The Liberty Flames are getting ready for their second season as an FBS program, and they are hopeful having a coach with experience in the SEC is going to help them take some more steps forward as a program. That former SEC coach is Hugh Freeze, and he has just concluded his first spring game as a head coach since being fired by Ole Miss amid scandal. Liberty’s spring game on Saturday saw the defense handle their business for the first half, but the offense woke up in the second half to take the annual spring game.
Liberty safety Ceneca Espinoza Jr. scored the first touchdown of the game with a 41-yard interception returned for a touchdown early in the second quarter. The defense was given a 24-0 lead to start the game, so the pick-six helped give the defense a 31-9 cushion at the halftime break. In the second half, freshman running back Chandler Armstrong ripped off a 46-yard touchdown run and Class of 2019 early enrollee quarterback Johnathan Bennett connected on a 59-yard touchdown pass to Shedro Louis to add to the offensive fireworks for the Flames.
Although Bennett had a solid performance in the box score, so did the incumbant starter, Stephen Calvert. Calvert completed 18 of 27 pass attempts for 184 yards. Although Calvert will likely remain the starter for the Flames this fall, there should be reason to be optimistic about some of the future outlooks for some of the new players signed under Freeze, and there should be little reason to suspect Freeze may not wait long to make any roster changes in the fall if he feels a change will do the team some good.
Although the spring game is in the ebooks, Freeze will oversee two more spring practices for the Flames before the spring practice schedule concludes for the year.
Former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has shown a desire to continue coaching some capacity. Unfortunately for him, that opportunity won’t be coming in the SEC. As some have speculated in recent months, the SEC allegedly blocked the hiring of the disgraced Rebels head coach for fear of how bad it would look for the entire SEC. According to a report from Al.com, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told Freeze and Alabama the conference would prefer Freeze go “off the radar for at least a little while” before any returning to work at any SEC institution.
In January, it was a poorly-kept secret that Alabama head coach Nick Saban was interested in hiring Freeze to fill a role as offensive coordinator. At the time, it was reported that hiring would not be allowed by the SEC despite Saban pushing to allow for it. What was not as well known at the time was Alabama was not the only school showing interest in Freeze in a coaching role. According to the Al.com report, LSU and Missouri each took a flyer on Freeze only to be locked out of the possibility by the SEC.
The basis for the apparent blackballing of Freeze around the SEC stems from a rule, bylaw 188.8.131.52, that states any school wishing to hire a coach associated with unethical conduct that has resulted in NCAA violations must consult with the league commissioner. Sankey, in this role, provides the oversight for hires around the conference in an effort to uphold the integrity of the SEC brand. With Ole Miss slapped with a two-year postseason ban, that means Freeze is a coach that must be approved by the commissioner of the SEC.
As of now, there has been no action by Freeze to fight this supposed hiring ban in the SEC. He remains unemployed while Ole Miss continues to work its way through sanctions he was ultimately responsible for. As the bylaw is written, Freeze is not actually ineligible to be hired within the SEC. Instead, any school wanting to hire him must convince Sankey why the hire would be beneficial and how it wouldn’t harm the SEC as a whole. But if not even Saban can make that case, Freeze may have to wait a little longer for the water in the SEC to cool before dipping his toes back into coaching in the southeast.
The battle lines have been drawn in the sand between Ole Miss and former head coach Houston Nutt after Nutt filed a lawsuit against the university after not receiving an apology. Nutt will still accept that apology and agree to a settlement with Ole Miss, should the school choose to go that route, according to a report from Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com.
“The settlement proposal we presented to Ole Miss is focused on the apology Houston Nutt has consistently asked for and fully deserves,” Nutt’s attorney Thomas Mars said to ESPN. “After all, there’s no longer any doubt about what happened here.”
According to the ESPN report, part of the proposed settlement would see Nutt donate $500,000 to establish a state commission on sports ethics in Mississippi.
As we have previously covered in this ongoing dispute between the Rebels and Nutt, it looks like this lawsuit could have easily been avoided by Ole Miss if the university just would have apologized to Nutt for what he believed to be a defamation of character due to how the university portrayed Nutt following the release of the Notice of Allegations last year. Nutt issued his warning that he would proceed with a lawsuit if Ole Miss did not comply with his demand for an apology, and he followed through on his threat last month, which ultimately led to the removal of Hugh Freeze as the head coach of the football program shortly after SEC Media Days.
