Ole Miss’ Freeze speaks to locals about state of football program
NATCHEZ — Hugh Freeze said he recognizes the excitement surrounding Ole Miss football.
The Rebels head football coach appreciates the reinvigorated fan base and has high expectations for the program’s future, he said. But his message to fans at a Wednesday luncheon at the Vue Hotel was one of patience.
“It’s great that we have great expectations, but unreal expectations lead to frustration,” Freeze said. “So let’s be careful — we’re still in the process stage, and we are just in the beginning of it. It’s great to be excited. We’ve got a great recruiting class coming in, but we need to follow that up with two or three in a row, so let’s be very excited and passionate but also understand that we’re still on the journey. We haven’t arrived yet.”
Freeze joined Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork at the luncheon Wednesday, and both spoke to a large crowd of Ole Miss alumni and supporters. Local Ole Miss fan Will Devening said he was impressed with both of their speeches, which discussed the excitement surrounding the program and plans to improve facilities.
“I left there with a very positive outlook on Ole Miss’ football future,” Devening said. “It just seems like there’s a lot more excitement (surrounding it) this year. It’s different from past years. People are really excited about where we are and where we’re going.”
Key Smith, president of the Ole Miss Alumni Association’s Natchez chapter, said the excitement isn’t just limited to football.
“A lot of things are on the up, all across the board — not just football,” Smith said. “Basketball had a good year. The women’s programs are doing well. Baseball is having a good season, though they’re in a little slump right now. (Freeze and Bjork are) doing everything they can to keep us competing at a high level. They have a passion about what’s going on at Ole Miss.”
Freeze said he understands the importance of having strong programs surrounding the football program at Ole Miss.
“I think football sets the tone for any university,” Freeze said. “I think if football was going well, the others will benefit. Then, in return, I think we benefit in recruiting when we bring them to a campus and we’ll go to a baseball game and there’s 11,000 people there, or we go to a basketball game and have seven straight sellouts.”
Recruiting was a big topic of discussion for Freeze during the presentation, and he said recruiting is everything when it comes to building a program. The success he had recruiting this past season comes from Ole Miss being easy to sell, he said.
“It’s a genuine sale, because it’s genuine to us,” Freeze said. “We sell the family atmosphere — that’s what we are, that’s who we are, and I think it gives us a little niche that’s maybe a little different than other players.”
With teams like LSU, Alabama and Texas A&M in the same division, Freeze said he knows fans want a program that can compete with those teams. Building that kind of program all comes back to recruiting, he said.
“We can make it complicated, but at the end of the day, if you have two and three deep (on the depth chart) like they do… we have facilities, we have support, and if you can get the players that they have, you should be able to compete with them.”
Freeze said he was happy to make the trip to Natchez and share his vision with local fans and alumni.
“Anytime you get to share in the excitement the fans have right now and the passion they have for the program, they deserve to hear from us from time to time,” he said. “It’s important that they hear what the next step of our journey is from me, and they not imagine what it might be.”