As Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze’s opening statement at SEC media days wore on and on Thursday, it was impossible not to wonder if Freeze was going to somehow filibuster his way through his allotted 30-minute time for questions.
Freeze didn’t. About 17 minutes into his time he finally ran out of gas while talking about punters and was forced to take questions from the assembled media in front of him.
You can understand why, from Freeze’s perspective, that he would have wanted to minimize the number of questions he’d face. His program is in the midst of an NCAA investigation that doesn’t have an end date and has self-imposed a bowl ban for the 2017 season.
And Wednesday, former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt filed a lawsuit alleging that Freeze and Ole Miss have defamed him when defending themselves from the NCAA allegations.
After his statement, the first question Freeze got was about Nutt’s suit. Freeze declined to comment directly on the suit, citing a pending legal matter.
“I would absolutely love to share my opinion on it,” Freeze said. “Unfortunately it’s a legal case, and I can’t comment.”
During those opening remarks, Freeze mentioned the “adversity” surrounding his program. The football program has been cited for 13 NCAA allegations.
Nine of them allegedly happened under Freeze’s watch. In his suit, Nutt says Freeze and Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork initiated off-the-record conversations with reporters to claim that the majority of football violations happened during Nutt’s tenure.
“Facing adversity is something that we’re familiar with,” Freeze said. “It’s kind of been around us for a while now, and I sure will be glad for the day to when I can stand here and it’s not.”
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Later, Freeze admitted that his program did create the cloud swirling over it. The team’s self-imposed bowl ban came after the NCAA charged the program with a lack of institutional control.
“Well, I mean, we obviously have created it in and around our program, you know, the length of it, we can set here and debate all of that,” Freeze said. “But you can’t — we’ve got to be responsible for the areas in which we were deficient in, that we didn’t — that we didn’t either react or act properly, or whether it was staff or whether it was boosters.
“So we have to own that. And me being in the position I am, I’ve got to stand and look people in the eyes and take that.”
Freeze’s response to the NCAA’s allegations against his program came out in June. In it, Freeze said he “wanted to vomit” when he found out about a staffer’s violations. He maintained he didn’t know in real-time that the former staffer was committing violations and the school has stood behind him throughout the allegations of impropriety.
“They’ve been unwavering in their support of me,” Freeze said of the Ole Miss athletic department and administration. “They obviously witnessed me for five years run a program. So they’ve been unwavering, and I’m greatly indebted to them for that.”
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