Somewhere in Tuscaloosa, maybe in a bar or on the porch of an off-campus house, someone loudly played the Queen song “Another One Bites the Dust,” regarding the sudden resignation of Hugh Freeze from Mississippi on Thursday.
Something similar probably happened around every Southeastern Conference school as well, but at Alabama there’s also the dual purpose of reminding Crimson Tide fans how fortunate they are to have Nick Saban.
The dean of SEC coaches outlasted yet another one. Freeze was the 23rd coaching change since Saban landed in Alabama in 2007, and the third at Ole Miss (Ed Orgeron and Houston Nutt). Unlike what happened with Les Miles at LSU last year, this time there was no talk about how the coach couldn’t beat the Crimson Tide.
Regardless, Saban’s vice grip on the SEC West just got a little tighter.
It’s been a while since the league drew soap opera comparisons, with scandals and innuendo drawing ridicule from around the nation. “As the SEC Turns,” once featured Mike Price and Mike DuBose at Alabama after a trip to a strip club and the affair did irreparable damage to their images, only there’s a lot more at stake nowadays.
Freeze got a contract extension last January that bumped his base salary up from $4.3 million to $4.7 million, with an increase of $150,000 every year after the 2016 season. Factor in various bonuses and he was due to make almost $5 million this season even though Ole Miss had already self-imposed a bowl ban due to NCAA issues that arose under Freeze’s watch.
By resigning, he won’t even get a buyout – which tells you that what has yet to be revealed won’t just be bad, but real bad. Like $5 million a year bad (plus when you factor in the money Ole Miss just spent on stadium renovations …)
In six years as a head coach, Freeze went 49-28, including a 10-3 showing at Arkansas State in 2011. He pulled of a Sugar Bowl win at the end of the 2015 season and managed to beat Alabama twice. When the Rebels did it the first time, 23-17 in 2014, the fans at Vaught–Hemingway Stadium stormed the field and tore down the goalposts.
“I think this guy’s one of the best coaches in our league and does a great job with the players that he has,” Saban said about Freeze before the 2016 game. “The fastball pace that they use offensively is always challenging.”
However, both of those wins might soon be vacated, pending the outcome of the ongoing NCAA investigation and penalties that now seem likely. Since Ole Miss fought the charges and rallied around Freeze, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the NCAA tees the program up and crushes it like a Big Bertha driver to a golf ball.
“We have an opportunity to model, for a lot of people that watch us – whether they like us, whether they believe in us, don’t believe in us – whatever their choice is, we have an opportunity to model for a lot of people how to handle a difficult circumstance, by choosing to see how blessed you are with the things you still have,” Freeze said just last week at SEC Media Days.
Freeze apparently did so with a 1-800 number, or whatever it was that sent his career off a cliff.
When you hear Hugh Freeze use the words "accountable" and "integrity." pic.twitter.com/BYDu4RYieH
— The Saban Factor (@TheSabanFactor) July 14, 2017
Ole Miss hasn’t hit rock bottom yet, but its fans can now clearly see it coming. Crimson Tide fans learned the hard way that NCAA penalties can take years to get over, and the Rebels don’t have the same tradition or resources.
Players will leave. Recruits will go elsewhere. Coaches won’t have much interest in working there. Without Freeze, there’s no reason for anyone in the SEC to fear the Rebels this season.
Meanwhile, Alabama is the behemoth of the SEC West. It’s going to be a huge favorite over Ole Miss on Sept. 30 and the Crimson Tide snapped the two-game losing streak to the Rebels last year.
There will be no feeling of a missed opportunity at getting back at a vanquished foe, and Saban had already hired one of the recent Ole Miss coaching castoffs, former offensive coordinator Dan Werner as an analyst.
How long before Nick Saban hires Hugh Freeze as an offensive analyst?
— zach ragan (@VolsEditor) July 21, 2017
Although this year isn’t considered a good one for Mississippi prospects, 2019 is, with 10 players rated as a 4-star player or better by the 247Sports composite. Alabama is already making a strong push for 5-star linebacker Nakobe Dean out of Horn Lake High School, up near the Tennessee border, and has interest in others.
The Crimson Tide roster already boasts four players from the state: defensive back Nigel Knott, offensive linemen Scott Lashley and Matt Womack, and defensive lineman Raekwon Davis. The last three are all 6-7, 300-plus pounds.
In the bigger picture, without Freeze there are only two active SEC coaches who have defeated a Saban-coached team, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. Both won only once, the most recent in 2013.
Overall, active SEC coaches are 2-34 against Saban. He has a .944 winning percentage in those games.
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) July 12, 2017
It’s only fueling the notion that in the SEC there’s Alabama, and then there’s everyone else.
″For what Nick has done and what that program has done, they were ahead of the curve a long time ago with how they approach things, and I think, you know, has basically been the model of the people you tried to follow,” said Sumlin, who knows he’s on the hot seat this season.