Mississippi introduces Freeze as new head coach

Hugh Freeze
Hugh Freeze

(AP) - Hugh Freeze choked up less than a minute after being introduced as Mississippi's new football coach, acknowledging his wife and three daughters sitting on the stage behind him.

"I've taken them all around the country to bring them back to one place," an emotional Freeze said. "And that's the University of Mississippi."

Freeze, 42, was named Ole Miss' 37th football coach on Monday afternoon at a press conference on the university campus. He takes over for Houston Nutt, who was fired following one of the worst seasons in Ole Miss history. The Rebels finished with a 2-10 record, including a 0-8 mark in the Southeastern Conference.

Freeze - who has less than a decade of college coaching experience at any level - is the man the Rebels have decided should rebuild.

He comes to the Rebels from Arkansas State, where he led the Red Wolves to the 2011 Sun Belt Conference championship and 10-2 record in his first season as a coach at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. It was Arkansas State's first 10-win season since 1986.

Freeze will not coach Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl game Jan. 8 against Northern Illinois in Alabama.

Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones said Freeze has a four-year contract that pays a base salary of about $1.5 million per season. Jones said incentives could raise that salary to as much as $2.5 million per year.

Freeze made just $202,160 last season, according to USA Today, which made him the lowest paid coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Freeze attacked his opening press conference like a Baptist preacher, galvanizing the packed Ford Center with an emotional address peppered with jokes and jabs - including the occasional remark about dominating the state of Mississippi - a not-so-subtle jab at Mississippi State and coach Dan Mullen.

While Nutt never completely seemed to grasp the state's culture - especially the Egg Bowl rivalry - Freeze jumped into the fray unabashedly.

"This is home to me," Freeze said. "This is a destination job."

He's known for a high-powered offensive philosophy, that he called a "fundamentally efficient scoring machine" when it's going well.

Freeze is from Senatobia, Miss., and served as an assistant under then-Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron from 2005-'07. During that time, he coached receivers, tight ends and also served as the program's recruiting coordinator. He had a 20-5 record as head coach at NAIA-level Lambuth (Tenn.) in 2008 and `09.

The Ole Miss coaching search was led by a five-person committee, including former Rebel quarterback Archie Manning and FedEx executive Mike Glenn.

Glenn said that Freeze's combination of innovative offensive mind, recruiting ability and communicating skills made him the obvious choice.

"Once we completed our interviews, our No. 1 choice was crystal clear," Glenn said. "Our No. 1 choice was Hugh Freeze."

Freeze has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the coaching ranks over the last decade, rising from the high school ranks to the Southeastern Conference.

He worked at Briarcrest High School in Memphis, Tenn., for 13 years, including as the head football coach from 1995 to 2004. He amassed a 99-23 record and won two state championships, but was mostly known as the high school coach for left tackle Michael Oher, who was later featured in the best-selling book and popular movie "The Blind Side."

Just seven years later, he's in a conference that is guaranteed to win its sixth straight national championship in January. Ole Miss is 1-15 in the SEC over the past two seasons, but that didn't deter him from expecting immediate success.

"These men are tired of being in the wilderness and they want to get out," Freeze said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)