Greeson: Ole Miss's deep troubles continue to grow

Greeson: Ole Miss's deep troubles continue to grow

July 14th, 2017 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 file photo, Mississippi head coach Hugh Freeze speaks with a reporter about the team's 38-13 win over Wofford in their NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss. The University of Mississippi has contested the NCAA’s charges of lack of institutional control and failure to monitor by head coach Hugh Freeze. The Ole Miss football program released its response Tuesday, June 6, 2017 to a second NCAA Notice of Allegations in less than two years. The first NOA alleged 13 violations while the second added eight more, bringing the total to 21. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

HOOVER, Ala. — Well, that took a turn, so it must have been Hugh Freeze's day at the podium at SEC media days.

Leading up to Freeze's appearance Thursday to represent Ole Miss, former Rebels football coach Houston Nutt — Freeze's predecessor — sued Freeze and several other Ole Miss athletic department folks for defamation.

Freeze and Co., according to the lawsuit, tried to put the blame on Nutt for the NCAA allegations and violations within the football program that forced Ole Miss to self-impose a one-year bowl ban.

It's a strange scenario for sure. Well, unless you're Freeze.

"Seems like every year that I've stood here, with the exception of my first, that there's other things that I have to talk about other than our kids," Freeze began his 16-minute filibuster opening statement Thursday. "That's the least likely thing that I enjoy doing. But as has been with the NCAA case ongoing, as I noted in our recent response to the notice of allegations, we have taken responsibility for the mistakes we have made. Our administration has taken what we believe to be appropriate action, including double-digit scholarship reductions, meaningful recruiting reductions, one-year bowl ban and a large financial penalty."

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said on "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 the Zone on Thursday that the postseason ban likely would cost Ole Miss about $8 million because teams not eligible for the postseason do not get a share of the bowl payouts split evenly among league members.

A lot of these NCAA violations stem from Freeze's highly regarded 2013 recruiting class that included three five-star, out-of-state players — among them offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, who admitted to taking improper payments from Ole Miss staff members during a crazy first round of the 2016 NFL draft.

Now enter Nutt, who was fired in 2011 and claims the Ole Miss defense of the NCAA allegations has in large part centered on blaming him.

Freeze wisely told the media Thursday that he wished he could address the lawsuit — "I would absolutely love to share my opinion on it," he said — but the level of details and precise facts in the lawsuit give it the look of more than a money grab.

Nutt cites specific phone calls from Freeze's cell phone to various, unnamed SEC reporters and then points to stories and columns written with "sources" pointing to infractions that happened under Nutt as parts of the NCAA's investigation.

Nutt even questions in the lawsuit Freeze's character and his frequent references to his faith.

If Nutt's lawsuit has merit, and Freeze lied to protect his program and deflect NCAA ire, it will be really difficult to see a way for him to remain the Ole Miss coach. If he's willing to lie to the media — although that's not that uncommon for today's football coaches — and plant fake news stories, you have to wonder what are the honesty limits he's willing to cross to save his skin.

Man, "Fake News" may have finally landed in the SEC, as if we needed any more drama. Someone get Megyn Kelly on the blower. Where's Anderson Cooper? Or Kirk Herbstreit?

Anyhoo, the level of detail and intel that Nutt has in his lawsuit is impressive, and certainly it will be interesting to follow.

Freeze has pushed his truth chips in the middle and we now believe his seat is every bit as hot as Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's. In fact, if you had $1,000 in Vegas and someone said, "You have to bet on the next SEC football coach to get fired," you go Freeze, right? It's pretty much a coin flip.

That said, Freeze still wears a confident bravado, even after he was asked about how confident he is that the Ole Miss administration has his back through all this.

"Extremely confident. They've been unwavering in their support of me," Freeze said. "They obviously witnessed me for five years run a program. So they've been unwavering, and I'm greatly indebted to them for that."

Here's betting the Ole Miss athletic department also will be somewhat indebted to Nutt sooner rather than later and this lawsuit will be settled out of court as Freeze, his bosses, the Rebels players and the fan base try to walk through the fires of NCAA purgatory.

Here's also betting that Ole Miss doesn't want to fire Freeze, but every time the Rebels brass thinks they are crossing through one minefield another one appears.

This time, it's right before an already hindered season. And this time, it involves some Nutt and a guy in a deep Freeze.

Contact Jay Greeson at 423-757-6343 and jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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