Wednesday might have marked the beginning of the end for Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss.
The NCAA hit Ole Miss with, and to sum up the charges quickly, it’s not pretty. While many of the allegations are the same kind you always hear about -- rogue boosters tossing cash and free stuff around, assistants all-too-eagerly playing a role in this hoping that landing the big recruit will one day lead to a better job -- two of the new allegations hit Freeze harder than the others.
The biggest is the lack of institutional control and failure to monitor charge levied by the NCAA, which is not afraid to lay the blame for that at Freeze’s feet. According to the NCAA, Freeze “violated head coach responsibility legislation,” which is a fancy way of saying that, even if Freeze wasn’t directly involved in any of the violations, it’s his football program, and he’s ultimately responsible.
Ole Miss says it plans to fight this charge, and Freeze says he looks forward to defending himself.
“As the record will show, I am constantly communicating to our compliance office, the SEC office and industry leaders to make sure we are using best practices when it comes to doing things the right way,” Freeze said as part of a 21-minute Ole Miss video announcing the notice of allegations. “Contrary to the allegations, I have demonstrated throughout this entire process that I have a strong record of promoting compliance and monitoring my staff, and I look forward to presenting that evidence to the Committee on Infractions.”
Well, apparently all the compliance promotion wasn’t enough to stop all these alleged violations from taking place, which is precisely why Freeze is in an impossible position.
Freeze and the school want to make sure everybody understands that the coach was not directly involved in any of this, but that doesn’t make the situation any better.
Essentially, this can only go one of two ways for Freeze.
The first is that Freeze either was directly involved or at least knew about what was going on, and he was perfectly fine with it. That’s not a good look for anybody.
The second is that all of this went on right under Freeze’s nose without him being the slightest bit aware of it. While this isn’t as ugly on the surface as the first situation, it does nothing to instill much faith in Freeze. He is the head coach, and this is his program. He’s the one ultimately responsible for everything that takes place in and around it. Maybe that’s not fair, but it’s also why Freeze was paid $4.7 million in 2016.
All of this leads me to wonder if Ole Miss is simply better off parting ways with Freeze. To be clear, I don’t think that’s what Ole Miss intends to do. After all, he’s a local product who has moved the Rebels forward on the field. There will probably be a suspension -- potentially up to a full season -- maybe a fine.
But the lack of institutional control charge from the NCAA is a serious one, and while Ole Miss is imposing its own postseason ban for the 2017 season, I doubt that will ultimately be enough. The reality is that the bowl ban is a sacrifice to the angry NCAA gods in hopes that it will take mercy on them.
Parting with Freeze would show the NCAA that the school understands the nature of its violations and is truly interested in doing something about that lack of institutional control. The NCAA would likely take such a drastic move into great consideration when levying its penalties. Keeping Freeze around, however, could have the exact opposite affect.