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Cleveland: On Ole Miss Football

The Answer Man returns to answer all the questions folks are asking about the Ole Miss football situation:

Q. Did you see last week’s news about Hugh Freeze coming?
A. No. It blind-sided me. I have read where rumors were circling in Oxford of an off-the-field controversy that might take Hugh Freeze down. I had heard none of those, other than those involving the NCAA investigation. I was as floored as anyone when I learned about the other.
Q. Do you think Freeze will coach again?
A. I’d bet on it. Louisville pays Bobby Petrino nearly $4 million a year to coach football and the scandal that brought him down at Arkansas surely rivals anything we know about Freeze. That said, much will depend on what the NCAA ultimately decides where Freeze is concerned. Should he receive a show/cause, then it will make it tougher for him to get another college job any time soon. But the guy can coach. He connects with his players. He can motivate. He can recruit.
Q. Would any of this come to light had it not been for former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt’s lawsuit?
A. Perhaps it would have down the road, but certainly not now if not for Nutt’s federal lawsuit. It was Nutt’s lawyer who brought to light the call to an escort service.
Q. So what do you think of Nutt’s lawsuit? Can he win?
A. I am no legal expert but I’d be shocked. He’s blaming Ole Miss for his not being able to land another coaching job since he was fired at Ole Miss. You ask me, his record at Ole Miss has far, far more to do with why he hasn’t landed another job.
Listen, the Ole Miss football program was an utter mess after Nutt. I know. I covered it. And this is from a guy who wrote (in 2008) that Ole Miss had the best of both worlds, in that it had Houston Nutt coaching and Ed Orgeron’s recruits.
Problem was, Nutt ran out of Orgeron’s recruits and didn’t add many quality ones of his own. Ironically, Freeze helped recruit many of the players who helped Nutt win a bunch of games. After going 9-4 and 9-4 and winning two Cotton Bowls in his first two seasons, Nutt went 4-8 and then 2-10. His last two Ole Miss teams won one SEC game and lost 15, including 14 straight. You ask me, that record, 6-18 and 1-15, kept Nutt from getting a job more than anything anybody from Ole Miss said about him.
What’s more, Ole Miss wrote Nutt a $4.35 million check. That payoff didn’t come over a number of years, as so many do. It came in one lump sum.
Nutt won one conference game over his last two seasons, was paid $4.35 million to go away, and now he’s suing. I guess he could win, but he better be glad I’m not on the jury.
Q. Ole Miss named Matt Luke as the interim coach. Your take on Luke?
A. This was a good move. Luke is a solid coach, a solid guy – and, right now, Ole Miss needs solid. I covered him as a player when, as a center, he started 33 games over four seasons as an under-sized overachiever and then when he immediately joined David Cutcliffe’s first staff at Ole Miss as a grad assistant. He has moved up the coaching ladder since then with stops at Murray State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Duke and then Ole Miss again. His reputation is that of a coach players both like and respect.
He’s the best guy to try and hold this thing together, and it would not shock me at all if at some point Ole Miss removes the interim tag.
Q. Do you see the Freeze resignation/firing affecting the Ole Miss/NCAA situation?
A. Hard to say, but I don’t see any way it would hurt Ole Miss in regards to the NCAA investigation. It has seemed to me all along that the NCAA had its sights set on Freeze. He’s no longer there.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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