This just in, Ole Miss’s second-year head coach Hugh Freeze is more than just “that guy who was Michael Oher’s high school coach in The Blind Side.”
Freeze has the potential to make his part in the Oher story nothing more than the magical beginning of a storied career in the coaching.
So, what’s so special about Freeze, and how did he manage to rise from a high school coach to the head of an SEC program in less than 10 years?
Freeze’s start in coaching came by means of a B.S. in Math with a minor in Coaching and Sports Administration from Southern Miss in 1992.
Wasting no time in putting his degree to work, after graduation Freeze became the offensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Briarcrest high school in Memphis, Tenn. After serving in that capacity for three seasons, Freeze was promoted to head coach in 1995.
Not only did Freeze’s path prophetically collide with Oher’s during his nine years as the head coach at Briarcrest, he also led the school to state titles in 2002 and 2004.
Freeze followed Oher to Ole Miss in 2005 but initially not to the football field. Freeze’s first post in the college ranks was as Assistant Athletics Director for External Affairs.
This led to coach Ed Orgeron hiring him as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, roles he served in from 2006 to 2007. Freeze’s efforts led to Ole Miss signing—according to Rivals—the No. 15 ranked recruiting class in 2006, the highest in school history at that time.
Freeze moved on to coach NAIA Lambuth (located in Jackson, Tenn.) in 2008 and 2009. He took a program that had only scored double-digit wins twice in history to a 12-1 finish in 2009.
After a brief stay at San Jose State as offensive coordinator, Freeze landed the OC job at Arkansas State. In a single season he improved the Red Wolves offense from a No. 90 ranking in scoring a No. 42 rank.
Freeze was promoted to head coach at Arkansas State in 2011, where the offense improved further to a No. 31 ranking and the program to a 10-3 record. This marked the best finish since 1986 (when it was a D I-AA school) and the first Sun Belt title since 2005.
Freeze was named the head coach at Ole Miss in December of 2011 and led the Rebels to a 7-6 finish in his first season.
In what has become a pattern for Freeze, Ole Miss improved its scoring offense from a No. 116 ranking in 2011 to a No. 44 rank in 2012. He also managed to take a program that brought in—according to Rivals— the No. 40 ranked recruiting class in 2012 to the heights of a No. 7 ranked class in 2013.
What’s So Great About Freeze?
Well, if you like the underdog, Freeze is your guy in a wonderful combination of ways.
First, Freeze didn’t play college football and next, he’s someone who has spent more than half of his coaching career in the high school ranks.
No, this is not a coach that has “crème de la crème” and “prodigy” stamped on his resume.
His role at Ole Miss only serves to enhance this “little guy” mentality. The Rebels—stationed in the powerful SEC West—aren’t perceived as having a realistic shot of knocking off Alabama and LSU, much less Texas A&M and Auburn.
This is a program which hasn’t won a title—of any kind—since capturing the 1963 SEC championship. Ole Miss last finished a season ranked in the AP top ten in 1969 and has never received a BCS bowl bid.
Perhaps what’s even more attractive about Freeze is his alternate approach to football and life.
To illustrate, here is how Freeze defined success in his first team meeting at Ole Miss.
We’ll define success here when you come in the locker room after 60 minutes, and you sit [down] to the guy next to you, and you can say to him, "I did every single thing in my power today to make sure you were successful. Not me. You." And when we get to that point, we’re going to have success.
Freeze is a coach advocating “the other guy” and “playing for love” in a society that celebrates the individual and grooms the hater to hate.
If you really want to get fired up about Freeze, check out this video from his pregame speech before last season’s Egg Bowl versus Mississippi State.
When you add it all up, the question becomes not “Why?” root for Freeze but “Why not?” root for Freeze.
The next opportunity to support Freeze in his quest to turn the SEC on its ear comes via a road trip to Alabama this Saturday at 6:30pm EST on ESPN.
Not only could the game represent a turning point in conference history, it could become one of the defining moments in a young coaching career.
So, what if Freeze really does make a legendary run at Ole Miss? Will he bolt to Texas, USC or even Florida?
Well, in his own words from his opening press conference at Ole Miss, “This is a destination place for me, it is not a stop along the path. It is where I want to live, it is where I want to be, it is where I want to retire.”
Though similar promises have been uttered by coaches in the past—only to be broken by accepting a “better” job—why is it so irresistible to want to believe that Freeze is different?
Biographical information comes courtesy of Ole Miss, recruiting data comes courtesy of Rivals, statistical rankings courtesy of College Football Statistics and historical team data courtesy of College Football Data Warehouse.