From all reports new Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze hit a home run at his introductory Press Conference. Unless you've been living under a rock (or in a cave) you know Hugh Freeze as the guy who was the High School coach for Michael Oher and went on to be depicted in the movie The Blind Side. The really devoted college football fans might also know him as the coach who took Arkansas State this season and gave them their best season since they went 12-2-1 in 1986 (when they played in the Southland Conference). Freeze was hired by Ole Miss in 2005 and was the WR/TE coach from 2006 to 2007. He left Ole Miss when Houston Nutt was brought in as the new coach as Freeze pursued a Head Coaching Opportunity at Lambuth University.
In the Press Conference, Freeze referred a lot to his "love" of Ole Miss. "I understand the Ole Miss people and the love you have for the University, each other and the love you have for family. I have that love." Freeze pushed all the right buttons and for the first time in a while has given the Ole Miss football faithful some hope for the future.
Just how important is "winning the press conference"? In the long run, it's not that important as long as you win on the football field. In the short term, it's very important because you can take a lukewarm fan base (as Ole Miss reportedly was on the hiring of Freeze) and get them all united behind you. It gives you positive momentum but you can't just expect that momentum to keep going on it's own. You have to shake the hands, kiss the babies, get in the right living rooms and most importantly...keep your promises.
In his press conference, Freeze talked about a 12-month recruiting plan he learned from Ed Orgeron (laugh all you want but if there is one thing Orgeron can do...it's recruit). He also talked about his "basketball on grass" offensive philosophy that he feels is an advantage for his team because the rest of the league doesn't see it much.
How fast can Freeze win on the field? It's going to be a grind and an up hill battle. First and foremost Freeze has to be able to compromise and adjust his gameplan. The spread offense that Urban Meyer brought with him to Florida didn't run wild immediately but after tweaking it to work in the SEC he won two National Championships. Freeze has already talked about recruiting but he's going to have to recruit at another level to even begin to approach Bama, Arkansas and LSU (and let's not forget Auburn had the #1 recruiting class in the Nation last year according to Scout.com).
Ole Miss is void of proven playmakers on both sides of the football. RB Jeff Scott is a nice piece and will be a junior next year, Donte Moncrief and Nickolas Brassell are a good pair of young WRs but who will throw them the rock in Freeze's offense? Freeze has a ton of areas to address. One thing I think is on his side is that the Ole Miss fanbase understands where they are at and they seem willing to give him the time needed to get this ship turned around.
The one thing I will caution is something I said a couple of weeks ago. We are in the "win now" era of sports. While it is important to be able to recognize someone who doesn't have the toolset that they need to make it in a job, it's also important to give coaches a chance to succeed. Nick Saban went 25-22-1 in his first four years at Michigan State. Frank Beamer went 24-40-2 in his first six years at Virginia Tech. Sometimes you just have to know you have the right guy and stick with him. Ole Miss is a hell of a step up from Lambuth University and Arkansas State. Is Hugh Freeze the right guy? It feels like a good hire, but the SEC West is an absolute pressure cooker where there is little room for error. Good luck Mr Freeze, you're going to need it.