What's in a Number?

Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork said the school has been in active discussions with head coach Hugh Freeze and his representative, Jimmy Sexton, on a new contract. He hopes to have a new deal in place at the end of the season.

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Florida dismissed head coach Will Muschamp on Sunday.

A day later, Hugh Freeze’s name was being bandied about in various national media reports as a potential replacement.

Ole Miss, just three years removed from its worst season in school history, is 8-2 (4-2 SEC) on the year and ranked No. 8 in both the coaches’ and Associated Press polls. The Rebels travel to face Arkansas Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT on CBS.

“I don’t discuss my job status, good or bad. Nothing good comes from that,” Freeze, who has a career record of 23-13, said Monday. “My family is extremely happy in Oxford. I love working for Chancellor Dan Jones and Ross Bjork. My total focus is on Arkansas.”

Freeze has a current annual salary of $3 million. He’s signed for four years, the maximum allowed under Mississippi law. Should Ole Miss, still in play for the four-team playoff, win a national championship, his salary would settle around $4 million due to incentives.

Athletics director Ross Bjork said Ole Miss has been proactive in its discussions with Freeze and his agent, Jimmy Sexton. He anticipates a new deal being in place once the season is over. Ole Miss will close out the regular season at home against Mississippi State Nov. 29.

“I think it starts well before all these things happen,” Bjork said. “One, a great relationship between coach and myself. Two, being proactive throughout the season. I love the way we’ve handled this the last two years. Obviously, we’ve redone his contract after the last two seasons. We’ve used the same approach. Have a relationship is the foundation, go through the season and be proactive with conversations and then once you get to the end, hopefully it doesn’t take as long to get things done. That’s where we are. We’ve been proactive throughout the season. Coach knows how we feel about him. We love that he loves being here and his family’s comfortable. We’ll take the next couple of weeks to iron out the details and by all accounts, we’ll have a new deal in place for him when the season’s over.”

Bjork believes Ole Miss can be competitive with any school across the country in what it offers a coach. However, there is a ceiling.

“I think there’s always a ceiling, no matter what you do,” Bjork said. “If somebody has a life-changing opportunity, we’ll be shaking their hand on the way out and hugging them out the door. But I think we can be competitive with anybody in the country in terms of what we can offer, in terms of quality of life, in terms of salary, in terms of assistant packages. I feel good about the resources we have.”

The SEC Network helps, too. Ole Miss has a budget of $76.5 million this year, the largest ever. Bjork expects that number to soar above $80 million next year, and it could very well settle near $90 before all is said and done.

“We’re looking at a big increase in our budget,” he said. “It definitely changes the game. When you’re in that realm, that’s where you feel good about the resources you can put out there.

“Once you’re in that $75-80 million dollar range, we can take care of our people, we can take care of our facilities at the highest level. And we can compare that to anybody. (The SEC Network) probably has leveled it out a little bit. But what else can you spend that on? I think we can maximize what we do here by being in that $80-90 million range, and we’re approaching that.”

But how high can Ole Miss go to pay a head coach? Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, a comparable head coach in terms of career accomplishments, makes $5 million per. Alabama’s Nick Saban? Well, few coaches, if any, approach his $6.9 million.

“The new number became three (million) last year,” Bjork said. “What’s that new number? Is that closer to four? I don’t know if five is the norm yet. Where does it stop? Who’s the program that makes that decision where you stop? We don’t want to put ourselves in that position. We’re going to dictate how we feel about that coach, we’re going to dictate with our resources. What that sweet spot is is yet to be determined. I wouldn’t say it’s five. But it’s creeping up on four, for sure, which is crazy.

“But when you’re in the SEC, you’ve got to be able to say we’re committed to playing and competing at the highest level. So whatever that number is with what we’re comfortable will be the number.”

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