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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Freeze wins a particularly important day in Hoover

COLUMN: HOOVER, Ala. —He was quick but not rushed, funny but not mocked, informative but not boring, and even managed to find the sunny side of inheriting a 2-10 program with a healthy SEC losing streak.

Measured by his own rhetoric, the consensus among a pool of over 1,000 media members jaded by three days of clichés and no sunlight was that Hugh Freeze won the day in Hoover. The SEC rookie head coach held his own, and maybe even then some during Thursday’s SEC Media Days finale.

Even bookended by national champion Nick Saban and conference dean Mark Richt, Freeze looked every bit the part of a SEC coach. Absent from his time on the podium were some of the more earnest, mockable moments from his hiring press conference and work on the Rebel alumni circuit, replaced with a stark but not hopeless assessment of his very thin roster, as well as a respectful and proud response to South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier’s dig at Ole Miss two days earlier.

Usually there’s little to gain for coaches at Media Days. It’s often considered a pointless event for the question askers, but as much as there’s nothing in the way of a scoop or an exclusive when you group hundreds of reporters around the same microphones, coaches don’t usually have a chance to leave Hoover “up” in the perception standings – unless they’re a rookie like Freeze. Then a whole new set of standards applies, but the grades can turn out nasty.

New head coaches don’t have to explain their botched calls in upset losses from the year prior, or endure backhanded assessments of their conference record, but they can be dismissed as unworthy in quick fashion. However, it’s possible to earn a begrudging check of approval from the assembled media.

On Thursday Freeze avoided the trap that’s caught the Robbie Caldwells and Ed Orgerons of the past, and the “eccentric” John L. Smith this year. The consensus among those who rarely cover Ole Miss was that he’s a sharp-minded offensive leader with a long road ahead of him, but not a sideshow clown or a scam artist (seriously, snap judgments are common and nasty under the ballroom lights of the Wynfrey).

He could have returned fire at Dan Mullen and the Mississippi State billboard wars with humor, hatred or both. Instead, he didn’t sell the drama and killed with kindness. He could’ve publicly thrown Houston Nutt under the bus for academic issues and poor recruiting. Instead, he played diplomat, a stance counter to his personal success, as blaming the predecessor might come in handy during a long October/November losing streak. He was humble about his career path, but not effusively so.

There were no points scored on Thursday and no one left considering Ole Miss to be anything more than an afterthought on the field this fall. But credit Freeze with giving the Rebels their best public start to a coaching regime since Tommy Tuberville. In a year of potential moral victories, that could be more important than you think. (July 20, 2012, Page 6A)

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