You would have thought, Saturday night in his press conference after the shelling MSU gave his Rebels to close out the 2016 season with a thud, that Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze had lost his best friend.
This season has worn on him like a sandstorm wears on rock, slowly eroding his optimism and draining his energy.
But Sunday morning, Freeze sounded like a different person, full of energy and chomping at the bit to get back going, and this was at 6 a.m. Rejuvenated and ready to roll, ready to fight back.
"I woke up this morning and I just had a different perspective. It's time to right this ship," he said. "We're going to evaluate, get the right coaches in here, recruit the right players and get back moving in the right direction."
Freeze doesn't have a first order of business - everything will happen simultaneously. Evaluations, hires, recruiting, with no priority other than to attack, full go, all three immediately.
Freeze does not have a time line for hiring a new defensive coordinator other than to say "by the first of January, but if the right guy surfaces, one I know is a sure thing, I will pull the trigger sooner than that."
He reiterated what he said Saturday night, that he is looking for someone "with great energy, discipline and toughness" and he doesn't really have a preference of a base defense because "all the good ones are multiple now and we will get a good one."
As a sidebar, we have been told Athletic Director Ross Bjork has given Freeze the green light in regards to pay for any new coach or coaches he wants to hire, within reason. Obviously, the going rate now for SEC coordinators is $1 million-plus. Bjork, we have been told, is willing to write that check.
At first, Freeze, who has been researching defensive coaches for over a month, was anxious to speak with LSU DC Dave Aranda, among others, if Ed Orgeron did not get the head job of the Tigers and Tom Herman, an Aranda college roommate, did not get the Texas job, but it appears Aranda will be at either Texas or LSU and is not on Freeze's list at this time.
So who are some of the candidates? (This list, obviously, is fluid, probably incomplete, and in no particular order, but it is accurate as far as the names listed goes.)
Charlie Strong, who was recently fired at Texas as the head coach, is someone who definitely intrigues Freeze, but the word is that Charlie, who coached at Ole Miss under Billy Brewer in the late 1980s before going to Florida as a DC and Louisville as a head coach, is not talking to anyone just yet - the sting of his firing still sinking in.
Wesley McGriff, now at Auburn and before that the New Orleans Saints and Ole Miss Freeze's first year, is also a candidate Freeze wants to discuss the opening with seriously and another who was with him for a couple of years, Tom Allen, who left to be the DC at South Florida and is now DC at Indiana, is also high on his list.
And here are a few more who he will entertain. Again, the list is fluid and probably not 100% complete:
Jim Leavitt, Colorado
Colorado will take on Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game following a South-clinching 27-22 win over Utah. The Buffaloes have been a doormat for the past decade, never finishing above last place in the South until this year, but they’ve rebounded in a big way, and Leavitt’s defense is a big reason why.
Colorado leads the Pac-12 in passing yards allowed per attempt and had more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed heading into Saturday. Leavitt, in his second season as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, could very well win the Broyles award, handed out to the top assistant in college football each year. Colorado is No. 13 nationally in total defense. The Buffalos are No. 33 in rushing defense, No. 13 in scoring defense, No. 20 in passing yards allowed and tied for 22nd in team sacks. Leavitt previously coached four years with the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League. In his first season in Boulder, Colorado finished seven in the Pac-12 in total defnese (up from 11th in the previous year), second in pass defense (from fifth) and had the fifth-largest difference in opponent point differential (11 1/2 points) in the nation. In San Francisco, he tutored the linebacker corps, which included former Ole Miss Rebel and All-Pro Patrick Willis.
Mike Elko, Wake Forest
Wake Forest finished the regular season 6-6 following a 17-14 loss to Boston College on Saturday. For the year, Elko, in his third year as Wake Forest defensive coordinator, led a defense that allowed 161.6 rushing yards per game, good for 52nd in the country, and 226.9 passing yard, 60th overall in college football. Overall, the Demon Deacons were the No. 51 ranked defense.
Elko, who previously served as defensive coordinator at Bowling Green, also coached safeties in addition to his position as defensive coordinator. Elko’s 2015 Deacon defense ranked 38th in the nation, allowing just 363.8 yards per game. The Deacons also ranked among the national leaders in red-zone defense and pass defense. Wake Forest’s shutout of Boston College was the first by the Deacons in nine years. Wake Forest finished 12th nationally in passing yards allowed and was a Top 40 team in total defense in 2014. Wake Forest had five defensive players earn All-ACC honors last year. His 2012 Boston College defense was sixth in the country in total defense and 10th in scoring defense. Prior to Bowling Green, Elko was the defensive coordinator at Hofstra from 2006-08.
Alex Grinch, Washington State
Grinch is in his second season as defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Washington State. His defense showed rapid improvement in 2015. Grinch, a Broyles Award nominee and former safeties coach at Missouri, led a Cougars’ defensive unit that allowed an average of 27.6 points per game (74th nationally), a marked improvement over 2014 which surrendered 38.6 points per game (114th). By removing special teams touchdowns allowed, the Cougar defense allowed opponents just 23.4 points per game. WSU allowed 416.2 yards per game (84th), compared to 442.3 ypg (97th) in 2014. The biggest difference may be in turnovers. The Cougar defense forced 24 turnovers in 2015 (T-34th). The 2014 defense forced just eight turnovers (124th) all season. Of those turnovers, WSU improved from three interceptions in 2014 to 13 in 2015.
This season, Washington State is No. 29 in rushing defense, No. 121 in pass yards allowed, No. 56 in scoring defense and No. 69 in total defense. The Cougars finished the regulars season 8-4 and second in the Pac-12’s North Division.