Wednesday, November 30, 2022

See What Hugh Freeze Said About His Staff Shake-Up

Freeze-Rebels-Bill-Barksdale
Rebels Head Coach, Hugh Freeze. Photo by Bill Barksdale

A Sugar Bowl victory in 2015 followed by a 5-7 finish in 2016 led to Hugh Freeze deciding it was time to shake things up a bit.

Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack retired following the Egg Bowl loss, and offensive coordinator Dan Werner was let go last week. With a little over two months until National Signing Day, Freeze made the official announcement that the Rebels have hired an offensive and defensive coordinator.

The leader of the FCS’ most prolific offense at Sam Houston State, Phil Longo, has been chosen to head up the Rebel offense. On the defensive side of the ball, Auburn’s Wesley McGriff will take over to help the “landsharks” get their bite back.

Hugh Freeze met the gathered media earlier today to discuss the newest additions to his staff. Check out some of the highlights from his press conference below. 

Freeze - Phil Longo - Photo Courtesy of Sam Houston State
Phil Longo – Photo Courtesy of Sam Houston State

Offensive Coordinator – Phil Longo 

The Rebels struggled in a number of areas on the offensive side of the ball in 2016, leading to Werner’s departure. An inefficient running game and troubles in the red zone put the Rebels in a tough spot, letting close games slip away. Freeze talked about the balance that Longo will bring to the offense, along with his track record and those who have spoken well of Longo throughout his career. 

“There were three critical areas that I really felt like we needed to improve on to take it to the next level: third-down efficiency, red zone scoring touchdowns and rushing the football in the structure of how we play in our tempo offense…If you look at what he’s done, really over his whole career, but over the last three years, it has been pretty phenomenal, when you look at 80 percent scoring in the red zone, close to 70 percent third-down efficiency and being balanced in rushing the football. His last three years rushing the football were 3,700 yards, 3,600 yards and 2,658 I believe. That’s something that’s very important that we improve on and believe in the structure of who we are and taking what he’s done, it’s going to allow us to improve in all three of those areas that will be vital in taking us from good to the next level. Excited to have him. His offenses have been No. 1 throughout the FCS the last two years. He’s been very balanced. He’s coached All-American Jeremiah Briscoe throughout this and people like Mike Leach, Kliff Kingsbury, people who know him very well, did not have enough good things to say about him. He’s a tireless worker and he’s going to bring a great energy and drive and hunger to help us improve offensively.”  

During his tenure at Ole Miss, Freeze has promoted the idea of “family” and how important it is to him. Longo will fit in well with that ideology both here at Ole Miss and on the recruiting trail, according to Freeze. 

“I think he’s going to be dynamic. You talk to his players who have played for him, the guy has been to 32 – I can’t say this and I think I’m close to my players – he’s been to 32 of his players’ weddings. That says a lot to me about the type of man he is. Family is important to him. His wife, Tanya, and his daughters, I’ve spent some time with them in their home, and it’s just a solid family. I think he’s going to fit really well here.”

Freeze mentioned that Longo will handle play-calling duties, but they will work very closely on the plan for the offense. Freeze trusts Longo’s instinctive nature, and looks forward to working with him to help their systems mesh with one another. 

“Phil is bringing in his terminology. We’re so similar, but I love the way his terminology works. I think it puts us more in a great structure. We had gotten a little too spread out with too many ideas maybe, and I loved his presentation on, this is the structure, we stay within the structure as long as we feel like we have things that will be successful. So it’ll be his structure. We obviously have thrown the ball extremely well, so we’ll share ideas. The great thing about Phil is he’s the ultimate learner and he wants to learn. (Kilff) Kingsbury told me stories about him just driving, sleeping in his car just to talk ball, to get new things. We’re going to have a great offensive staff. I love the chemistry I saw when he was here and I believe that he’s open to whatever ideas we have. But it will be within his structure and terminology that we’re going to operate.”  


Freeze Auburn defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff - Benjamin Wolk/SEC Country
Auburn defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff – Benjamin Wolk/SEC Country

Defensive Coordinator – Wesley McGriff 

Ole Miss’ new defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff returns home to the Rebels from Auburn.

McGriff this past season was on the Plains of Auburn with Gus Malzahn as the secondary coordinator for the Tigers.

Before coming back into the SEC, McGriff spent three seasons with the New Orleans Saints working with the defensive backs. 

McGriff returns to Oxford after his 2012 season as co-defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach. That year, the Landshark defense finished second in the SEC and the top 15 in the NCAA in tackles for a loss (7.7) and sacks per game (2.8).

One name just kept coming back to me,” Freeze said. “The comfort level I have with Wesley McGriff was very important to me, and the energy he will bring in reviving our defense is going to be vital. The experience he has been able to have, whether it’s coaching the No. 2 secondary in the nation in pass defense at Miami, working for great coordinators at Vanderbilt and Auburn, and the NFL experience. In his interview, he blew us away. We love the energy he’s going to bring back to Oxford.”

During this past season at Auburn, McGriff and his fellow coaches on the defensive side of the ball finished in the top 10 in rushing, top 10 in scoring and gave up very few explosive plays.

What Freeze had to say about the type of defense the Rebels can expect to see from McGriff’s philosophy:

“It’s a 4-3 scheme, but it becomes a 4-2-5 against certain personnel, it becomes an odd front against certain personnel,” Freeze said. “There are no more 4-3’s, or 3-4’s really. Everybody is getting into even and odd fronts. It’s more about the structure of the fits and who you are going to put the stress on. Are you putting it on the safeties, are you putting it on the backers? Everybody’s philosophy is a little different on that, but we’ll base out of a four-down front.”


Other Changes to the Staff

The hiring of McGriff and Longo highlighted the day, but that wasn’t all that changed on the Rebels’ staff. The departure of DL coach Chris Kiffin and WR coach Grant Heard leave some uncertainty for the Rebels moving forward. Freeze discussed the changes to his staff after five years with the Rebels and missing a bowl game for the first time here at Ole Miss. 

“It’s time for some change to revive us a little bit. We’ve had a good run. The first four years here were incredible. But we live in a society where they forget about those and move on to the next one and we needed a change. Two of those, I can’t comment on where they’re going because I don’t think it has been announced. But Grant Heard and Chris Kiffin, anytime my guys get to go and have a chance to pursue their career goals, both of those have a chance to go and be coordinators at good programs, and I’m one who gives them advice. Sometimes I don’t tell them what to do, but I tell them, when you get a chance, shoot your gun, go. Both have those opportunities at places. I think they’re close to finalizing those with their next schools. Corey Batoon right now is going to be assigned in an off-the-field position here. We love him and his knowledge of the game. Hope he’ll be able to stay here and assist us in some role, not sure what that is yet, but we’d love to keep him in the building. I’m giving Wesley some freedom to help me build the staff in the way he sees fit.” Freeze said.


Adam Brown is the sports editor for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at adam.brown@hottytoddy.com.

Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at steven.gagliano@hottytoddy.com.

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