Ole Miss head coach met the media at the SEC spring business meetings in Destin Tuesday

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met with the media at the SEC spring business meetings in Destin Tuesday. Below is the transcript of the question-and-answer session, transcribed from audio provided by Kyle Campbell of Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations.

Opening Statement

“Back in 2013, when I sent out my infamous tweet after the criticism we received for signing a class, saying if there are violations out there, we would love to hear them, I ran that past my AD. I don’t know that Twitter was the right message board to do that from. But it was from a sincerity that if there are things that are wrong, we want to know. There’s too much at stake, too much at stake with your families, your reputation. Since that time, we’ve spent 3 1/2 years, countless man hours, $1.5 million dollars in cooperation with the NCAA to search and try us. And we’ve been tried in many, many areas. That brought us to our response last week.

“It’s been quite frustrating not being able to have comments throughout this process while so many narratives are being introduced. But out of respect for the process, that was what we were asked to do. So today I get to tell you some of the things that I’ve told recruits because it always comes up. I had to stay within the boundaries, obviously, in doing so. But as the head coach in any program, I must own everything that happens. I own the gradual success that we’ve had, and it’s been gradual, from seven wins, to eight wins, to nine wins, to 10 wins. I also own some very difficult losses, two that kept us out of Atlanta, with a broken leg to Auburn and a fourth-and-25 last year that would have given us a shot to go to Atlanta. I have to own all of those.

“I own the recruiting success that we’ve had. I also own the recruiting failures. Many, many kids we’ve lost to other SEC schools that hurt and sting. I have to own all of those things. I have to own our academic success, which is at an all-time high. I have to own our social behavior, which keeps you up at night because something bad can happen tonight with any of our kids, our young men. I also own the area of compliance, the 3 1/2 years of investigation have turned up mistakes that I must own. To be exact, there were four that preceded my tenure at Ole Miss and there were nine that were under my watch. We’ve been as honest as we can throughout the process. We also made a public statement that says many of those allegations date back to a former football staff in 2010 and the withholding and re-instatement process around Laremy Tunsil in the fall of 2015. To be exact, nine is the total for that. So his statement is very accurate. Of the nine that occurred under my watch, four are Level 1s. Of those four, three have zero staff involvement. One has a staff involved in it that we look forward to sharing our view of exactly what the facts are in that case when the time is appropriate. The others are secondary, or Level 2s and 3s in the new penalty structure. To me, there’s a difference in making a mistake and in willful intent to circumvent rules to try and gain an advantage. We have owned these mistakes for each of these and taken action with self-imposed penalties that have been punitive. From sitting kids out that chose to cross permissible boundaries to disassociating boosters to financial penalties to limits on the last two signing classes to scholarship reductions, reduced days for recruiting, reduced official visits, coaches education, pulling coaches off the road and most recently no unofficial visits during a four-week period during spring practice.

“I stand here today owning the mistakes, but that is what they are, not some staff out trying to buy players. And their mistakes did not rise to the level of termination. There’s not a single charge in our letter that charges a coach with buying players. While I have struggles in life that I don’t always get right, breaking the rules in recruiting is not one of them. I won’t do it. My name and the name of Him that I represent and our university mean more to me than I can express, and it is my hope that we will be known for who we truly are and these mistakes will not happen again. Although it’s been a very difficult process, and a long one, I assure you it will make us better in the long run as we continue our journey at Ole Miss.


On the "shots" he's taken to his reputation:

“Probably more difficult than I can express to you. Maybe I care too much. I’ll tell you what, I was told by a good mentor of mine that this job will make you callous. I do see where that is true because it’s very difficult to be raised by my parents like I was, to be who I want to be and who I say I am, and then to have people create narratives around things that I may or may not had control over or that they directly associate me with, and some of them I know not to be true. And you’re a bit silent. So it’s very difficult. It’s difficult on your family, on your kids, for sure. They don’t quite understand that. The thing that this process has done is you really find out who your friends are. It makes you value the relationships you have with your players past and current and the families that choose to join you because of the environment that you promote that know you for who you are throughout the process. It has been frustrating. There are some I’m not ever going to change their mind. In their mind, (snaps fingers) we became an immediate, overnight success, which that’s not completely accurate, either. It’s been a process, and we’re continuing to build. Our coaches have done a good job in a lot of areas, and where mistakes were made, we’ve taken action. Many of these were self-reported. But it is difficult. It doesn’t matter who we get a commitment from, the narrative is — I don’t care if it’s a two-star, three-star, four-star — I think we have a heck of a place to come play football and a heck of a conference and a great college town. But I don’t know if I will ever change that narrative, and I’ve got to come to grips with that.”


