Amid the off-field circus that has engulfed Ole Miss football over the last several months, and the last 48 hours in particular, the father of prized Rebels quarterback Shea Patterson displayed a striking amount of composure and resolve Friday night.
That’s when Sean Patterson Sr. spoke with SEC Country about a bevy of topics affecting his son’s college program, including the resignation of Hugh Freeze, the brutally timed Houston Nutt lawsuit, and the mindset of the players caught in this mess just days before fall camp is set to begin.
But the most important insight gleaned from this conversation — and perhaps the one that matters most to Ole Miss fans — was the simple message Patterson shared about his 5-star son.
“As far as our family and everything else is concerned, we support the university. Shea’s not going anywhere,” he told SEC Country.
Yes, Patterson is staying. His teammates, the school and Rebels supporters everywhere can breathe a big sigh of relief.
Freeze may be gone — his exit hastened by female escort-related circumstances that were startling to everyone — but the end result of this months-long imbroglio was not so surprising.
Patterson noted that many players were “very sad” to lose their coach, despite the allegations against him, and he believes the NCAA would have eventually forced him out. He also expressed displeasure toward many of those in the media who, in his eyes, seemingly wanted to see Freeze lose his job.
“Coach Freeze, he loves and cares for these kids,” the elder Patterson said. “Enough’s enough. He’s going to move on with his life. He leaves behind a bunch of people and a bunch of kids that will always care for him, no matter what anyone says. Because who really knows the truth? Who really knows?”
When it comes to Nutt, the former Ole Miss coach whose quest for vengeance became the catalyst for his successor’s demise, Patterson was not so forgiving.
In fact, he said the only thing to really upset him in the last 18 months was Nutt’s media days sabotage. His lawsuit became public knowledge one day before Ole Miss took the stage at SEC Media Days, and as a result shifted most media focus away from the school’s three player representatives: Shea Patterson, Javon Patterson and Breeland Speaks.
“Just because he has a grudge or he has a problem with a coach, he couldn’t wait another few days to go after that guy? He had to get his moment in the sun because he doesn’t have it any more,” Patterson said. “Whether the suit was good or not, that’s not the issue. It’s always the kids who are forgotten. Not one thought was given to them. I’ve coached for 25 years. No way would I ever want to spoil a kid’s moment in the sun.
“It was gutless. It ruined three kids’ days.”
For almost the entirety of the Rebels’ knock-down, drag-out NCAA investigation, however, the entire Patterson family has handled the twists and turns with remarkable poise. They’d have every right to feel angry, confused or hurt by the turn of events that has left Shea Patterson and older brother Sean Jr. — an off-field member of Freeze’s staff — in an incredibly difficult situation.
But the Pattersons see a silver lining: It’s a huge chance for Shea and his teammates to prove the outside world wrong in the face of especially trying circumstances.
The scandal has taken all attention away from the Ole Miss players, he said, as it did in the case of Nutt’s lawsuit. The bowl ban and the sudden departure of Freeze have created rock-bottom expectations for the squad in 2017; the media predicted Ole Miss will finish seventh in the SEC West last week before Freeze’s phone usage came to light.
And yet, some around the program feel like they could surprise this fall. Patterson, Van Jefferson and A.J. Brown highlight what should be a fairly dynamic offense under new coordinator Phil Longo, whose Air Raid system put up huge numbers at Sam Houston State. Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff is a respected coach who can improve a defense that seriously stumbled last season.
Patterson and the rest of the 2016 signing class are “locked in,” Patterson Sr. said, and they’re looking at 2017 as a challenge. Chances are, it’ll be the biggest football trial they’ll ever face.
“In the long run, it’ll make them stronger. It’ll make them tougher mentally,” he said. “During this whole process, we forget this is a kid’s game. That’s what it should be. I think you’ll see it come back to where it’s a manageable situation. It’s unmanageable right now. The [NCAA] enforcement is pretty much, ‘Who do we want?’ It’s not across the board.”
With Freeze gone, the Ole Miss community is awaiting closure more eagerly than ever. Until the school meets with the Committee on Infractions this fall, when the NCAA will determine a final punishment, that won’t really happen.
Recruiting efforts likely will continue to suffer (3-star CB Jaylin Williams has de-committed), and fans may find it hard to not view 2017 as a lost season.
All Ole Miss can do is focus on the game. And for the Pattersons, the Sept. 2 opener vs. South Alabama can’t come soon enough.
“We’re ready to play some football,” Patterson Sr. said.