Hugh Freeze resigned as Ole Miss head football coach on Thursday over what the school called “a pattern of misconduct” that included a one-minute phone call to an escort service. Matt Luke has been named the interim coach of the Rebels, who play their first game on September 2 against South Alabama.
It’s a stunning development for the SEC West program, one that has played itself into national prominence under Freeze’s stewardship. The details of Freeze’s behavior seem to have come to light via the legal jockeying between former Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt, who is currently embroiled in litigation with the school over his 2011 departure and Freeze’s subsequent hire. On July 13, Ole Miss general counsel Lee Tyner received an email from Nutt’s lawyer, who referred to a “phone call coach Freeze made that would be highly embarrassing for all of you and extremely difficult to explain,” according to USA Today. Freeze resigned a week later, just hours after the USA Today report.
Under Freeze, the Rebels compiled a 39–25 record, won the 2015 Sugar Bowl, and reached as high as no. 3 in the AP Poll in both 2014 and 2015, a ranking the university hadn’t achieved in 50 years. These accomplishments were a result of several watershed recruiting classes brought in by Freeze that included marquee five-star prospects Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil, and 2013 no. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche.
Those recruiting classes came at a price. In 2016, the NCAA alleged that the Ole Miss football team had committed 13 violations, including “academic fraud, illicit booster involvement, and significant extra benefits in its football program.” Four of the 13 alleged violations occurred during Nutt’s tenure, while the other nine are linked to Freeze, including allegations that football staff members knowingly broke NCAA rules and lied about it, and also gave money to recruits. The latter accusation does not include Tunsil asking an Ole Miss staffer for $305 for his mother’s rents and utilities, an incident which came to light after the infamous attempted 2016 draft-day blackmail where his social media accounts were hacked and a screenshot of the exchange was posted to Instagram.
Nutt has argued in court that the school planted “false and misleading information” to shift the blame onto him and his staff, harming Nutt’s reputation in the process.
In a Thursday press conference from Oxford, Mississippi, Ole Miss chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said, “We simply cannot accept the conduct in [Freeze’s] personal life we have discovered,” adding that this matter was “totally unrelated” to the NCAA case. Ross Bjork, the school’s vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics, said that Freeze would receive no buyout, and there would be no settlement agreement.
Freeze began his collegiate coaching career at Ole Miss, serving as tight ends coach before his brief stint as interim head coach. His first permanent head coaching gig came at Arkansas State, where he led the Red Wolves to a 10–3 season that culminated in a loss in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. He replaced Nutt at Ole Miss the next year.
Freeze has yet to comment on his resignation, though that could change in the coming days. With Luke as the interim coach, the team will maintain a semblance of continuity after losing their coach just six weeks away from kickoff, but the cloud hanging over Ole Miss Football just got a lot darker.