Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze accepted blame for his program’s recruiting misdeeds Monday, but was adamant that the Rebels did not knowingly break the rules.
“The first thing I would say is that I own it,” Freeze told ESPN.com‘s Chris Low before this week’s SEC spring meetings in Florida. “That’s part of it when you’re the head coach. You take the good with the bad. But there’s a big difference between making mistakes in recruiting and going out there with the intent to cheat.”
In an open letter released last week, Ole Miss issued a formal response to the NCAA’s notice that the school had committed 28 violations (13 by the football program alone), and the school decided to self-impose several penalties.
It’s unclear at this point if the NCAA will announce further punishment or not.
Monday, Freeze specifically declined to address last month’s NFL draft, during which an unknown source posted alleged text messages between former Rebels star Laremy Tunsil and an Ole Miss staff member that indicated the player’s family was receiving money from the school.
“Have we made mistakes in recruiting?” Freeze said. “Yes, and we’ve taken steps to make sure we don’t make those same mistakes again. But to say me or anybody on my staff is out there cheating to gain advantage just isn’t true.”
The NCAA’s notice of allegations include arranging fraudulent ACT scores, providing false information to the NCAA, illegally consulting with witnesses of an NCAA investigation, providing football players with free “loaner” vehicles and providing free housing to players, among several other offenses.
Some members of the staff were held off the recruiting trail as part of a self-imposed punishment, but Freeze said his assistants shouldn’t worry about keeping their jobs.
“We’re not going to terminate a guy who makes a mistake and didn’t have any intent to go out and cheat,” Freeze said. “There is no charge in these allegations of a staff member being involved in a payment or offering extra benefits.”