by Jim Harris
Posted 7/19/2012 12:40 pm
Updated 2 years ago
Hugh Freeze, in one season as head coach at Arkansas State, guided the Red Wolves to 10 victories, a perfect slate in the Sun Belt Conference and a bowl game. At Ole Miss, he inherits a program that hasn't won a Southeastern Conference game since early October 2010 and plummeted last year as Houston Nutt was let go.
In Jonesboro, Freeze had an all-conference quarterback, Ryan Aplin, who he tutored for two years. On defense, the Red Wolves had several talented seniors, led by linebacker Demario Davis and defensive end Brandon Joiner. At Ole Miss, Nutt inherited some talent from his predecessor, Ed Orgeron, to win 18 games in two years, but then the recruiting took a downward turn, with serious deficiencies at quarterback, and Ole Miss posted a 2-10 mark last year.
Academic problems and more transfers from the program followed, including highly touted two-way freshman Nicholas Brassell. Little is expected of the Rebels in Freeze's first year (although some wise-acre media member gave Ole Miss a lone first-place vote in the SEC poll released Thursday).
The inevitable question arose for Freeze on Thursday at SEC Media Days: How would you compare the talent you had at ASU last year to the talent at Ole Miss this year?
Freeze did a little dance around the question.
"I don't know if that's a fair judge necessarily, because the year we had last year at Arkansas State was a remarkable ride," Freeze said. "The chemistry we had, the discipline that was already there that I have to give Steve Roberts, the coach before me, a lot of credit for. He had a lot of great things in place, and I learned a lot of things from him.
"Defensively I thought we were really, really talented at Arkansas State. If you look at it, we have four kids off that defense that two got drafted, two were picked up [after] the draft. I think we had some really talented kids defensively. Then our quarterback play, you know, for him to complete 72 percent of his balls, throw for 4,000 [yards], lead us in rushing also, he had a phenomenal year. If you get that kind of play out of that defensive line, whatever league you're in you're going to have a chance.
"I do think we were more talented at some spots. Or maybe 'deeper' is the appropriate term I should use."
Freeze's ASU team defeated Central Arkansas 53-24 last season, so he should know a lot about the Bears when UCA visits Oxford, Miss., for the Rebels' opener Sept. 1.
The way the coaching profession intertwines leads to some interesting coaching moves, especially for guys who have proverbially "been around the block." Dave Wommack coached for Houston Nutt at Arkansas, coordinating the Hogs' defense from 2002-04. After being fired there he moved on to South Carolina for two seasons and spent two years at Georgia Tech in 2008-09, sandwiching a season at Southern Mississippi as an assistant.
Freeze hired Wommack at Arkansas State going into the 2011 season at Jonesboro and brought him to Oxford when he got the head coaching job, which previously had been Nutt's.
So, Wommack, the 32-year coaching veteran who coached in two separate stints at Southern Miss, knows his way around the SEC and the Magnolia State, and he proved his worth in turning around ASU's defense last year for Freeze.
"I feel like the amount of wisdom he has, the way he goes about dealing with the young men, it works for me," Freeze said. "I'm thrilled to have him on board."
HORNS IN OXFORD
Ole Miss has one of the smaller SEC stadiums (60,580 capacity), and it's certainly tiny compared to Texas' massive Memorial Stadium in Austin. But the Rebels were able to get Texas to come to town for a Sept. 15 nonconference game this fall.
"Obviously, if we can go into that game with some type of momentum, with ESPN picking it up as their prime time slot on that given night and all the possibilities surrounding that day, whether game day may come or may not, I don't know," Freeze said. "But that could be one special day in Oxford, Mississippi, which is already a special place. That would just be another check on the list that occurs in Oxford."
Some publications have rated Ole Miss' schedule among the toughest in the nation. Ole Miss' road schedule is brutal with trips to Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Arkansas (in Little Rock). While Texas is on the nonconference slate, the other games are aganst UCA, UTEP and at Tulane, which shouldn't be quite as taxing as Freeze tries to turn around the Rebels' fortunes.
"I really don't talk about it a lot because, you know, we're going to play it," Freeze said of the schedule. "We're going to show up and compete in every game hopefully."