Freeze resignation: It’s a sad time for Vicksburg’s Ole Miss faithful

Published 10:13 am Friday, July 21, 2017

Two years ago, Debbie Freeman recalls, her father Bill Smith got a wonderful surprise for his 90th birthday.

Ole Miss football head coach Hugh Freeze called Smith, a former Rebels cheerleader, personally to say happy birthday. Later in the day, Freeze had the Golden Egg — the coveted trophy presented to the winning school in the annual rivalry game between Ole Miss and Mississippi State — brought to Smith’s home in the tiny town of Houston.

It was a warm memory that added to the shock of the stunning news Thursday evening that Freeze had resigned as the Rebels coach amidst a personal conduct scandal that allegedly involved calls to escort services.

Like many other Ole Miss fans and alumni, Freeman described a mixture of sadness, shock and sympathy as she processed the news.

“As one who bleeds red and blue, the only way I can describe how I feel is really sad,” Freeman said. “It’s the death of a magical time. Hugh Freeze could have stayed there as long as he wanted to, because he had a loyal following.”

Freeze spent five seasons as Ole Miss’ coach. He took them to great heights by winning 39 games, including the 2016 Sugar Bowl, but had also become embroiled in an ongoing NCAA investigation into the program that tarnished his accomplishments.

The highs, as well as Freeze’s personable nature, seemed to engender sympathy for Freeze and his family among the Rebel faithful.

“I guarantee there’s a lot of people right now that are glad they’re not in the public eye,” Ole Miss fan and Vicksburg resident Daniel Miles said. “He’s a dang good guy that made a bad decision. I feel bad for his family, because they don’t get to go through it privately.”

Former Porters Chapel Academy football star Talbot Buys graduated from Ole Miss in December and played for Freeze the past three seasons. Like others, he leaned on his faith and dealings with Freeze to sympathize with and support the coach on a personal level.

“I am heartbroken and shocked. I have and always will have a great amount of respect for Coach Freeze. He is the greatest coach I have ever had the privilege of playing under,” Buys said in a statement. “He taught me many life lessons in my three seasons there not only how to be a better football player, but how to be a Godly man as well. He is a brother in Christ and I am praying for him and his family during this difficult time.”

That sense of forgiveness on a personal level seemed to be the most common theme among the local Ole Miss faithful.

The Rebels were already facing a self-imposed postseason ban this season stemming from the NCAA investigation, and more sanctions seem likely once the case is settled later this year.

The investigation had also put Freeze’s long-term future in Oxford in doubt.

Many seemed to have made their peace with the football side of that equation, and were willing to pray for Freeze and wish him well as he deals with his personal problems.

“They’re highly upset, but we all must forgive,” said George Nasif, a Vicksburg resident who played football at Ole Miss from 1972-76. “Investing so much energy, so much time, so much money with Ole Miss, it is disappointing. But football goes on. Life goes on. Ole Miss goes on. You can’t hold a grudge against anybody.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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