If you’re a regular reader of Crystal Ball Run, you know that in the past, we’ve had our fun with the Ole Miss football program. Well, really, I take that back. More so, we’ve had our fun with the bumbling, stumbling fool that masqueraded as their ex-head coach, Houston Nut.
Really, to say that Houston Nutt was a “bad head coach,” would be like saying, “Michael Lohan is a bad father.” Quite frankly, it’s the understatement of the century.
Over the last four years (and really, the last two year in specific), Nutt was running much more a three-ring circus than a football program. During that stretch his team was comically awful, going 6-18 in his final two years in Oxford, with just one win over an SEC program in that stretch. Along the way, there were losses to Vanderbilt twice, Kentucky once, and a season-opening defeat to I-AA Jacksonville State to open the 2010 season. Yes, that actually happened. Not to mention three straight losses to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, which might not seem like a big deal to you, at least until you realize that Ole Miss hadn’t lost to State three times in a row since the early 1940’s.
As we’ve also mentioned though, Nutt’s failures went well beyond what happened on the field, and if anything, his greatest blunders have come off of it. His players got arrested for all kinds of problems with the law, he made a mockery of NCAA signing limitations, and above all, even when his players were healthy and able to play, too often they were doing dumb stuff to get them suspended or booted from the team. By the end of this past season, any number of players had been suspended for silly little stuff, including- but not limited to- the starting quarterback and two starting running backs. Seriously, what self-respecting football program has its veterans and leaders getting suspended before key games? The problem was, all that stuff was commonplace under Nutt.
Well with that, I’ve got some good news for Ole Miss fans. Not only is the black cloud of the Nutt era gone, but if anything, I personally think they made the best single hire of the off-season with Hugh Freeze. He might not have been the biggest or flashiest name on the market, but of every coach and every job opening, I think he might just be the best “fit.”
Now please understand one thing: I’m not saying that Freeze was the best coach on the market this off-season. He wasn’t. That title obviously went to Urban Meyer, followed by Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach. But again, this is Ole Miss. And other maybe Leach, I don’t think any of those guys were ever candidates for this particular open job.
The Rebels also could’ve gone with some of the hotter assistants on the market, names you know like Kirby Smart and Gus Malzahn. While I think each might make a fine head coach someday, is the SEC West isn’t where you take the training wheels off and give them their first job? My short answer is: “Hell no.” After all, wasn’t Will Muschamp the hottest coordinator on the market 12 months ago? And now, after a year in the SEC, is he the same slam dunk future star of coaching we thought he’d be? I’d say no. Speaking of which, if Florida AD Jeremy Foley had his druthers, think he might’ve gone after a guy with a little head coaching experience instead of Muschamp if he had to do his search over again?
Well, at the very least, Freeze has that. It isn’t a ton of experience, but it’s important experience none the less. All the little stuff that a head coach has to handle, from hiring a staff, to taking on media requests, stuff like that, Freeze has done it. He might’ve not have done much of it, but it’s hard not to think that he’ll handle the push and pull a bit better than a first-timer like Malzahn or Smart would’ve.
Beyond that, there’s Freeze’s spread offense, which he instituted seamlessly at Arkansas State over the past two years. It resulted in college football’s 28th ranked scoring offense in 2011, which averaged a cool 33.5 points per game, or, 17 points more on average that Ole Miss’s anemic offense scored under Nutt this year.
Of course that doesn’t mean that I expect that Freeze’s offense will put up 33 points a game in his first year in Oxford. It won’t, nor will it accumulate the 454 yards of offense that Arkansas State put up this year either. I’m not naïve enough (or dumb, might be the right word) to think that because a guy can put up 33 points against Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee and Troy, that he’ll be able to do it against Alabama, LSU and Auburn.
Still, that’s not really the point.
Albert Einstein once said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” And in an abstract way, that was kind of Ole Miss’s biggest problem over the last few years: Nutt was trying to beat Alabama and LSU by playing their game instead of by attacking them differently. Well I’ve got a newsflash for any coach who thinks he’s going to walk into the SEC and win strictly relying on a power run game and strong defense: It ain’t gonna be easy. Again, just ask Muschamp.
Which is why I like the Freeze hire so much. Simply put, I don’t know if his spread can work, but ultimately, that’s not really the point. The truth is that in most years, Ole Miss just isn’t going to have the talent to match up with Alabama or LSU. It isn’t about trying to be “better” than them, per se, as much as just attack them differently. The spread will hopefully allow them to do that.
Most importantly though, Freeze is going to bring back pride to this program, which just so happens to be the one intangible most lacking under Nutt. Freeze is a Mississippi guy, who simply “gets” what the program is about and how much it means to the fans. This isn’t a layover job, or stop-gap between Arkansas State and one of the premiere gigs in the sport. While I’ve got no inside information to verify this, if you heard Freeze’s state of the union opening address Tuesday in Oxford, it sounds like he plans on being at Ole Miss as long as they’ll have him.
And that’s the biggest thing that this program was missing under Nutt: Pride.
Truth be told, I told don’t if Hugh Freeze is another offensive innovator like Bobby Petrino, Urban Meyer or Chip Kelly, or if he’ll fall flat on his face like Ed Orgeron and Nutt did before him. What I do expect though, is that for a first time in a long time, the players on that roster will be proud to wear an Ole Miss uniform, and just as importantly the fans will have a product to be proud of too.
Ultimately, I don’t know if Freeze was the perfect hire for Ole Miss.
But he was the right one.
Hotty Toddy Gosh Almighty!
For all his opinions, insights and analysis on college football, be sure to follow Aaron Torres on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.
Follow Crystal Ball Run @CrystalBallRun.
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