1st Coach To Fall
Freeze out at Ole Miss
August 1, 2017 | View PDF
In the era of “million dollar coaches”, a lot is given and a lot is expected. In the SEC the average salaries, benefits and bonuses of coaches is around $5,000,000.00 PER YEAR. With a maximum of the 15 games it takes to play for the national championship, this works out to an approximate $420,000.00 PER MONTH. Most of us looking at this page have never been fortunate, or good enough to be worth that much to our employer. I know a few bankers that have earned that much, maybe a few lawyers, maybe a few doctors. The President of the United States makes less in one year than one of these coaches make in one month.
Now let’s put this in perspective. Who is more important to your six year old son or daughter, your football coach or his or her first grade teacher as to what really matters in life. Are we really paying attention?
In my old age I have abandoned the quest for happiness. Today, I only want serenity. Money can buy you happiness for a while but it can not buy the serenity that you really want but you don’t realize it. Happiness to Alabama fans is a national championship. Happiness to Auburn fans is a win over Alabama so that the Tide does not win the national championship. However, that happiness is short lived when Alabama loses the opening game to Florida State, or Auburn loses it second game to Clemson. Serenity is when it really doesn’t matter very much who wins. You enjoy the moment or agonize in the moment, you go to bed, you wake up to the same sun that shined on you the day before. That may be simplistic and hard to achieve but it is true. Unfortunately, I am not completely cured. I have not gotten over Auburn’s loss to Florida State in the 2013 national championship game, nor have I gotten over Alabama’s collapse in the national championship game with Clemson last year. Had both teams run 14 more seconds off the clock, Auburn and Alabama would have been national champions in 2013 and 2016. But, my perspective is much better. It really does not affect ME! “The Sun Also Rises”.
Ole Miss fans were gearing up for a “bowl less”, mediocre season following the 5-7 record last year in Coach Hugh Freeze’s fifth year at the helm. Freeze is a Mississippi native who has been very popular with the fans during his first four seasons (7-6, 8-5, 9-4, 10-3). Intering the 2016 season, Freeze was the only active SEC coach with two wins over Nick Saban’s Alabama squad. He graduated from Southern Mississippi in 1993. His high school record was good enough to get him an NAIA head coaching job where he went 20-5 in 2008 and 2009. This landed him at Division I Arkansas State in 2011. By winning the Sun Belt Conference that year Ole Miss decided to kick Houston Nutt down the street and hire this impressive Christian man to lead the Rebels out of mediocrity and raise the bar on team morality. It was a messy dismissal of Coach Houston Nutt in 2011 that has come back to haunt Ole Miss and Hugh Freeze. Nutt filed a law suit his year claiming that Ole Miss and Hugh Freeze were blaming most of the NCAA problems facing Ole Miss on him. During the investigation into the facts of the case, Houston Nutt’s lawyer discovered unauthorized telephone calls on the phone assigned to Coach Freeze. By now most people are aware of the alleged salacious calls initiated by Freeze. We will leave the details to the results of the lawsuit.
However, the Ole Miss administration did not wait very long to act. They encouraged and accepted the resignation of Coach Hugh Freeze one day after these allegations were made public. Matt Luke, assistant coach and former offensive lineman at Ole Miss was immediately named interim head coach.
Hugh Freeze is not a monster or a predator. He is probably a nice man who became stupid during moments of weakness. We have all been tempted and sometimes done improper things as a result. I don’t know the man. I do think I know the coach. From the beginning it was my observation that Freeze was just another 8-4 coach, and if that was alright with Ole Miss, it was alright with me. His recruiting happened to be better than expected. The recruiting process under Freeze has also caught the attention of the NCAA. Heavy penalties will be forthcoming. Freeze would have been fired after the 2017 season anyway.
After big wins, I have heard Coach Freeze tell the interviewer, “God has really been good to us.” I have not heard him talk about God after a loss. Maybe he has. But, if you wear your Christianity on your sleeve, be careful where you take your shirt off.
Another coach that has lost favor with his fan base is Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. When he was hired after excellent seasons at the University of Houston, the “Aggies” broke the bank to get him and upped the ante after his first season when he beat Auburn and Alabama on the road. However, during their Cotton Bowl game with Oklahoma, a chink in the armor was exposed. Oklahoma waxed A&M 41-13. Still an 11-2 record started A&M fans believing that they would be the big dog in the Western Division of the SEC. However, Coach Sumlin’s teams don’t play defense as a rule. Sumlin’s record for the last three years is 8-5 after faltering in the last part of each season. Those Texas oil men who write the checks will not pay for another 8-5 collapse again.
