Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Other Shoe Falls in Oxford

By Jean Neuberger

It was bound to happen. Not like this, yet the end result was inevitable.

Thursday evening, the college football world centered around Oxford, Mississippi as it was revealed that embattled coach Hugh Freeze had officially waved the white flag, resigning as Ole Miss football coach.

There's a part of Freeze that has to feel a little relief that it's all over. While his fall from grace was beyond embarrassing, the lies he told kept building up so high that you'd have to think the pressure was getting to him a little. His time in front of the print media at SEC Media Days revealed a coach on the defensive, filibustering his opening statement and complaining that he couldn't get the chance to talk about his players.

His bosses were solidly behind him, despite the first wave of NCAA investigation. Then Laremy Tunsil let the cat out of the bag at the NFL Draft, admitting he was paid during his time at Ole Miss. The NCAA came back for a second helping, finishing with 21 violations against the Ole Miss athletic program. The support for Freeze never wavered; a voice of defiance in the wake of the NCAA's findings.

For the average Rebel fan, it can be understood. After all, when you haven't tasted much success and you get a coach that delivers high octane offenses, wins over Alabama and a Sugar Bowl, you don't want to lose that. However, the athletic department's response to the NCAA was surprising in its strong rebuttal on Freeze's behalf. Most schools lack the vigor that Ole Miss delivered in their responses to NCAA violations. Not the Rebels. Ross Bjork could see the flow of donations vanishing and decided he was going to stick with Freeze, no matter what.

Bjork's gamble on Freeze was complete. He pushed all the chips in. So, when former coach Houston Nutt and his lawyer asked for an apology, neither Bjork nor Freeze would budge an inch.

They lost. Big.

What's most puzzling about this whole situation is why no one at Ole Miss gave Houston Nutt his apology. It was a situation in which Ole Miss had nothing to lose by giving it, since it was well known that a) Ole Miss and Freeze had told reporters that most of the violations were on Nutt's term and b) the NCAA LOI told a different story. Apologizing for what was known to be fact wouldn't have hurt Ole Miss's case and might have helped them under the eyes of the Infractions Committee.

And if they apologized, yet Nutt and Thomas Mars revealed the information anyways? It would've painted Nutt and Mars as extremely petty, since an apology was all they asked for in the first place. Instead, it showed a program brazen enough to ignore the threat made and getting burned from it.

What Freeze did inappropriately is between him and his family. It was the worst case scenario for Ole Miss, who had to release a man whose honor they defended for so long. Their defense in front of the NCAA will be extremely tough and likely will fall on deaf ears. After all, it's hard for anyone to believe a man's ethics are in tact when he resigns for unethical reasons.

However, there's no denying that, had they played their cards right, Freeze might still be the coach of the Rebels and not the star of one of the darkest days to hit the University of Mississippi.

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