It is not as if a head football coach at a major school in a major conference has never had to step down from that job “unceremoniously”. A few that come to mind are:
- Woody Hayes – Ohio State – assaulted an opposing player with a forearm while a game was in progress.
- Bobby Petrino – Arkansas – had a motorcycle accident that revealed an inappropriate relationship with someone who worked for him.
- Mike Price – Alabama – got into his cups in a strip club before he ever coached a game there.
- Kevin Wilson – Indiana – had “philosophical differences” with the Athletic Director.
Add Hugh Freese to the list. Freese resigned as the head coach at Mississippi under an unusual set of circumstances. The team has been highly successful during his time at Ole Miss beating Alabama in consecutive years (2014/15) and winning a Sugar Bowl game. I remember when Ole Miss was a football powerhouse in the 1960s when they won national championships based on polls; their football fortunes more recently had tended toward “break even seasons”; then Freese arrived and the Rebels won a bit more than 60% of their games.
Opposing coaches and fanbases were – and probably still are – convinced that Freese used some “recruiting shortcuts” to assemble the talent he put on the field and the NCAA had already been peering into possible infractions that may have happened under Freese’s predecessor, Houston Nutt. Freese professes to be a man of great faith and asserts that he ran his program in accordance with those high principles and values. Whenever he was questioned about possible wrongdoing, he pointed to the faith that he wore on his sleeve and denied everything.
What came to light recently was a phone call placed from Freese’s phone – supplied by the university – to an escort service. For a man who repeatedly used his faith and his piety as an explanation for his behaviors, that would have been most embarrassing but he simply said that it was a wrong number. That story might have held because it was a short call and there was only one of them. However, juxtaposed with the ongoing NCAA investigation(s), this became a burden too big for the school to bear. So, Hugh Freese was given the opportunity to resign but the school made it clear that they were willing to invoke a “moral turpitude” clause in his contract as the basis to fire him.
Here are a few observations related to this matter:
- If indeed that call was a “wrong number” that was accidentally dialed, it would be ironic to learn that a “butt dial” to an “escort service” led to this resignation.
- Football coaches at every level are not always “truth-tellers”; lying, obfuscation and dissembling are skills that football coaches need and use; it is “professionally acceptable behavior”. Having said that, rampant hypocrisy is much more difficult to take – even from a successful football coach.
- The interim coach is Matt Luke who was the OL coach and offensive coordinator under Hugh Freese. In keeping with Freese’s piety theme, note that his name consists of half of the writers of the Gospels in the New Testament. It may take someone of that stature to hold this program together this year…
As someone who enjoyed Batman comic books as a kid, the Hugh Freese matter has an interesting linkage. One of Batman’s old arch-enemies was Mr. Freeze; his name is homophonic with Coach Hugh Freese. Another of Batman’s villainous adversaries was Mr. Two Face; that seemingly describes Coach Hugh Freese quite well. If you had told me when I sat down to compose this rant that I would tie together Ole Miss football with old-time Batman comic books, I would have been skeptical…
The other big news from late last week was the announcement that Kyrie Irving wants to be traded from the Cavaliers with 2 years left on his contract. Reports indicate that Irving no longer wants to play with LeBron James. Let me assume those reports are completely accurate for a moment; if that is the case:
- Do not forget this circumstance any time in the future when Kyrie Irving or one of his representatives tries to tell the world that the only thing Kyrie cares about is winning championships. If you are a basketball player and that is indeed your primary motivation, playing on the same team with LeBron James puts you in good stead to achieve that end.
I will not pretend to know the genesis of this trade demand from Kyrie Irving nor will I pretend to know where he might want to go for the next installment of his basketball career. Naturally, there were knee-jerk analyses right after this story hit the streets suggesting either or both the Lakers or the Knicks as his next team. The Lakers might be an interesting choice but the Knicks would likely be an unpleasant stop for him. There is no way Kyrie Irving has asked for my advice and there is no reason for him to value it even a little bit, but if I were able to wave a magic wand and put him on another team where he might flourish, I would consider these options:
- New Orleans Pelicans: They have plenty of talent at the “big positions”; there is room for improvement at “shooting guard”; Irving might be the catalyst for a big step forward for the Pelicans.
- Minnesota Timberwolves: This team is loaded – with the recent acquisition of Jimmy Butler – and Irving might be what they need to become the #1 challenger to the Warriors in the NBA West.
Given that this would have to be a trade situation, I think the Cavs would be most likely to send him to the West and not to another East team. However, there is an interesting aspect to all of this. Remember, that Dan Gilbert fired GM David Griffin and then low-balled Chauncy Billups as his replacement. Now we hear that Kyrie Irving wants out. LeBron James has only one year left on his deal before he can opt out. So, riddle me this – continuing my focus on Batman’s opponents:
- If LeBron also “wants out”, is it possible that Dan Gilbert is the common denominator” here and that he is the chaos creator? If he is indeed the burr under everyone’s saddle there, would that make him the ownership equivalent of Donald Sterling minus the racism? Just asking…
Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding fan fervor in SEC country:
“An Auburn fan showed up at SEC media days with his dog painted blue and orange. This work of art is widely considered to be the Mona Lisa of the South.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………