The Nkemdiche brothers knuckleheaded their way through their final year at Ole Miss. . . .
Laremy Tunsil, as was revealed on draft day (no coincidence there), was shown smoking weed via a gas mask bong apparatus a couple of years ago, which he admitted was a mistake. . .
There have been various and sundry DUIs, a couple of altercations and some general boneheadedness along the way. . .
But for anyone, especially the pompous national talking heads, now mostly comprised of former pretty boy ex-jocks who couldn't pass PE but are suddenly holier than thou and so-called experts, to suggest Ole Miss football has more "incidents" than anyone else and has a "culture problem" is as absurd as me saying I'm Spiderman. And as much as I'd like to shoot swinging webs from my wrists, it just ain't so and just because two of the more high-profile players in recent Rebel history had some lapses in judgment and public foul-ups does not cast a shadow over the whole program that deserves the kind of condemnation Ole Miss has received in the last three or four days.
Let's be perfectly clear here: the Ole Miss football program, like every college football program, has issues. Any time you bring together 120 or so testosterone-driven young men from different areas of the country and different socio-economic backgrounds away from home for the first time and thrust them into a college environment where they are making their own choices without parental guidance, there are going to be temptations and some are going to give in to those temptations and run afoul of the acceptable rules of behavior. A football team is no different than society - a certain percentage are going to, for lack of a better word, screw up and, invariably, it's going public, because nothing, it seems, is private these days.
That will not cease - not at Ole Miss, not at Nebraska, not at USC, not at Alabama, not at Florida, not at Notre Dame, not at Clemson, not anywhere. Any fan who thinks their football program is squeaky clean and made up entirely of choir boys is a waterhead.
But Ole Miss has been tagged as having a "culture problem" the last few days. So, let's examine that. Let's really see what kind of "culture" is taking place at Ole Miss under Coach Hugh Freeze and his staff.
One, when Freeze took over, the Ole Miss football program was an academic train wreck, teetering on APR issues that would cripple the program for years if not taken care of. Grades and APR issues are now almost an afterthought. Sure, there are some academic stragglers - there will always be three or four out of 120, but the epidemic has been cured and 98% (rough figure) have no issues with class attendance, study hall requirements, finishing assignments on time, etc., and most of the ones who struggle aren't from a lack of supervision and effort but from just not being as capable to handle college work and a full football workload.
Two, there is an accountability code/system and group setting where if one player in a group messes up, all pay the piper with extra running or whatever punishment is deemed necessary. You think that creates a "culture problem" of slackers, misfits or malcontents? No. When you have to answer to your peers for your actions, it takes on a whole new level of responsibility.
Three, Freeze has put in place, but does not force on anyone, an environment of spirituality, where youngsters can find deeper meaning to life's issues and, if they so desire, can worship together as a team or individually. A lot of Rebel players have found a better way to live through the available spiritual programs. Does that sound like a "culture problem?" No, didn't think so.
Four, there is a real family atmosphere within the football program at Ole Miss. They are all brothers. Their coaches are not only their mentors but father figures away from home. It's easy to preach "family," but they live it at Ole Miss. It's not lip service, I see it daily. No "culture problem" on that front.
Five, players are in an environment where there is tolerance for childish mistakes. They understand there are harsh consequences, but they also know their coaches and administrators will try to help them through rough water. Ask Senquez Golson, Serderius Bryant, Chad Kelly, Trae Elston and many others who made "mistakes" but are now on a better path because of the way their mistakes were addressed and punishment was meted out.
Six, what of the players you never hear anything about? That's at least 98% of the team. The vast majority that keep their noses clean, make their grades, never have any kind of issues, on or off the field, what about them? If there was a "culture problem," why haven't they strayed and gone in the other direction? I have seen that in my 35 years of covering Ole Miss as well with a couple of former teams. The old "one bad apple" theory I have witnessed, but one bad apple can't spoil this bunch because the core values and foundation to do right are too rigid, too deeply rooted. Does that sound like a "culture problem" to you? If it does, talk to Laquon Treadwell, Mike Hilton, Tony Conner, Marquis Haynes, Jaylen Walton, Jordan Sims, Javon Patterson, Quincy Adeboyejo and dozens more who have kept things between the ditches.
Seven, teams that have "culture problems" normally do not play hard all the time, normally have on the field shows of being disgruntled or temperamental or non-conforming and don't seem to be enjoying themselves in the least. You saw that in 2010 and 2011 and at other times, but when have you seen that from a Freeze team? It's very obvious. You know it when you see it, even the novice does. It's not here under Freeze and his staff and hasn't been from day one. These kids play hard, practice hard and enjoy the game.
So, let's talk real talk right now.
Draft day looked bad for Laremy Tunsil and Ole Miss. How can anyone sugarcoat that? There are things to investigate, things to fix, things to address, but for anyone to suggest there is a "culture problem" in the Ole Miss football program, well, that person is screwdriver dumb because I can say this without reservation - if my grandson becomes a football prospect, there is nobody I would rather him play for than Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss and, trust me, I love my grandson way more than I do the Rebels.
"Culture problem" in the football program at Ole Miss? All schools should be so fortunate to have the "problems" Ole Miss does.
Ole Miss is going to survive and thrive through this latest sequence of incidents and this article will not change the perception of some in the national media or fans from other schools, but you, as Ole Miss fans, can't succumb to these accusations and innuendos and unfounded descriptions. We've come too far in the past four years and deep down you know what is happening here with the football program to fall for this current media and rival sentiment.
You know, Rebels, there is no "culture problem" at Ole Miss in the football program.
And if you don't, you haven't been paying attention.