On losing out on some recruiting battles:

“There were a lot of good players, ones we thought we had right down to the wire, and we’ve been beaten by good schools. Our conference has a lot of great schools and great options for kids. That narrative, when that happens to us, the narrative’s not the same it doesn’t seem. That’s what I’ve got to deal with. We’ve lost quite a few players; I can go through them all. They’re readily on my mind. But that’s going to happen, and we’re going to win our share because we work hard at it. Again, I think Ole Miss is a great place and we have great leadership in our administration and our facilities are nice, and it’s a heck of an environment. We have lost our share for sure.”


On his message to current recruits:

“The same thing I’ve told this last class. When the report broke the weekend before signing day, that was an awkward time for that to be and you’re not sure. Thank God the majority of the families that we recruited had known us for who we are. They said, ‘We know you for who you are and how you recruited us,’ so we were able to still land a good class. But I shared with them the exact things I could share. Here’s the reality: there are 13 charges. There are four that predate me. There are nine that are under my watch. Of those nine, there are four that are serious charges, three of which have nothing to do with our staff. I can’t do anything about those. The one that is serious that has a staff member involved in it, we differ on the view of it. I know the facts. Hopefully we’ll be able to share that in due time. The others are things that we self-report, and a lot of schools have self-reporting things throughout the course of the year. The big question is what are the penalties. I don’t know the answer to that. I know what we have self-imposed, and I can share that with them. But I can’t go into the details of every single allegation. Now it’s more easy to do because it’s public knowledge. I don’t know what the end result will be. I think we’ve been pretty punitive to ourselves, but that’s not for me to decide.”


On a potential different standard for Ole Miss:

“That’d be for you guys to decide. I try not to go there. There’s obviously — I’m not saying it’s media driven — but there are rivals fans that are not used to Ole Miss being relevant. But again, there were mistakes made. We have to own those. It’s just like any academic failures. I don’t want any of those. I don’t want any compliance issues. I don’t ever want to deal with compliance, but we had some, and we’ve got to deal with them. We’ve rocked the narrative of college football a little bit, and there’s obviously some people that don’t like that.”


On changes made to the program:

“Well, I listed a lot of things. But we’ve done rules education every week. But I’ve done this since I’ve been there. Our coaches know that if they put in jeopardy our families, they’re not going to have a job if it rises to that level, where it was intent to go out and gain an advantage. I’m going to part ways, and they know that. I love my guys. I believe in them strongly. Maybe I’m too loyal. I’ve run everything by our administration. I said I don’t want to have blinders on. In my opinion, they haven’t done anything that rises to that level where I should walk in and terminate.”


On Laremy Tunsil's NFL Draft comments:

“On a national scale. I can’t discuss that case because it’s still ongoing. We’ll gather the facts in cooperation with the NCAA. But that certainly didn’t help the narrative.”


On if he's noticed a shift in perception of the program:

“I haven’t really noticed it. Recruiting is still going good. We’re in on the top guys in the nation. What that means at this juncture, who knows. When they list their top five, we’re in a lot of those. It’s probably more in my perception than reality. We tend to fool ourselves that everybody cares about our little world, and that’s probably not totally accurate other than in our circle. But the people who know you, just like they know your friends and know you and have been around you your whole life, they know who you are and you just rally with those guys. You kind of close your wagon. My staff knows me. They’ve been with me a long time. They know what my expectations are. Our kids know us, and my family, it’s actually drawn us closer. I can’t really say what the perception has been. I’ve had a ton of people reach out to me in support. And we have some others on social media that I try to stay away from now. But I don’t know. Hopefully in time we’ll just continue to be successful and maybe we can prove ourselves.”

On being tempted to respond via social media:

“Not anymore. Used to be. That was in my stupid, immature days.”


More on Tunsil and the NFL Draft:

“I cannot comment. Again, the confusing part of a lot of this process is you just can’t comment on an ongoing situation. I can’t comment on that now. I look forward to the finality of it, obviously, then I’ll be able to stand and talk about it.”


On any of the coaches on his coaching staff paying players:

“I don’t believe and have zero knowledge that any of our coaches have ever paid a player, and if I get that knowledge, there will be problems.”


On his possible deposition in the Tunsil civil lawsuit:

“You know what, our lawyers are handling all of that. I really don’t have a reason other than I was out of the country and really don’t have any knowledge of it.”

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