Good Chemistry

There are a lot of factors involved in building a successful team, probably none any more important than the other, but one ingredient that is apparent on the Ole Miss football team is chemistry.

Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze, drained but composed at the media table after the 30-27 last-second win over Arkansas in Little Rock, touched on a lot of things that have propelled his team to an unexpected 5-3 overall record and 2-2 mark in the SEC.

Belief, work ethic, confidence, unity and focus are all dynamics of success in any team-building venture, in athletics or otherwise. Freeze has mentioned them all at one time or another as vital to the process of resurrecting the Rebel football program.

Getting a large group of people together with the task of working toward and reaching a common goal doesn't just happen. It takes all of the above and more.

Yesterday, Hugh mentioned the chemistry on the team being good right now.

By definition, chemistry is the composition, structure, properties and reactions of a substance.

But this is not 12th grade science, it's football and football involves people, lots of people. When you throw that many human beings in a melting pot, it's not a given the "chemistry" is going to produce a favorable "substance."

Personalities and human foibles come into play and molding them into one with an eye on one prize is easier said than done.

So where do the Rebels get the chemistry they are currently enjoying?

Certainly, it starts at the top with Freeze.

He gets it, "it" being how to draw people in and together. It has followed him his entire coaching career. It doesn't matter if it was girls high school basketball at Briarcrest or on the highest level of college football, Freeze knows the makeup of developing chemistry within a group.

Some call it leadership. Some call it a knack. Some call it salesmanship. Whatever you want to tag it, Freeze has it. Whether it was a gift he was born with or something developed over time or both, he has the touch and it's easy to see when you work with him on a daily basis.

My grandfather used to tell me to say what I mean and mean what I say. Be firm, but fair. Treat others the way you would want to be treated, Golden Rule stuff. All of that seems to apply to Freeze and is one reason he is getting the reaction he gets from his staff and players, the attitude of buying in.

Then it trickles down to his staff.

I've been covering team sports for 35 years. I've been around all kinds of coaching staffs, good, bad, together, divided, motivated, lazy, grinders and slackers.

It's not up to me to classify our current staff, but I can already say this without hesitation - I have never been around a group of coaches with less ego.

It is truly an all-for-one-and-one-for-all deal here on this staff.

For example, let's use the two coordinators - DC Dave Wommack and OC Dan Werner, guys with as much experience coaching as I have in homerism sportswriting, which is a lot.

Hugh Freeze
File Photo

Wommack is being praised far and wide in the Rebel Nation for his in-game adjustments and how effective they have been. He deserves credit, for sure, but he routinely rejects the notion it's just him.

"It's really not me," he said just yesterday when asked about the Reb defensive adjustments. "Everyone on this defensive staff contributes their ideas and suggestions. I've got the title, but I'm just one guy on a great team."

It is that type of humility that builds chemistry.

Then there is Werner.

There are not too many coaches with the OC title who don't have play-calling and system "control." Freeze calls the plays and it's his system. Most of the time, that type of dynamic results in some dissension because of ego clashes. Werner could not be more satisfied than being the offensive facilitator to Freeze because he has no ego.

The result is a staff in lockstep, with no veering off, no underlying resentment, no jockeying for position or status, and no glory seekers. Believe it or not, something you might assume would automatically be there, I have found rare in this business.

And the end result is chemistry on the staff. I'm sure behind closed doors they butt heads at times, but their motives are pure, for the betterment of the product and not their individual advancement.

Then there is the infantry, the foot soldiers.

Modern players are not machines. They are perceptive, more so than they are given credit for. They see a staff that has good chemistry and they know when one doesn't.

They feed off the environment they are placed in. When they feel good chemistry coming from their coaches, they are more apt to trust them and learn to trust their teammates.

Trust develops chemistry. Our players trust their coaches and have learned to trust each other, in good times and bad.

As Freeze said after the Arkansas win, the Rebels are not "there" yet. They are still in the middle of a long and arduous journey that will have many more ups and downs.

But here's the good part.

With the type of chemistry they are now enjoying, initiated by Freeze having the it factor, the journey seems, well, easier.

The work load seems lighter, the required focus seems more natural, the buy-in seems less taxing, the belief comes easier and the confidence multiplies quicker. Talent is maximized.

The ups are more enjoyable and the downs are more palpable and more easily digested.

Why? Because the team's chemistry is also creating chemistry in the fan base, and it's not just about winning. Fans see the development of their team and are buying in as well.

The fun is back in Ole Miss football.

You can thank chemistry.

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