Beware of successful coaches that play the kind of schedule that Houston plays; UTSA, Arizona, Rice, Texas Tech, Temple, SMU, Tulsa, Memphis, East Carolina, USF, Tulane, and Navy. The University of Texas fell for the same trick. They hired another successful Houston coach, Tom Herman. He is probably better than Sumlin because he “kisses” each player before every game.
Bret Bielema was a very respected coach at Wisconsin. Evidently he thought that it would be easier to beat up on these southern boys than play Purdue, Northwestern, Indiana, Rutgers, Maryland, Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State, Michigan, Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State. How is that working out? At Wisconsin, Bielema’s record was 68-24. In four years under Bielema, Arkansas is 25-26. (3-9, 7-6, 8-5, 7-6). Strangely the fan base at Arkansas just love Coach Bielema. He is interesting. He is amusing. He is not pretentious. He is accessible. He is big. He is overweight. He is wrong. At Wisconsin, he recruited huge offensive and defensive linemen who could just overpower opposing teams with their weight and strength. That worked well in the Big Ten. But the heat in Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida and Alabama in September and October is not comfortable for 350 lb. offensive linemen. My theory is to not schedule Arkansas in November or December. His lard tail linemen can last for almost 60 minutes in cold weather. They only last 40 minutes in early fall.
Coach Bret Bielema is a likable bear of a man. He seems to be able to get along with anybody. That’s a good trait to have when you are looking for a job. He may be doing just that with another 7-6 season. Maybe the Big Ten?
It is not unreasonable to expect one third of the SEC coaches that were coaching at the start of 2016 to be gone by the end of 2017. Don’t feel sorry for them. They have been grossly overpaid long enough to live comfortably for the rest of their lives off of earned interest on the money that they didn’t need.
Two coaches are in questionable positions going into th 2017 season; Gus Malzahn of Auburn and Butch Jones of Tennessee. Both have had some success but their fans are not that interested in some success. They want excellence and championships.
Coach Butch Jones at Tennessee is a cat of a different color from Malzahn. Even with moderate success and growth each year in the win column, people at Tennessee just really don’t like Butch Jones. He has recruited well. He has won some big games, ie. the Georgia game last year and the Florida game last year. But, he lost to South Carolina and Vanderbilt. This type of inconsistency has plagued Jones from the beginning. He also has hurt himself by talking about what a good team he will have each year and then not delivering. It is an unusual situation. But, with an overall record of 30-21 at Tennessee and two nine win season in 2015, and 2016, Butch Jones is in trouble with the Volunteer fans. Ten wins may bail him out of the Knoxville dog house but he will have to win at least two games from Florida, Georgia, Alabama and LSU and not lose to anybody else. It is my opinion that Tennessee will have a different coach in 2018.
Coach Gus Malzahn is in an unusual situation at Auburn. He can never really satisfy the die hard Auburn fans. In his first year he took Auburn to the national championship game, and would have won save thirteen seconds on the way to 12-2 season. Auburn has never won twelve games before. It will be difficult to do again in the tough Western Division of the SEC. It has taken me ten years, but I am now in favor of Auburn moving to the Eastern Conference. It just makes sense geographically and philosophically.
Malzahn has a losing record in the SEC even though his overall record at Auburn is 35-18. Some good high school football players have gotten on the “Gus Bus” in the last three years. Auburn has the best talent top to bottom than I have ever seen since the Pat Sullivan era in 1969-1971. What Gus does with this talent will either prop him up for a while or kick the stool out from under him. Another 8-5 season will only work for Malzahn if two of those wins are over Georgia and Alabama.
With the replacement of Rhett Lashlee in favor of Chip Lindsey as offensive coordinator, Malzahn finally made a big league decision. It may save him from the citricism that he has had to endure in the last two years.
Strangely, the Florida base is not exactly overwhelmed by Coach Jim McElwain. He has only won the Eastern Division of the SEC in his first two seasons in Gainsville with 10 win seasons. Some think the defense has been the reason, and that Coach Will Muschamp left that defense to McElwain. Georgia and Tennessee will challenge the Gators once again this year. Muschamp’s defensive imprint will not cast its shadow on Florida this year. From now on it is all McElwain. The quarterback problems that McElwain has had should be eliminated this year. If the Gators can play the same quality defense, they will be tough to beat.
All of the other coaches in the SEC are in good positions with their administration, with their alumni and with their fans. It will be Alabama, LSU and Auburn again in the West; Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the East.
Tee it up boys!!