One week after Hugh Freeze’s resignation, it’s clear Ole Miss will never be the same.
Oh, the fire will burn in Oxford. Thomas Mars, Houston Nutt’s attorney, will pursue the school with the aggression of a wild dog that hasn’t eaten in a month. More twists and turns will happen with the already damaging NCAA investigation. Questions will arise, and answers will be slow to come.
But the Freeze era’s end changed Ole Miss, and the program will be better off after the smoke clears.
Freeze’s departure was good for the Rebels. Finally, there’s movement on the deck of this sinking Titanic. Sure, Ole Miss officials should brace for a swift blow from the NCAA after a deep look into the shady business of recent years is complete.
But now, there’s some semblance of a path forward that leads to whatever comes next in Oxford. The dark cloud over Ole Miss remains, but there’s no longer as much fog.
Of course, that development came with a flash point. Ole Miss reminded us of an important lesson: Everyone is replaceable. No matter how vital a person seems to a program’s heartbeat, the larger body will continue to breathe after a significant departure.
No one individual, not even one who casts as large a shadow as Freeze, stands taller than the organization he or she represents.
Are wounds possible? Can scars form? Absolutely.
But the test for Ole Miss will come after a new normal is realized, after healing is done, when the former era becomes little more than a memory and a constant call to evolve.
It won’t be easy, but the Rebels can grow from their Freeze-out. Likely, Ole Miss fans will miss their team mattering in the SEC West. Likely, Saturdays will be a slog near The Grove for a while and some will be tempted to see a return to the Wild West ways that marked Freeze’s time in Oxford.
But a slide back would be a mistake.
With Freeze gone, the Rebels will be given a chance at rebirth. They should want to make the most of an opportunity to reinvent themselves.
It’s possible never to look back. This moment should be a relief for Ole Miss. Despite the embarrassing details involved with Freeze’s departure, his resignation will be recalled as the first step in the program’s rehabilitation. A pivot has been made.
To be frank, there was no way forward for the Rebels without taking a step back. That was clear during Freeze’s awkward attempt to dodge questions at SEC Media Days earlier this month, a performance that made it easier to picture Ole Miss moving beyond him soon.
As long as Freeze coached the Rebels, so many things continued to build: doubt, anxiety, frustration.
With him gone, Ole Miss has shed the negative energy associated with its former leader. With him gone, the school has inherited a responsibility to become something different.
That should be the legacy of a wild week at Ole Miss: With change comes an opening to improve in the next phase of life. Finally, instead of watching the program teeter within a troubled era, those who remain in Oxford can pick up the pieces and construct something new. They’re no longer holding their breath when considering Freeze’s future.
No matter what’s to come, Ole Miss will be changed.
And that’s better than maintaining the former failed status quo.