Who would have thought that a sports story existed strong enough to top an O.J. Simpson headline. Well, then Ole Miss Head Coach, Hugh Freeze, found a way to do just that yesterday when he and the University announced his resignation.
With reports surfacing that placed Freeze in hot water – no pun intended – the five-year Rebels’ coach is believed to have been pressured by decision makers to step away from the program. During the nationally broadcasted press conference late last evening, Athletic Director Russ Bjork stated that it ‘has nothing to do with the current NCAA investigation’ and that they had discovered a ‘pattern of misconduct inconsistent with the standards of the University.’
The ‘misconduct’ was later deemed to be ‘conduct in his personal life’ that had been discovered and confirmed by Freeze himself. Freeze went 39-25 in his five seasons with the Rebels, beating the top-ranked Crimson Tide in both 2014 and 2015, and earned three post-season wins. Without a doubt, infractions or not, one of the best coaches in Rebels’ football history.
Once reality sets in, and the dust settles, their record-setting coach will be nowhere to be found. The question remains: Will Ole Miss now crumble?
That depends on a lot of factors that still remain unanswered six weeks before the start of the season. One word in particular will give Ole Miss fans nightmares for years to come: transfers.
They lost a lot of talent from their squad last season. Between the NFL Draft and graduation they will be looking to replace ten starters. Namely, wide receivers like Stringfellow and Adeboyejo, and tight end Evan Engram, will all be hard to replace. Yet, the team felt extremely confident in doing so during Media Days. And the reason why is simple.
The Rebels have a really strong belief in their quarterback, Shea Patterson, and in their talented, young receiving corps. Breaking his redshirt to do so, Patterson started in three games last year after Chad Kelly went down and threw for 880 yards with six touchdowns, and three interceptions. Additionally, he rushed for 169 yards on 41 attempts, his escapability drawing major comparisons to Johnny ‘Football’ Manziel.
Receivers like D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and Van Jefferson look promising to shore up the losses. Despite receiving a medical redshirt last year, Metcalf is widely believed to be the Rebels next superstar receiver, following in the footsteps of Moncrief and Treadwell.
The running back deficiencies look to be in store once again this year with the loss of Akeem Judd. Fortunately for the Rebels, they return one of the most veteran offensive lines with four starters returning to Oxford. Defensively, they have talent, but they will be spotty at best. The days of the ‘Landshark’ defense appears to be in the past.
If I could put an asterisk by everything I just wrote, I would, because there is no telling how many of these players will actually be coming back after everything is said and done. As has been noted by nearly every other major sporting site, ‘poaching season’ has now begun.
An already implicated post-season ban looms largely over the 2017 season, but now that the ring leader, Hugh Freeze, has left town, the NCAA may allow players to leave, opening the floodgates.
Teams fighting for championships like LSU and Texas A&M are in need of a talented quarterback, and Shea Patterson fits that bill exceptionally well. His father spoke with the Clarion-Ledger today, reaffirming the commitment Shea has to the Rebels’ football program. However, he did leave the door open for a transfer saying that he would be staying ‘unless there’s some sort of mass exodus or some crazy thing.’
That is the problem right now, an exodus is very likely. Kids want to play and fight for championships, and this one-year bowl ban is purely preventative. The NCAA could easily come in and administer an additional year or two after that, keeping the team from contending for seasons to come.
A lot of players commit to teams in respect to their coaches and teammates. When coaches leave, players leave, and when players leave, teammates tend to follow suit. Ole Miss has a lot of talent in their locker room heading into next season. They will compete, and be a tough out each and every week. However, that one word is their support beam, the last remaining column. Transfer.
And if players start to transfer, that column falls, and the program will crumble along with it.