One Down ...

There were a hundred story lines to write about concerning Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze's first game, but the main one is that it was a win.

When Hugh Freeze led his Ole Miss team through the Walk Of Champions Saturday afternoon, he was overwhelmed with emotion and a sense of responsibility in the pit of his stomach.

"I saw my Mother and she was crying. My wife was emotional, I got emotional," Freeze said. "It hit me really hard then. It was humbling and strengthened my resolve to be successful here at Ole Miss.

"All our fans cheering for us as we went through the Grove was something I don't have words for. I've been on this job since December, but not until today did I feel as humbled as I was during that walk."

And so it began. . . another step in "the journey" to bring Ole Miss football out of "the wilderness," as Hugh says regularly.

Everything Freeze had done up to that point - recruiting, organizing, disciplining, working - had been critical, but the games, with fans in the stands, is where the rubber meets the road.

It was a day of reckoning, and albeit against a lower level opponent and despite some first-half troubles, it was progress, a small step in the right direction toward the light that is football success.

This game, this opener, this era-beginner, was not about who had the most talent. That was a given. It was about a new mentality, a new approach and a new direction.

It was about teaching players to expect more of themselves and to play with confidence. It was about staring down adversity, when in the past adversity had melted them.

Freeze said all week leading up to the opener, paraphrasing, he didn't know how his team would react to adversity.

He found out quickly. Being down 20-14 at halftime against a lower division school coming off a 2-10 season is pretty darn adverse.

So what did the Rebels do? They followed their leader and his staff.

Hugh Freeze
Chuck Rounsaville

Freeze came off the field at halftime as calm as Tiger Woods over a two-foot putt.

"We have to make some halftime adjustments, but we'll be fine," he said. He actually winked, knowing something the rest of us didn't.

He told the team at halftime the Rebs would score 35 points - they did - and UCA would not score again - he got that one wrong, they did, but late and against some backups getting some deserved playing time.

The defensive staff got the defensive line to slow down a little so they could fit their gaps better, the offensive staff adjusted the way they were protecting against some new blitzes UCA threw at them and it was all-she-wrote.

The Rebs hit the field armed with confidence and spurred by a staff that did not panic and pushed all the right buttons.

One facet of true leadership is staying cool and collected when those around you are frazzled. Freeze and his staff did that and the calming influence showed in the play of the team in the second half.

So, as expected, Freeze and company came out on top and can use the opener as a teaching tool. Most coaches believe the most improvement with a team comes between the first and second games and Freeze will be the first to admit a great deal of improvement is needed as the schedule heats up.

"We did a lot of things wrong, especially in the first half, but you can teach better off a win than you can a loss," he stated. "We'll have to get a lot of things corrected, but I promise you I'm not taking this win for granted. I've been in football a long time and I appreciate every win.

"I've been beaten by teams that shouldn't have beaten me - every coach has, so we'll cherish this one and go back to work to get better with a good taste in our mouths, but knowing we have to do better."

We can dissect the good, the bad and the ugly all day long, but what this team needed more than anything was for something good to happen to them. And there is only one good thing in athletics - winning. Everything else, especially for the 2012 Rebels, is a big pile of baloney.

Freeze, the staff and the Rebels got what they needed more than anything. Victory.

The win validates - temporarily at least - what he has been preaching to them since he took the Ole Miss job.

They can build from there.

This game had a hundred story lines and pontification points, but who cares?

As the late Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders so famously coined, just win, baby.

And win these Rebels did.

OM Spirit Top Stories