Ole Miss coach Freeze’s example good for Vols
By David Cobb | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
HOOVER, Ala. — Like first-year Tennessee football coach Butch Jones, Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze quickly ascended the coaching ladder to a position where he was in control of an SEC program.
And like Jones hopes to do, Freeze turned his program around remarkably fast.
Ole Miss improved from 2-10 in 2011 to 7-6 during Freeze’s first year in Oxford, Miss.
The Rebels were also grooming a new quarterback — Bo Wallace — in Freeze’s inaugural season, like the Vols will be in 2013.
“We were very fortunate in year one.” Freeze told the press as SEC Media Days opened on Tuesday. “I would not be quite truthful to stand here and tell you we didn’t have some fortune go our way.”
The Rebels started the same five offensive linemen each game and Wallace flourished behind them despite playing most of the season with an injured shoulder.
A Pulaski, Tenn. native, Wallace threw for 2,994 yards and scored accounted for a combined 30 touchdowns through the air and on the ground. The dramatic turnaround also included a pair of one possession losses to LSU and Texas A&M, both of whom finished in the top 15.
“I stood before you last year and talked about, in year one, the reasonable expectation was to try to get our young men to compete very passionately for our university, over a 60-minute span in a game. Let the results take care of themselves, whatever that may be,” Freeze said.
“I do think that we accomplished that in year one.”
Off the field, Freeze assembled the No. 7 recruiting class nationally according to http://Rivals.com while navigating through his debut year.
Though Jones has yet to coach a game, the recruiting class he’s assembling at UT for the class of 2014 is currently ranked No. 1 by Rivals.
But for Freeze, the recruiting success was partly due to the turnaround between the lines.
“No question it helped,” he said. “The momentum that was created around our place from winning the Egg Bowl and the bowl game was huge.”
Heading into year two, Freeze stressed maintaining realistic expectations as a program.
“We have made strides,” he said. “But, again, those young men we’ve recruited to help us with our depth issues, they’re 18-year-old kids. How quick they’ll adjust to this game and this league, you really don’t know.”
Wallace acknowledged the low outside expectation of the program last year and how it has skyrocketed now with the proof that Freeze can win in the SEC.
“Last year, the expectation was that we might get beat by Central Arkansas,” said Wallace who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. “We didn’t think about it then. We’re not going to think about it now.”
The Rebels play four of their first five games on the road in the conference and also travel to Texas in week three.
“We’re excited about year two of our journey, though,” Freeze said. “I know our kids have put in a tremendous amount of effort, energy and work with our strength staff throughout the summer months.
“They’re anxiously awaiting fall camp.”
UT coach Butch Jones will take the main podium for his first ever SEC Media Days at 1:40 p.m. today. From 12:20 to 3:00 he and players Antonio Richardson, Ja’Wuan and Jacques Smith will rotate between the various media stations that are set up at the Wynfrey Hotel.
Also scheduled today are fellow new SEC coaches Gus Malzahn, Bret Beilema and Mark Stoops, as well as, Texas A&M. Heisman Trophy winner Johhny Manziel is scheduled to take part for the Aggies and will face questions on why he was kicked out of the Manning Passing Academy and for more off-the-field details after the rising sophomore pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor stemming from a 2012 bar fight close to campus.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier thinks it’s unanimous among his SEC brethren: Football and basketball players should get paid. Spurrier opened his quip-filled media days address by saying the 28 football and men’s basketball coaches were in favor of paying players about $300 a game in football and perhaps a little less in hoops. Spurrier also says the coaches were each willing to pony up the $280,000 or so it would cost. The ole’ ball coach also said the football coaches all thought Notre Dame “should join the ACC and play football like all the rest of us.”
Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive also took time away from bragging about his thriving league to point out that “important questions need to be answered” about how the NCAA governs college athletics.
Slive used part of his annual address to reiterate his push for athletes to receive a scholarship that covers the total cost of attendance and stress the importance nationally of “innovative leadership to slash through our Gordian knot.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.