SEC PROFILE: Ole Miss facing unclear future

Published 8:49 pm Monday, July 24, 2017

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

Editor’s note: This is the sixth of an eight-part series taking a look at Kentucky’s eight Southeastern Conference opponents this season.

Email newsletter signup

Ole Miss won’t be competing in the postseason this season because of self-imposed penalty by the school as part of an ongoing NCAA investigation. They also will be moving forward without their head coach.

Rebels coach Hugh Freeze resigned his post with the Rebels earlier this week and Matt Luke was named interim coach. Freeze recorded a 39-25 mark in his five seasons with the Rebels and went 19-21 in the Southeastern Conference.

Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork said the program is focused on the here and now and will take their time looking for a new leader.

“It’s about the team,” he said. “The team is the focus right now. I told the football staff that the number one thing, from beginning to end, is the team and that’s all that matters. I haven’t even thought about a search. We had to get a plan in place right now. We start practice in less than two weeks. There will be a lot of time to conduct a search for a permanent head coach.”

The Rebels were ranked No. 11 at one point last season before a late-season letdown deflated the team’s hope for a postseason berth. Ole Miss lost five of its last seven games and failed to reach bowl status for the first time in four years.

Ole Miss will likely open the post-Chad Kelly era with returning quarterback Shea Patterson, who showed promise down the stretch last season after Kelly tore his ACL with four games remaining on the schedule. Patterson’s top receiver will be returnee Van Jefferson.

In response to challenges on the field, especially on the defensive side of the ball, former Rebels coach Hugh Freeze hired five new assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff, who once served as an assistant coach under Roy Kidd at Eastern Kentucky University.

Phil Longo, formerly of Sam Houston State, is now the team’s offensive coordinator. McGriff was named associate head coach Thursday and will assist Luke with head-coaching duties.

Despite the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the program, Freeze was optimistic for a turnaround in the near future during the Southeastern Conference Media Days earlier this month.

“I think this has the potential to set up our staff to have our greatest hour,” Freeze said at the time. “One of our finest moments could be the fact that our team could model for whoever chooses to watch us, for the Ole Miss family, for whatever outsiders, you know, when all of this is said and done and we’re able to move forward and have our say one day with the Committee on Infractions and be held accountable like with whatever we need to be held accountable for, which we will. I’ve said that every time I stood up here (at SEC Media Days).

“We can model for a lot of people, you know, what it can look like for people that genuinely care for one another and look at what we do have as a blessing, and then set an example of how you go through difficult times.”

The Rebels will have to weather the storm without Freeze.