Tuesday, December 06, 2011

An amazing and amazingly brief resume

When Houston Nutt "resigned" and people started looking around for dudes with geographic ties and/or relatively impressive resumes, the list basically went like this:

1. Kirby Smart
2. Gus Malzahn
3. Larry Fedora
4. Mike Leach
5. ???

At no point did I see the spectacularly named Hugh Freeze come up as a candidate until the news leaked that he had both met with the Ole Miss search committee and apparently been offered the job. In terms of name hires, Hugh Freeze is not Mike Leach.

This is the extent of the guy's college coaching resume:

2006-07: Ole Miss tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator
2008-09: Lambuth (NAIA) head coach
2010: Arkansas State offensive coordinator
2011: Arkansas State head coach

That's it. The way you get an SEC head coaching job at the age of 42 and with an inch-long resume is by having a career record of 30-7 (!). He went 8-4 and 12-1 in his two years at Lambuth, took the O-coordinator job at Arkansas State, turned a crappy offense into a pretty good one and then went 10-2 in his one year as head coach.

I should also back up a little and point out that he was previously a high school coach at Tennessee powerhouse Briarcrest and won two state titles in nine years. He got the recruiting gig at Ole Miss the same month Michael Oher (who played under Freeze at Briarcrest) signed with Ole Miss, which was obviously a little shady and prompted an NCAA investigation that ended with a "this is really sketchy but not necessarily a violation" ruling. Anyway, when Ed Orgeron hires you to recruit, you can recruit. He obviously knows what he's doing in a-gun-rack-on-every-truck country.

Seeing as how Arkansas State is Arkansas State and the NAIA exists only in theory, the information we have about the guy as a coach is pretty limited. One certainty: He likes to spread it out and throw. He's not Hal Mumme or Mike Leach but definitely wants to put the ball in the air. His Lambuth teams averaged a little over 40 points and about 465 yards a game; his Arkansas State teams averaged about 32 and 428. This seems like an appropriate spot to mention that Ole Miss was 114th in total offense and 116th in scoring offense this year. That is inexplicably awful for a BCS-conference team and will unquestionably get significantly better.

Freeze also gave a pretty emotional/passionate presser speech ...

... that seemed genuine and probably sold some people on a guy they'd never heard before Monday. He's originally from Mississippi and called Ole Miss "home to me," which is what everybody says but is more literally true in his case. I feel comfortable saying that the Deep South isn't for everybody (like me, for example). Cultural comfort is relevant. Freeze gets it.

So that's what we know. What we don't know is everything else, which is a lot.

I can't find any data on Freeze's NAIA defenses, and it's probably not worth looking for anyway. Since the Arkansas State defensive numbers are are all I've got, I'll list them here: 20th in total defense, 15th in rushing defense, 17th in pass efficiency defense and 15th in scoring defense. The 2010 numbers (under the same defensive coordinator) were almost exactly as bad as those are good: 110th, 101st, 105th, 91st. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but since 2010 was the first year under D-coordinator Dave Wommack, I'll generously give him credit for the turnaround.

This is relevant because Wommack is reportedly coming with Freeze as D-coordinator and actually has a resume filled with SEC stuff and decent D-I coordinator jobs (Georgia Tech, Southern Miss, UNLV, etc.). The defense shouldn't be a major problem, which is more than can be said for the Ole Miss defense the last two years under Tyrone Nix. The weird thing is that Nix was really highly regarded about five years ago, had two straight excellent defenses after coming to Ole Miss and then watched the entire unit go off a cliff in 2010 and '11. Whether Wommack can turn that group into something worthwhile is even less clear than what Freeze can do with the offense. It might be fine and it might be disastrous for a couple years pending some personnel upgrades. Dominance isn't likely.

There's also another massive variable: going from high school to a recruiting job to the NAIA to the Sun Belt to arguably the worst job in the SEC. That is a huge jump. I see the resume and think "OMG 30-7 that's Urban Meyer" and then think "ehhh Ole Miss." I don't even know what word to use to describe the difference between running high school/Sun Belt teams and trying to build an in-the-tank program that's in the same division as LSU, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas A&M; I'm thinking "ginormulantic" (or something). Everything he's done is both impressive and potentially meaningless.

I'm not even sure the poker analogy works here. Freeze is like going in with pocket jokers in some weird game with wild cards and whatnot. He might be Joe Tiller or Gerry Faust or anything in between. If he's closer to the Joe Tiller end of the spectrum, he'll have earned it in that division.

BTW, there is one other thing he's got going for him:
“Once we completed our interviews, our No. 1 choice was crystal clear,” said Mike Glenn, who joined Archie Manning as co-chair of Ole Miss’ search committee. “Our No. 1 choice was Hugh Freeze.”
This is another thing that gets said all the time regardless of veracity but is actually true in this case. Freeze was offered the job while everybody else was trying to figure out if Kirby Smart or Mike Leach or whoever was gonna interview. Being an unknown Plan A is a lot better than an unknown Plan C when it comes to support from both the fans and the administration; given the state of the program, that's not insignificant. He'll get a chance to turn things around, which isn't always the case in the SEC. Now he just has to do it.


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