An 'Anniversary' To Remember

One year ago today, Hugh Freeze took over a wayward ship - a floundering, troubled Ole Miss football program. In 12 short months, he and his staff have breathed life, and enjoyment, back into it.

What seems like a short year ago today, Hugh Freeze stood before a large crowd of wary, downtrodden Rebels at the Gertrude Ford Center to be introduced as the next Ole Miss football coach.

Many in attendance were pleased with the choice made by Archie Manning and Mike Glenn and rubber-stamped by Chancellor Dan Jones, but some were skeptical.

Did he have enough experience to match wits and guile with the established coaches in the best conference in America? Should Ole Miss have gone with someone with a proven Division 1 track record? Would he be able to put together a competitive staff?

All legitimate questions.

Freeze grabbed the microphone - evangelical style - and began to wow those in attendance, talking about the Rebels being in the wilderness and his plan to implement the journey out of the darkness.

He wooed and won over the crowd, capturing many who were doubting, but that was the easy part.

As they say in these parts, talk is cheap.

A year ago today, Freeze inherited a train wreck, a situation even he did not understand the scope and depth of.

Discipline issues, academic issues, and personnel issues were everywhere. Even he developed some doubts as to how long this "journey" and what he calls "the process" would take after surveying the existing landscape.

He instituted a mantra, one he would not yield on in any way, shape or fashion. Simple and to the point.

"Win The Day."

Easier said than done, but it explained the goal in a way that even a third-grader could understand.

Do the right things, on the field and off, work hard, treat others the way you want to be treated and do it every day.

The buy-in by some of the players was instant. They were starving for discipline and direction, but others wanted to test the new system.

The ones who resisted quickly found out it was Freeze's way or the highway and, after all, all he was asking for was to be a decent and driven human being.

By spring training, a lot of issues had been cleared up. It was now time to see and evaluate the available personnel and install completely new - foreign actually - systems.

Freeze's up-tempo offense was a shock to the system to everyone involved, from a learning standpoint to a conditioning perspective, but slowly and surely the players began to "get it" and started seeing the advantages.

After the Grove Bowl, the prevailing sentiment was the Rebels would be doing well to win 4-5 games and a 6-6 record should garner Freeze Coach of the Year recognition.

When August rolled around, Freeze promised one thing, and one thing only - the Rebels would play hard for 60 minutes, no matter the score.

When the season finally got here, even the first two games, against Central Arkansas and UTEP, were thought to be dangerous opponents for the Rebs' depleted roster, marred by an unusual amount of attrition during the last staff's tenure.

Freeze would have to go with a lot of youth and play with a short deck in depth, but what was clearly apparent in the early games versus mediocre opposition was that the Rebels would indeed play hard and Freeze's brand of football was fun to watch.


Hugh Freeze
File Photo

With the Rebs sporting a 2-0 record, Texas rolled into town and gave the Rebs a solid thumping, but the atmosphere was electric, the Rebs did score 31 points and from talking to the coaches afterwards, they were convinced the Rebels could hang with anyone if they could eliminate mistakes.

Freeze used the opportunity to teach the team a valuable lesson - do your job, don't worry about anyone else's responsibilities and we will be fine.

One turning point in the season, believe it or not, very well could have been the loss at Alabama, then the number one team in America. Even though the final score was not indicative of a hard-fought game, the Rebels were every bit as physical as the Tide and left knowing they could be competitive with anyone.

Then, heartbreak. We won't rehash the Texas A&M game, but suffice it to say it was a missed opportunity to make some real noise. Only Johnny Football could have pulled that win off for the Aggies.

Another turning point - the first SEC win - over Auburn at home, followed by a last-second victory over Arkansas in Little Rock. While both of those programs were struggling, and continued to, it broke an SEC losing streak that dated back a couple of years and gave the young Rebels a needed boost in confidence.

A week later, the Rebs sort of fell apart in the second half of the Georgia game in Athens. They became mistake-prone again and the results were predictable.

Then, back-to-back heartbreak at home against Vandy followed by a valiant road effort against LSU in Baton Rouge.

A team without character and pride probably would have packed it in at that point, but that was not the makeup of this Freeze-led team.

Freeze sat his staff down on the Sunday morning following the loss to LSU and explained things in no uncertain terms. If the Egg Bowl against rival Mississippi State was not the most important thing in their professional lives, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Message delivered and received. The focus that week, from players and coaches, was so thick you could cut it with a knife, but it would have to be a sharp knife.

What followed was a dominant performance over the Bulldogs in one of the best atmospheres these eyes have ever seen in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

In one year, Freeze had led the Rebels to an improbable 6-6 regular season and had electrified Rebel Nation.

Certainly, the Rebel football program still has a long way to go. It's still in the tunnel of darkness, but now, thanks to Freeze, everyone can see the light.

A foundation of how things are going to be done has been laid.

There have been very few off-the-field, behavioral issues and the academic progress on the team has been significant.

Recruiting seems to be going well. Freeze is a proponent of recruiting being like shaving - if you don't do it every day, you look like a bum. "Win The Day" definitely applies in their recruiting process.

In 12 months, from standing in front of a guarded but hopeful crowd with a lot of question marks running through their heads to a fan base licking their lips for the next game, Freeze and his staff have done a 180 in the Ole Miss football program, but they understand the journey has just begun.

Happy Anniversary, Hugh, the staff and Rebel Nation.

Here's hoping there are many more to come.


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