt. With the relationships I have with the high school coaches here in Mississippi, Memphis and even in Alabama, it's been very beneficial. Dave Wommack has great resources in Arkansas, South Carolina, Florida and other places. Barney Farrar, who is on the road right now but will be in the office when we get our staff full, has been very good for us because there is nobody he doesn't know and he will help us get in some battles with his connections. We are not near as far behind as we would be if we had gone somewhere else where we didn't have these types of established connections.
Q: What is the most important part of turning around a program that has struggled?
Freeze: Recruiting is up there, for sure. We have to change the dynamics of the makeup of the team, but attitude is the number one thing we have to change. Attitude is how we think about ourselves, not what the past or media or other people think about us, but what the ones in this room think about each other. That mindset is what we have to do. We have to win every day. In the weight room and in the class room and in everything we do. When we start winning the daily battles, we will start competing at a high level on the field. Obviously, recruiting quality talent to join in with the current players is also critical, but attitude of those already here is number one.
Q: Will you have an offensive coordinator and where do things stand with Gunter Brewer?
Freeze: Our offense will be a collaboration for now, at least the first year. I will call the plays in the games, but certainly I will not be afraid to name an OC if I get the right person and he realizes we will work together on the offense. As for Gunter, we are talking right now. I have been so impressed with him and the job he has done. We will come to a conclusion on that decision very soon and hopefully his future will be with us. We'll see.
Q: Where is this program from a strength and conditioning standpoint compared to the rest of the SEC and what are the plans for a training table that has been talked about here?
Freeze: The training table part, I am all on board with that and so is our administration. We hope that will be solved this fall. I can't tell you the exact timetable but it's in the works and everyone is for it. As for the S&C program, I can't pass judgment on what was done previously and I haven't spent much time around the current squad members. I do believe we need to change the way we look and be more physical, but how much of that was attitude or the S&C program? I wasn't here and don't know. I know the former staff were good coaches and had a history of success, but for whatever reason it didn't work out. Again, we have to change our mentality and how we go to work and that guy (S&C coach) is so important in that room. He spends more time with them than we do as position coaches. He's got to set the tone and the mindset of the team. The way we are going to win is to make the most of the time we have and we have to win each day in the weight room. We want to create a competition in the weight room so we will get used to being very competitive in everything we will do.
Q: What is your evaluation of the current team and what holes do you need to fill in recruiting?
Freeze: I have not watched a huge amount of tape, but some of our assistants are encouraged about certain positions. They think our young DL can be good players. They think we have some LBs with potential. We are concerned about depth in the secondary and will address that. On offense, we are concerned at tackle. We have to address that immediately. Also, at tailback, we have depth issues. We have some issues at WR and it's not talent. We have to do things the right5 way in that room. Hopefully we can recapture them when they get back in here in January. We have some obstacles to overcome based on some decisions they made first semester. OT, RB and secondary are the main thin areas.
Q: There are rumors floating about academic issues. Have you had a chance to evaluate the team academics?
Freeze: It's scary. We have some hurdles to clear there. We have a considerable problem. We will not back away from it - we will hit it head on and start fighting it in winter session. I know our academic support team will be on board to right the ship. Starting in January, we have to go to work on a lot of things and that is high on the list.
Q: What about players who were suspended during the year?
Freeze: I have met with all of them. I am a big believer, if at all possible, to wipe the slate clean. In some cases, you can't wipe the slate clean, but time will quickly tell whether or not they will fit with what we are going to require of them. I liked the way our meetings went, but the talk is the easy part. We will know very soon when they get back if they are going to give the effort required to maintain their position in this program.
Q: Has anyone indicated they are transferring?
Freeze: Nobody has indicated to me they are considering leaving, but I could have missed someone in my brief meetings. A couple - Bobby Massie and A.J. Hawkins - are considering testing the waters in the NFL draft, but I do not know where that stands right now. I would love to have them back, but I don't know any more than that.
Q: Are a lot of players coming back for intersession?
Freeze: We will have every scholarship player back for winter session that is possible. There are a couple of who don't have academic issues who have not scheduled a flight back and we will be reasonable, but we are prepared to bring them all back for the winter session.
Q: What did you learn from Ed Orgeron in recruiting?
Freeze: In the recruiting realm, there is nothing he did I won't do. He had a very exact plan and it was done with great energy and relentless pursuit. Our staff understands that. We will be on a 12-month plan we do not vary from. You have to know who all the players in that kid's decision are. If you don't, that's not a comfortable situation. Ed taught me that. You have to know who the main players are in the decision-making process. Just watching him go about the process of relentless recruiting taught me a lot.
Q: What is the pitch you make up ground in recruiting and are you looking at many kids you recruited at Arkansas State?
Freeze: Very few from ASU. Some of them could play here, but out of respect from them, that is not my first objective. We have had a bunch of calls from those guys and we will be open to all scenarios, but that's not what I want to do. The pitch is to come help us build a family out of a special place called Ole Miss. There is a great tradition here and respect of each other. Kids will see that. Parents will see that. Again, we are not that far removed from some good years with David Cutcliffe playing for a SEC West title and Houston Nutt going to two Cotton Bowls. It's not like this is a 20-year drought. We do have obstacles and issues and it will take some time, but it's not like this place has not won before. Our staff has put together a great sales pitch when we go into homes about what Ole Miss is and what we expect to be in the future. We only have three more weeks this year, but I am optimistic we will pull some surprises and put a nice class together in the time we have.
'We're running wide open'
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