Archie's Take

Tomorrow starts season three of what Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze calls "The Journey." One of the men responsible for Freeze being the head coach at Ole Miss - Archie Manning, arguably the most recognizable Reb of all time - reflects on Freeze, the decision to hire him and a "progress report," if you will.

Say "Archie" to any Rebel fan and nothing else needs to be said.

So when Chancellor Dan Jones asked #18 and Fed Ex Executive Mike Glenn to head the search committee to find a new football coach after a dismal 2-10 2011 season, Archie, as he always does, put everything aside for his beloved alma mater and graciously accepted.

It was a time-consuming, grueling process for Manning and Glenn, but in the end, they both kept coming back to the first coach they interviewed face-to-face. . .

Hugh Freeze, who, at the time, was leading Arkansas State to a Sunbelt conference title in his first year as the Red Wolves' head man.

Archie and Eli Manning talk with Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze.

"We interviewed a lot of really good coaches," said Manning from his home in New Orleans, LA, "but both of us kept coming back to Hugh."

What was it that put Freeze over the top? After all, there were coaches on their list with more experience and "bigger names."

"I know Ole Miss. I love Ole Miss, always have and always will," said Manning, "and I just felt it was time for us to get someone who fit at Ole Miss.

"Certainly, the new coach would have to be the whole package, a guy who could do it all and wear all the hats head coaches have to wear, but it was very big for me to hire someone who got what our university is all about. Hugh had been at Ole Miss under Ed Orgeron, he was raised an Ole Miss fan and he understood how things operate at Ole Miss. He understood the intricacies of being a Rebel. Those things were important to me and to Mike and the selection committee."

While "fit" was at the top of the list for Archie, they weren't going to hire someone simply because they loved Ole Miss.

"Whoever we picked had to be a good coach, of course. We wanted someone on the cutting edge of what was happening in college football," he continued. "Hugh was really good at every level. This may sound crazy, but it impressed me that he had coached high school girls' basketball and had won state titles. It showed me he is a great communicator and could adapt to any situation. Adaptability is a strong commodity in today's college football environment."

As the search continued, Archie and Mike dug deeper into Freeze's background.

"The more we dug, the more we liked what we saw. Hugh is a coach who keeps up with, and helps develop, the trends we are seeing now in college football," noted Manning. "He's a relentless recruiter, he has discipline, he believes in players getting an education, the kids who play for him have fun, he's a leader and he has great character.

Archie Manning.

"The players who come to Ole Miss don't just learn about football, they learn about life and learn about being productive men in society. They get a family atmosphere. Those things are just as important, if not more so, than football."

From afar, and as much as he can, up close and personal, Archie keeps a close eye on the Rebel program. After all, he's got a vested interest and it goes deeper than his unshakeable love of Ole Miss and Ole Miss football - his name is attached to the Freeze legacy.

"What has probably impressed me as much as anything about the program under Hugh is how quickly he has improved the talent level. He and his staff have done a tremendous job of bringing in top-notch high school and junior college football players," he noted. "I get a lot of feedback from a lot of different people and the impression he and his staff have made on high school coaches throughout the Mid-South and beyond is impressive.

"It takes time to develop relationships with high school and junior college coaches, but they have built strong bonds in a short amount of time. Those are bonds that will last and pay dividends for a long time."

For Manning, it all comes back to character.

"I take great comfort in knowing the man leading our program has the character Hugh does," Manning added. "It gives me comfort and confidence about the program, knowing it's being done the right way with a man who is teaching our young people great values in life and also doing everything he can to make us a winning, championship program."

The beating Archie took in his NFL career is now taking its toll. In the last 14 months, he has had major back surgery and has had a knee replaced.

He is nearing the end of 14 months of grueling rehab for both surgeries, but guess what?

"I'll be in Atlanta," he stated. "I'm excited about our team and can't wait to see them play."

And his final thought on the hiring of Freeze as Hugh's third season approaches.

"Not one thing he has done has changed my mind that he's the right guy to lead Ole Miss football," he closed.

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