FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — For the second time in a little more than five years, a successful SEC West football coach lost his job because of off-the-field conduct deemed unacceptable.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze resigned Thursday after admitting to improper conduct in his personal life. And although he was allowed to “resign,” let’s call this what it was: A firing. Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork even said in a Thursday evening news conference that if Freeze hadn’t resigned, he would have been fired with cause.
Ole Miss Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said Freeze had exhibited “a pattern of personal conduct inconsistent with the standard of expectations for the leader of our football team.”
“While Coach Freeze served our university well in many regards during his tenure, we simply can not accept the conduct in his personal life that we have discovered,” Vitter continued.
If words like that sound familiar to Arkansas Razorbacks fans, that’s because it was only 63 months ago that Jeff Long stood before reporters and made a similar announcement. Bobby Petrino — who coincidentally also had replaced Houston Nutt — had led the Razorbacks to consecutive 10-win seasons and was only a few months removed from a top-5 finish when he crashed that motorcycle and his time at Arkansas quickly came to an end.
In announcing that he had fired Petrino, Long said, “He made a conscious decision to speak and mislead the public on Tuesday. In doing so, he negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program.”
He continued, “I’m committed to providing them with leadership that is befitting of our mission to develop student-athletes to their fullest potential. … Our expectations of character and integrity in our employees can be no less than what we expect from our students. No single individual is bigger than the team.”
The message here is clear: Major college football coaches are held to a different standard than most of us when it comes to their personal lives. With great power — and great financial compensation — comes great responsibility.
There is tons of hypocrisy that exists across major college athletics. Administrators are willing to tolerate a lot to win — and some of it is objectively worse than infidelity. Heck, Vitter and Bjork appeared perfectly happy to stand by Freeze as evidence mounted that a whole lot of cheating had happened in Oxford under his watch.
Freeze’s coaching career probably isn’t over, just like Petrino’s wasn’t after the humiliating end to his Arkansas tenure. And there will probably be some Ole Miss fans who will remain angry at Bjork for firing Freeze, just like some Arkansas fans still wish Petrino was in charge in Fayetteville.
Still, it’s somewhat refreshing to see tough decisions — that will adversely affect the win-loss record — be made in the name of doing the right thing.