Nutt believes officials from Ole Miss have spread word in conversations with media members suggesting Nutt’s actions were to blame for Ole Miss’ NCAA issues. Those comments would have been in violation of the typical NCAA investigation process, as comments about ongoing investigations are not typically allowed while the process is ongoing.
If Ole Miss does not agree to apologize to Nutt, this legal squabble will drag on. Nutt is giving Ole Miss a chance to pack it up and move on, but whether the school has a vested interest in doing so remains to be seen.
Forget about Hugh Freeze being on the hot seat in Oxford. He won’t even be coaching a single game for the Rebels this fall.
Hugh Freeze resigned from his position as head coach at Ole Miss suddenly on Thursday evening, just a week after SEC Media Days. The resignation is effective immediately, and the school has announced co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Luke will take over the head coaching responsibilities for the upcoming season as the interim head coach. It should be expected Ole Miss will conduct a search for a new full-time head coach as soon as possible, but an official hire being made before the start of the season remains in question.
The resignation comes after the school discovered a phone call to an escort service coming from his school-issued cell phone. And it apparently was not an accidental wrong number either.
According to a report from Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, Ole Miss reviewed phone records tied to Freeze as far back as 2012. Earlier in the day, USA Today reporter Dan Wolken reported Freeze had made a phone call to the number associated with a female escort service. The phone call in the report occurred in January of 2016. How many phone calls were discovered by Ole Miss is at this time unknown. Once confronted with the phone numbers by Bjork, Freeze is said to have offered his resignation. Whether he voluntarily offered to resign or if he was pushed to resign by the school may never be known for sure, but given the heat on Freeze already following recent headlines it may be pretty easy to see how this all played out behind closed doors.
It has been a troublesome summer for Freeze. Just last week, he was targetted in a lawsuit filed by former Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt, and Freeze has had to deny any members of his staff knowingly violated any NCAA rules following an investigation into the program. Freeze was previously targeted in a lawsuit filed by the stepdad of former Ole Miss player Laremy Tunsil just months after the NCAA discovered 13 violations against the Ole Miss program under the leadership of Freeze last year.
In five seasons at Ole Miss, Freeze was 39-25 and coached Ole Miss to a 2-1 record in postseason bowl games. Along the way, he recruited some of the best classes in school history, although how he and his staff managed to do so has been the subject of plenty of scrutinies and the findings continue to come together to suggest foul play was used. Calls to escort services will not help that look at all. Before being hired at Ole Miss, Freeze coached Arkansas State to a 19-3 record in 2011.
Luke, an Ole Miss alum from the Class of 2000, joined the Ole Miss coaching staff in 2012 with Freeze.
The Ole Miss Rebels will not be going to a postseason game in 2017 after the university opted to self-impose a one-year postseason ban. The decision came as a result of an updated notice of allegations received from the NCAA as part of an expanded investigation. The school has charged the program and university of a lack of institutional control.
Ole Miss Chancellor Jeff Vitter, athletics director Ross Bjork and football coach Hugh Freeze provided an update on the latest regarding its NCAA investigation with a video.
In addition to the 2017 postseason ban, Ole Miss will forfeit all annual postseason revenue (reportedly to be about $7 million).
The latest notice of allegations included eight potential violations from the football program, including setting up hunting trips for a student-athlete on private land owned by a booster, providing housing for recruits and boosters providing food to student-athletes enrolled at another institution and more. Freeze was charged with violating head coach responsibility legislation. As expected, Ole Miss will contest the latest allegations levied against the university and football program that are deemed not supported by evidence.
The latest allegations:
- Prospective student-athlete went hunting on private land owned by booster, arranged by football program (Level III)
- Former staff member arranged for lodging and transportation for prospective student-athlete enrolled at another institution (Level I)
- Same former staff member knowingly committed recruiting violations and provided false information to enforcement staff (Level I)
- Same former staff member initiated and facilitated two boosters having contact with a recruit (Level I)
- A different former staff member arranged for friend of a recruit and two recruits to receive merchandise from a store owned by a booster amounting to $2,800 (Level I)
- Freeze had impermissible in-person, off-campus contact with a recruit (Level III)
- Booster provided money, food and drinks to a recruit and his companions at booster-owned restaurant on two to three occasions (Level I)
- Freeze violated head coach responsibility legislation
- Scope and nature of violations demonstrate university lacked institutional control and failed to monitor conduct and administration of athletics program (Level I)
Ole Miss has 90 days to appeal.