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Friday, October 31, 2014

Visor to visor: Spurrier’s endorsement boosts Freeze

COLUMN: HOOVER, Ala.—Hugh Freeze could have walked away from his second SEC Media Days without speaking a single word and his reputation would’ve still been enhanced.

The Ole Miss head coach breezed through his segment in front of the national media on Tuesday after a routine set of questions (save for one weird mention about coaching girls basketball from an Arkansas radio host). There wasn’t a heavy push back about the Rebels’ decidedly un-Rebel-like recruiting success in 2013, and by my count the word “Nkemdiche” was spoken only once.

And then Steve Spurrier arrived. The stalwart chairman of the board, the eternal comedian and raconteur detoured from a speech pushing increased financial support for student athletes long enough to address that jab he gave the Rebels a year ago this week. In 2012 the Old Ball Coach told us he’d schedule Ole Miss every year if he could. A year later, his praise for the program and its young coach was effusive.

“When I was a high school coach, I wanted to be like Steve Spurrier,” Freeze admitted in reference to his fondness for wearing visors on the sideline.

“Hey, when I said that last year, Ole Miss was 2-10,” Spurrier deadpanned. “They’re a lot better now. Hugh and I have a lot in common; we both play golf, we both wear visors, we both call plays. How can you not like a guy like Hugh Freeze?”

And just like that, a coach who a year ago was unrecognizable to media members outside spitting distance of the Delta is now the toast of the conference’s title-winning old guard. That’s what a surprise 7-6 season and a recruiting haul can bring. That’s what working the ropes against Alabama earns. That’s the buzz that a near-miss loss against an LSU team with quadruple the talent creates in coaching circles.

Big help
Freeze should send Spurrier a cold case of his preferred vices – maybe a gift bucket of Titlest balls and a bouquet of Coors Light tall boys. Because for all of the non-news that floats around this bloated, largely pointless event, there’s still a chance for up and coming coaches and small programs to brand themselves.

ESPN cameras are swarming these hotel ballrooms, desperate to fill a bundle of 24-hour networks. Nothing said here amounts to an inch on any football field, but by virtue of a humble performance and Spurrier’s comedic (but sincere) endorsement, Freeze is the talking point du jour.

There could be worse things – Will Muschamp is still wearing a badge of shame named Louisville. For the first time, Dan Mullen won’t have his “Our State” rhetoric to build a narrative on. Mark Stoops will try to convince us Kentucky football is a viable idea. And Vanderbilt’s dismissal of four players amid awful allegations of sexual assault?

The opening night game is a toss-up, but the Rebels are way ahead of the Commodores in the court of positive PR. It’s July and this is Hoover, so that’s the only scoreboard that matters. (July 17, 2013, Page 8)

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