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Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze completely overhauled his coaching staff this offseason

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze entered the offseason determined to shift course for his football program — one that, in the same calendar year, went from a 10-win, Sugar Bowl-winning season to 5-7 and last in the SEC. Changes were coming, and come they did.

Freeze has all but completely overturned his coaching staff. Only four coaches remain (Matt Luke, Derrick Nix, Jason Jones and Maurice Harris) from a staff that hadn’t seen even one move in five seasons. Staff continuity was even used, at times, as a recruiting pitch by Freeze and Co. But as 2016 proved, especially on defense, the time had come for new voices and ideas in the Manning Center. 

Ole Miss has new coordinators on both offense and defense. Out are co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Werner and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack. In are Phil Longo and Wesley McGriff, respectively. Longo, formerly of Sam Houston State, brings with him his prolific, run-heavy variation of the Air Raid, while McGriff is a former staffer under Freeze who makes his return to Oxford from Auburn, where he spent one season as defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator. 

Phil Longo/File Photo

Wide receivers coach Grant Heard, who left for the same position at Indiana, has been replaced by former Oregon offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Matt Lubick. Former LSU assistant Bradley Dale Peveto will replace Wommack coaching linebackers. Current North Carolina defensive line coach Tray Scott is expected to take the same position at Ole Miss following the Tar Heels’ appearance in the Sun Bowl Dec. 30.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

OC and QBs coach Phil Longo 

“Obviously his numbers at FCS speak for themselves, but I think that’s a big hire for Freeze. Dan did a really good job there offensively. But I think a big piece Freeze has said is we’ve got to get more efficient in the red zone, we’ve got to get better on third downs. I think those were critical pieces, and if you look at Longo’s track record, that’s what he’s been very successful at.”

— Bruce Feldman, NYT best-selling author and lead college football writer for FOX Sports

“The surprise for us all was the coach Werner move. When that occurred, I think (Freeze) was looking at it overall, and that’s not just this season. You look at the red zone production, you look at the short yardage and trying to find a little more consistency with the run game. Hugh was going to make the move to do whatever he had to do to get this team to the next level. To make the move offensively I think it was, ‘Hey, look, we’ve got to get better in the red zone.’ It really hurt us this year not having (Ole Miss wide receiver D.K.) Metcalf. When he was in there those couple of games he was a 6-4, 6-5 guy that you could just throw it up and he’d go up and get it. We didn’t have it this year. But that wasn’t the only problem. We struggled running the football. Maybe the philosophy changes enough — whether it’s zone blocking, whether it’s power blocking, whether it’s having that H-back playing the fullback truly. We’ll see. But that’s one thing they had to do, and he chose to do it this year because he had some change in other staff changes as well.”

— former Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister

Matt Lubick/USA Today Images

WRs coach Matt Lubick

“I think with Matt, he was there a decade ago, and he was the guy who recruited Dexter McCluster, among others, for Ole Miss. Back in Florida, (McCluster) wasn’t a big recruit. Obviously he turned out to be a great player there. First and foremost I think what they’re getting in Lubick is a great recruiter. When he was on Arizona State’s staff, and that was after he left Ole Miss, he basically recruited their entire class. It was an older staff. It’s not like he just has Florida ties. He was all over southern California, beat a lot of bigger schools, a lot more successful programs, to get players. So as a recruiter I think he’s a huge plus. But you look at what he did at Duke as a receivers coach when he had a lot of success there with some of their receivers. He was up for the position coach of the year award, had success at Oregon as their receivers coach. I think he’ll be a good fit because, just knowing what I do having spent so much time around there, he doesn’t have an ego. He’s a good fit, and he’s still very close to Matt Luke, the offensive line coach. For Phil Longo to take over (the Ole Miss offense), I think he’ll mesh well with those guys. I think this was a really good hire because Ole Miss had to compete to get him. I know other schools, Power Five programs, were interested in him, and he decided to come back to Oxford because he likes it and he likes the guys around there.”

— Bruce Feldman, NYT best-selling author and lead college football writer for FOX Sports

“That was probably a tough one as well. Me and Grant obviously played together, and I’ve got a close relationship with him. For Grant, he probably needed to get out on his own if he ever wanted to be anything more than a receivers coach. Him and Hugh had been together since Lambuth. That’s a long time for a guy to sit in one position. For him to have some growth, he needed to be able to do it, and I don’t know if he was going to get that opportunity at Ole Miss. With his receivers, that’s the best group that’s on the field. Those guys have to win consistently. This year was probably the drop-off that we hadn’t seen since they’ve been there. You look at the development of, say, a Markell Pack. The kid will be a senior this year and he hasn’t been the four-star, five-star receiver we thought he’d be. You look at (Damarkus) Lodge, same thing with him. He’ll be a junior and he hasn’t contributed like a four-star or five-star receiver should have. There’s some questions about some development, and some of that falls on players as well. But at the end of the day, it’s going to come back to the coach because he has that task of developing players.”

— former Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister

Bradley Dale Peveto/USA Today Images

LBs coach Bradley Dale Peveto

“What he was known for around here, the No. 1 thing, was his recruiting. He really did a good job in recruiting. I believe one of the years he was named No. 1 recruiter in the nation. And specifically with linebackers — that’s kind of his forte — he went after a lot of linebackers recruiting-wise, and he got a lot of them. He’s from east Texas. He knows that landscape pretty well. Certainly from that side of things he really succeeded here and he’s succeeded in the past. Ole Miss is getting a guy who’s pretty relentless recruiter on the trail and knows the landscape of Texas and Texas recruiting and linebacker recruiting.”

— Ross Dellenger, LSU beat writer for The Baton Rouge Advocate

“Coach Peveto's experience is exactly what we need at the linebacker position and special teams. At LSU, he coached some of the nation’s best in those areas and won a national championship. He has also proven to be one of the best recruiters in the country, and we could not be more excited to welcome him to Ole Miss.”

— Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze

Wesley McGriff/Oxford Eagle

DC Wesley McGriff

“McGriff did a great job with the secondary this year. They had 54 pass breakups. Auburn was No. 1 in the nation with 67 total. McGriff had a lot to do with that. The secondary played with much better technique; even the youngsters they had, which is a tribute to what McGriff can do as a coach. Obviously everybody knows what he can do in recruiting. He was just starting to get his feet wet with recruiting getting back into it at Auburn, and I’m sure when he gets to Ole Miss and he’s running his own defense he’ll get back to that recruiting style that Ole Miss fans were accustomed to back in 2012. But he was absolutely phenomenal in getting those secondary players to play up to their potential. They made a huge step forward from last season. As much as people talk about Wesley McGriff the recruiter, I think he proved to everybody at Auburn that he is a heckuva coach as well.”

— Brandon Marcello, editor and senior writer for Auburn 247

“Wesley is the total package — an outstanding leader, creative coach and dynamic recruiter. The defenses have been outstanding at every place he has been, and his most recent experience at Auburn has him well prepared for this opportunity. He helped lead a unit that was tremendous at stopping the run, limiting explosive plays and being stingy in the red zone, and we look forward to Wesley applying those same principles to our young men on that side of the ball.”

— Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze


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