When the additional allegations by the NCAA were levied against Ole Miss almost two weeks ago, Rebel Coach Hugh Freeze was “charged” with failure to monitor his program correctly.
That allegation is one the university, via a video statement by Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork, will fight when they go before the Committee On Infractions sometime in the near future.
Having worked closely with Freeze and his former staff for five years, that charge seemed, well, tacked on, similar to the ominous lack of institutional control that was also levied by the investigative wing of college athletics’ governing organization.
It was as if the investigators huddled up and decided to add those two charges for good measure or to make a more poignant case, with an exclamation point.
Consequently, we at The Spirit were compelled to reach out to three former Rebel mentors, OC Dan Werner, DC Dave Wommack and LB Coach Tom Allen to get their insight on how Freeze actually set the tone and monitored compliance and to see how he interacted with his staff on a day-to-day basis.
As you know, Wommack retired and Allen left to move up the coaching ladder and is now the head coach at Indiana University, so it was predictable they would have some positive things to say, but they are men of honor and there was an expectation of truth.
But what of Werner? He, too, is an honorable man, but would he talk in favorable terms about a guy who fired him?
You will recall, Freeze dismissed him in December after Werner's last two offenses were number one in the SEC in 2015 and number four in the SEC in 2016, stating he felt Werner had taken the offense as far as he could and he (Hugh) felt there was “another level” to reach under someone else’s guidance.
Certainly, Werner disagreed with the dismissal and Freeze’s assumption, but Werner had no qualms in talking about Freeze's record of compliance during his five years with Freeze.
“That whole NCAA situation, I was very far removed from it. I was never named in the investigation or interviewed. We were just told to be quiet about it,” Werner began. “I know Hugh is under a lot of scrutiny that he did know or should have known what the NCAA alleges was happening, but I thought about all of that in the last couple of days.
“I have worked for 16 head coaches in my career and I ranked them 1-16 on who talked more about doing things the right way, who is encouraging and demanding the staff all the time to make sure they are abiding by NCAA rules, who is the stickler for compliance and who preached to his staff constantly about the importance of compliance, Hugh Freeze is number one. He would say if you break a rule, it would hurt every family in that room and that was not something he was willing to risk.”
Werner said Freeze was not only number one, but number one by a long shot.
“I can’t even tell you who number two is,” he continued. “Whoever it was, was 100 times less consistent and adamant about compliance than Freeze. No other coach I have worked for has ever come close to talking about doing things the right way as much as Hugh did.”
All this coming from a coach who felt he was wrongfully dismissed less than three months ago. . . .
“This guy fired me. I could easily be bashing him, but I am for what is right and all I can tell you is what I heard from him in regards to playing by the rules and compliance literally every single day in staff meetings,” Werner ended. “What is he supposed to do? Follow everyone around 24 hours a day? It’s impossible.
“Hugh set the tone for compliance and he monitored it to the best of his ability. That charge is just not legitimate in my mind.”
Wommack was, it is documented, considering, in the twilight of his career, finishing things up in the high school ranks, but then he met Freeze, who had just gotten the head coaching job at Arkansas State.
“There was something really different about him,” noted Wommack. “I didn’t know him, but I felt comfortable with him immediately. I was skeptical because I had been in the SEC and ACC and wasn’t sure if I wanted to coach in the Sun Belt.
“But after I met him, I knew he was special. He was sincere. He is a man of faith, true faith. He is a coach the players love and he is a motivator. He was about more than just coaching football, he was about building men and teaching young men about life and the right way to live it.”
Wommack said Freeze was also a stickler for following the rules.
“We had mandatory compliance meetings all the time and every recruiting meeting, which were frequent, Hugh would tell us to do it by the rules and do it the right way,” he said. “I never saw any indication of any of what he is being accused of.
“He was always on the up-and-up with compliance and with monitoring our activities the best you can as a head coach. Failure to monitor is such a sweeping accusation and really every coach I ever worked for could be accused of that. How do you monitor nine assistants and an alumni base 24 hours a day? He was as good as I have ever worked for or seen in doing that part of his job the best he humanly could.”
Allen, who began with Freeze at Lambuth, then to A-State and ultimately to Ole Miss, also emphasized Freeze’s attention to detail in regards to compliance and monitoring his staff, but first he wanted to speak of Hugh Freeze the man.
“What drew me to want to work for Coach Freeze is the connection we had and the values we shared,” Allen stated. “The things that were important to me – family, faith and mentoring young men – were very important to him. It was very obvious to me that he and I were similar in our beliefs.
“We motivate players the same way, we connected with players the same way. We used spiritual opportunities to impact young men’s lives. To me, that’s character because it was always about developing men and coaching the heart more than it was football. We always tried to capture their hearts and their minds and that was not the norm in college athletics. To me that spoke volumes of the kind of man he is.”
Allen and Freeze walked in lockstep for several years before Allen got an advancement opportunity, but he will never forget Freeze’s influence on him.
“What he believes in resonates with me deeply and I wanted to be a part of a staff like that,” he continued. “It is special when your family is encouraged to be a part of your coaching career and not excluded.
“Hugh had his family right in the thick of the program and he allowed us and encouraged us to do the same things. The kind of environment he created for us as a staff was something I am emulating at Indiana.”
Allen does not mince words – he wants his program to have the same values he and Freeze had together through those formative years of his career.
“It’s about family. I want my staff to have the opportunity to be great husbands and fathers and citizens and mentors to the players,” Allen noted. “It’s hard to do in this profession, but Hugh gave me the blueprint and I am grateful for that.
“I want, and will have, that type of environment here at Indiana.”
Allen will also be adamant about his staff following the rules, just as Freeze was when Allen was with him and is now.
“We were definitely constantly reminded to do things the right way all the time and there was no compromise to it,” Allen closed.
The accusation against Freeze of not monitoring his program in regards to compliance is a charge the university will fight, they have already proclaimed via a video response of the latest allegations.
Based on the remarks of three of Hugh Freeze’s former assistants, there’s ample reason to put on the gloves.