Fast Track

There wasn't much to write after the game, a 34-24 Ole Miss win over Arkansas on Saturday.


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The Rebels had done what they were supposed to do - beat an inferior opponent and become bowl eligible for the second time in two years under head coach Hugh Freeze. They pretty much controlled the game, save for a slow start to the third quarter. The outcome was never really in doubt, even if Ole Miss failed to play its best game.

And that was what was so impressive.

Freeze was hired in December of 2011. Ole Miss wasn't even a month removed from its worst season in school history, a 2-10 mark in the final season of Houston Nutt. Really, the program couldn't fall much lower. I mean, the Rebels had won one Southeastern Conference game in two years.

"I just felt like we had a lot issues and maybe a lack of depth in a lot of places and I wasn't sure about the talent," Freeze said of where the program was when he arrived.

"I would say to be there, bowl eligible in the first two years, I would say we're probably ahead of schedule. Really, if you were to look at my plan when I first came in, it was probably to get to a bowl in year three, if I were being truthful."

Think about that. Year. Three. Freeze saw a long, rough road ahead. A bowl, any bowl, seemed far-fetched.

Many questioned the hiring of Freeze, this writer included. His track record was lacking, to be sure, with little high-level head coaching experience.


Hugh Freeze
USA TODAY images

His one year as head coach at Arkansas State, when he led the Red Wolves to 10 wins, was about the extent of his resume. He was Sun Belt Coach of the Year.

Archie Manning and Mike Glenn targeted Freeze. He was one of a precious few they spoke with. He won them over in one interview.

As simple as it sounds, fit matters when hiring a head coach. A name doesn't always work. Take Dennis Erickson at Arizona State, for example, or Rick Neuheisel at UCLA. Maybe even Will Muschamp at Florida, though I'm not as down on Muschamp as others. How soon we forget 11-2 a year ago and that Florida lost six starters to season-ending injuries this year.

Ole Miss nailed its hire. Home run. Hugh Freeze was/is the perfect fit. He wasn't a name then, but he is now. I never bought in to the "Ole Miss is a unique place" stuff and that a coach has to understand Ole Miss to succeed. Freeze has all but changed my beliefs. He knows how to build. He knows Ole Miss. And he knows how to win at Ole Miss, including recruiting at a national level.

Look at the 2013-14 roster. Quarterback Bo Wallace was recruited and developed by Freeze. Three of the five starting offensive linemen - Laremy Tunsil (the best of the bunch), Austin Golson and Pierce Burton - are Freeze signees. I could go on. Laquon Treadwell, Evan Engram, Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers. On defense, six of the starting 11 are Freeze players, including Robert Nkemdiche, Tony Conner, Trae Elston and Mike Hilton.

Houston Nutt said earlier in the season he knew Ole Miss was close when he was fired. Houston Nutt needs to stop talking. His only tangible contribution to Ole Miss' success was packing up his stuff and shipping out.

Another year for Nutt, in this writer's opinion, would have meant complete and utter devastation. Yes, he signed Donte Moncrief, Vince Sanders, Ja-Mes Logan, Jeff Scott, Denzel Nkemdiche and others. But none of those listed, and more names such as Cody Prewitt and Cameron Whigham, came close to where they are now under Freeze.

Night and day.

Freeze resurrected Ole Miss football. So much so, in two years, the team that was desperate for just one SEC win in his first season, beat a fellow SEC West foe on Saturday without much trouble despite not playing its best game.

"A great sign for our program in year two is that we're able to win an SEC football game when we may not play our best," Freeze said. "I hope it's a sign that we're maturing, we're heading a little in the right direction."

More than a little, Hugh. Try the fast track.


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