University of Mississippi head football coach Hugh Freeze looked like he was going to survive an NCAA investigation and a lawsuit from his predecessor. What he couldn’t
survive was “a pattern of personal conduct inconsistent with the standard of expectations for the leader of our football team,” according to athletic director Ross Bjork.
That pattern was first brought to the university’s attention because of the lawsuit that former head coach Houston Nutt filed recently.
A one-minute phone call that Freeze made to a number associated with a female escort service led the university to look deeper into his phone records. What Bjork found in those phone records then led to a meeting with Freeze on Wednesday night and then again on Thursday morning. During the second meeting, Freeze offered his resignation.
Bjork, in a press conference on Thursday night, stated that if Freeze hadn’t resigned, he would would have fired him using the “moral turpitude” clause in his contract. Freeze didn’t receive a buyout or settlement for his resignation.
Two wins over the University of Alabama and a Sugar Bowl win gave Freeze a good deal of stock with the university and others important to the program. Now, everyone who supported Freeze ends up with egg on their face with this new scandal.
ESPN analysts spent last night saying that, with Freeze is gone, the NCAA might not come down as hard on the university. It could just as easily lead the NCAA to bring its full weight down on the program.
Freeze resigning for defects in his moral character makes it easier, if I was on the Committee on Infractions, to believe that the allegations against him and the university may be true. If something in his past forced him to resign a job that paid $5 million per year, is it a stretch to think that he knew a coach was paying recruits under the table?
Then in turn, how much of what was going on in the program did others, like Bjork, know? Again, it’s not unbelievable to think others knew what Freeze was doing before the Nutt lawsuit.
It is easier to look the other way after big victories in the Sugar Bowl and against Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. It becomes harder to look the other way when scandal claims keep coming and recruiting goes down the toilet.
Freeze’s best hope is that the NCAA won’t hit him with a show-cause penalty that would make it harder for another school to hire him. If that doesn’t happen, he could easily follow the same footsteps as Bobby Petrino.
Petrino was the head coach of the University of Arkansas before he had a motorcycle accident. The motorcycle accident led to the media finding out that he was with a woman who wasn’t his wife.
Petrino lied about the incident before the truth came out, and it cost him his job. Freeze might not have lied about his scandal, but it was enough to get him fired.
Petrino ended up at the University of Western Kentucky in Conference USA before landing back at the University of Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Freeze can follow the same path because he is a proven winner, and that will make the difference for some school president or athletic director who is desperate enough to hire him.
In another interesting connection, Petrino replaced Nutt at Arkansas, just as Freeze replaced Nutt with the Rebels. Both coaches won quickly, and both lost their positions due to off-the-field scandals.
The NCAA couldn’t do to Freeze what his phone records ended up doing.