Sometimes, college football coaches come across as the least self-aware people on the planet. Butch Jones’ “Champions of Life” comment might be among the most infamous examples, but devoted followers of the sport know program leaders toss fluffy talk around as much as any CEO.
For ex-Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, this generality holds especially true when we re-visit one of his more eye-opening responses while at SEC Media Days last week.
Embroiled in the bubbling pits of a months-long scandal, in which the NCAA probed the Rebels football program and accused its leaders of significant rules violations, Freeze was asked how the ordeal had affected his legacy at Ole Miss.
Here’s the eye-opening response:
I think with a large portion of the Ole Miss people, they know me for who I am, but there’s no question that it’s been negative in some people’s eyes. And I think you have to come back to what I want my legacy to be, and that doesn’t get to be determined probably [until] 20 years from now.
I do have a plan of this is what I would like to be known as and to be known for doing. And I’ve got all that written down. And I’ve got to make sure — the only thing I can control is not how people view me because they read some article or they perceive something to be this way — what I can control is doing everything today that gets me the result that I want 20 years from now, from the people that really matter.
And, you know, I’ve had to come to grips with that; that everybody’s not going to come around to that. So, who is really important to me, and let me do today what will help me get that result in 20 to 30 years.
Little did Freeze know how greatly his legacy would be shaped by what happened one week later, when the 47-year-old coach resigned in disgrace after a report claimed he called a female escort service using his school-provided phone.
So much for the “20 years from now.”
Looking back at this comment, it seems Freeze really did believe there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Most others believed a resignation or firing was inevitable.
Perhaps being perched atop a powerful SEC football, coupled with a multi-million dollar salary, even caused Freeze to fool himself. Or perhaps it was all just a calculated attempt to save his own hide.
Ultimately, Freeze’s talking proved to be the death blow in his own unraveling, an outcome put into motion months ago by the similarly insincere NCAA. That’s all that really bears reminding here: Everything said by college football’s coaches and governing institutions should be taken with a giant grain of salt. Big money does that to any business, including sports — especially sports.
Will Freeze go down in SEC infamy alongside the likes of Mike Price and Bobby Petrino? Will he coach again? Only time will tell, of course. But the news on Thursday irreversibly damages the little public goodwill Freeze had left.