By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
OXFORD, Miss. – Just who is Hugh Freeze?
If you’re not a fan of the Ole Miss program or aren’t familiar with the impressive season that Arkansas State has had this year, you might have asked that question on Monday morning when the Rebels announced Freeze as the school’s new head football coach.
Freeze understands that there may be people who wonder if he’s deserving of the job. He spent the majority of his career coaching at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis and has been a head coach at NAIA school Lambuth and at Arkansas State. He has only been coaching college football since 2006.
But the fact is, every single place that Freeze has been, he has won.
Say what you will, but there is no disputing that fact.
In three seasons as a collegiate head football coach, Freeze is 30-7 (.811) overall and, in his past two seasons as a head coach, has compiled a staggering 22-3 (.880) tally. During his tenure at Briarcrest Christian School, he was 99-23 (.811) with two state championships.
Want to know how impressive that 10-win season at Arkansas State was? Freeze became just the 14th FBS coach to win 10 regular-season game in his first year. Some of the others? Larry Coker, Chip Kelly, Ralph Fridgen and Barry Switzer.
That’s some elite company.
His Arkansas State team became just the third in Sun Belt Conference history to go a perfect 8-0 in league play and his team ranked in the top-25 nationally in eight different major statistical categories.
At Lambuth, Freeze’s team posted an 11-0 regular season record and finished at 12-1 overall his final year there. They advanced to the second round of the NAIA playoffs for te first time since 1999 and ascended to No. 6 in the national polls.
But those weren’t SEC jobs, you might say. It doesn’t matter – a winner is a winner.
“I think whatever level you coach at, you think that there is a different defense or offense being run,” Freeze said at his introductory press conference on Monday. “Every single place I’ve been, the kids are the same, their emotions and desire to win are the same, and their desire for someone to love and care for them is the same.”
And, so much of coaching has to do with being a great motivator. Freeze has that. He demonstrated it in Monday’s press conference and he has demonstrated it throughout his coaching career.
“What makes a coach special is when they can create discipline in a way that the kid still loves and cares for you,” Freeze said. “They understand it is required, but we don’t want it to be demeaning. We have to get it right.”
It has been on more than one occasion that Freeze’s doubters have thought he failed to get it right when it came to his career decisions. But who can question the results that he has produced?
“Many people told me I had lost my mind taking the head job at Lambuth,” Freeze said. “At Arkansas Sate, they had never won more than six games in football since they went to the FBS. We were able to pull out 10 this year. That credit goes to who you surround yourself with. The kids bought in and there’s no doubt that we can do that here also.”
It won’t be an easy task at Ole Miss. Freeze will be charged with resurrecting a Rebel program that lost a school-record 10 games in 2011 and has a current 14-game losing streak in Southeastern Conference contests.
Conquering that challenge will first consist of bringing in great players to Ole Miss. But who can question Freeze’s recruiting ability. In two years as Ole Miss’ recruiting coordinator, he helped bring in two top-25 classes, including the nation’s ninth-ranked recruiting class in 2006. He also has great relationships with area high schools thanks to his lengthy coaching career at Briarcrest.
“I hope my ties will be a huge advantage,” Freeze said. “I understand that what family members and coaches say influence the young men in this state. I understand the things they may go through in different parts of the state. I have recruited very few kids that did not look at others and ask what they thought they should do. We have to go capture those. Being born and raised in this state is a huge advantage.”
And the new head coach is wasting no time in beginning to form those relationships. He put together a three-month plan for how he will begin to put his stamp on the program.
“One of the things that I did in this interview process was put together a 90-day plan,” Freeze said. “We will get a partial staff in place and get our paperwork done so that we can recruit for this university. We want to get on the road and get to recruiting.”
Freeze understands that it’s not a process that can be done overnight, but he also realizes that this is an Ole Miss program not too far removed from back-to-back Cotton Bowl victories. He focuses on things one at a time, and the process of “winning the day.”
“I will pick three things every day that I can do that helps this program at Ole Miss get to the SEC Championship Game,” Freeze said. “Our daily actions have to be our spoken goals. If you aren’t winning today, you aren’t going to get there. You can’t say that you want to be an honor roll student and not go to class. You can’t say you want to be an All-America athlete and not practice hard every day. You have to win the day.”
Monday may have been Freeze’s first day on the job, but it was a day that he definitely won.
“I’ve taken my family all over the country to get back to this one place,” Freeze said. “We are the University of Mississippi and I am thrilled to be your next head coach.”
There will those who will continue to question Freeze’s credentials for the job at Ole Miss, until he is able to prove it on the field next fall. But what they cannot question is the impressive track record that Freeze has accumulated at each and every one of his coaching stops.
The numbers speak for themselves.