Rebels At SEC Media Days

OLEMISSSPORTSDOTCOM Head Coach Hugh Freeze
OLEMISSSPORTSDOTCOM
Head Coach Hugh Freeze
OLEMISSSPORTSDOTCOM

July 16, 2013

Photo Gallery | BLOG: Freeze Talks Expectations, Wallace Ready

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - There is a lot of excitement surrounding Ole Miss football after a 7-6 season in 2012 that included bringing the Egg Bowl Trophy back to Oxford, winning a bowl game and reeling in a top-five recruiting class. Head coach Hugh Freeze, along with quarterback Bo Wallace, wide receiver Donte Moncrief and linebacker Mike Marry, talked about year two of the journey at SEC Media Days Tuesday.

Below is a transcript of Freeze's time at the podium, followed by player quotes.

HEAD COACH Hugh Freeze

OPENING STATEMENT
It's good to be here in year two.  I am thankful, just like the rest of our coaches, for the job that you guys do in making sure that our conference gets the most exposure and notoriety, and the relationship we have with you is very valued.
    
I was listening to my friend Will Muschamp earlier. I was going to try to do it with fewer breaths than he took, but that's impossible. That guy can go (smiling).

We do appreciate you, glad to be here going into year two of our journey.  I stood before you last year and talked about, in year one, the reasonable expectation was to try to get our young men to compete very passionately for our university, over a 60-minute span in a game. Let the results take care of themselves, whatever that may be.  I had very little knowledge at that time of exactly what we did or did not have. Obviously I have more today, so I feel more comfortable talking about our team.  I do think that we accomplished that in year one. With the exception of two halves, I thought our kids were extremely competitive, played with a great amount of passion and energy, and represented our great university and our fan base in a way that made them excited and proud to watch our team play.

We made great strides in a lot of areas. Academically, we went from having right at a 920 APR to a 944 in one year. I think all of that has to do with us holding each other personally accountable. I still think that is the key to being a very successful team.  We're not all the way there yet, but we're certainly farther along in the area of personal accountability than we were a year ago.  We have made strides.

We were very fortunate in year one. I would not be quite truthful to stand here and tell you we didn't have some fortune go our way. We started the same five offensive linemen every single game. That doesn't usually happen in this day and time at any level.  I was reminded this spring when we lost a few of those to injury of how fortunate we really were. We played the same receivers the entire year. Defensive line, we stayed healthy. Again, we had some injuries this spring, and it reminded me we're not quite where we need to be depth chart-wise for this league.

We did take a step in the right direction in addressing the depth issues in recruiting. But, as I look at it, we're not as deep as we need to be in a lot of places.

The expectations that are coming now with our program, I'm very careful. I told every group that I went to this spring, I tell our team quite often, unrealistic expectations, always produce frustration. I don't care in what area of life that you're in, if you have an unreal expectation and it does not come to pass, you get very frustrated.

Our task in year two is to maintain the enthusiasm and energy from both our fans and our players and everyone that is involved in our program, as we continue to strive to be relevant in the SEC West.  We have made strides.   But, again, those young men we've recruited to help us with our depth issues, they're 18-year-old kids.  How quick they'll adjust to this game and this league, you really don't know.

We're excited about year two of our journey, though. I know our kids have put in a tremendous amount of effort, energy and work with Paul Jackson and our strength staff throughout the summer months. They're anxiously awaiting fall camp.

We're undergoing an inconvenience at our place right now, but it's a good inconvenience.
We're involved in a $12 million upgrade of our indoor practice facility, including locker rooms, team rooms, dining rooms, weight room.  You're going to see a different place when you come there. Some of it's scheduled to be completed by August 1, then other parts of it in November.  

It's a mess around the place right now, but it's certainly something we're going to be extremely proud of.  I have to thank our administration, Dr. Jones and Ross Bjork for their vision. I didn't have to ask or beg.  They get it. They understand this league. I know it will be something that our kids are extremely proud of.

Our staff is returning with the exception of one.  I hate that we lost Wesley McGriff, but we wish him well as he moves on to the NFL.  We're fortunate to replace him with a quality man first, and coach also, in Jason Jones from Oklahoma State.

I think one of the things that we have at our place that everyone senses when they come there is staff chemistry. Our defense led by Dave Wommack, has done a great job with his assistants, Chris Kiffin and Tom Allen and Tray Scott, and Jason, of course, now also.

Then offensively, the maturity of Dan Werner and Matt Luke leading our offense with Grant Heard, Maurice Harris and Derrick Nix all returning. I expect us to be further along in everyone's understanding of what we're trying to do.
    
Q&A

Q. Can you give us an assessment on Bo Wallace's rehabbing from the clavicle injury and the implementation of the changes to his throwing style?

COACH FREEZE: He feels very good about where he's at in his progress.  They released him about four weeks ago to start tossing. Last week he began throwing full go. He's had some soreness, of course. But everything seems to be moving along very nicely.

We were very concerned about it, but I had this happen with my guy at Arkansas State.  I think his throwing motion changed some throughout the rehab process, so we were concerned. The NCAA gave us a waiver just for Dan to go out a certain number of times to make sure that his mechanics were solid.
We hope that we don't see anything negative in the motion. I haven't seen him yet, but will shortly. Everyone that has seen him feels like he's right on progress.

Q. There were a couple of games last year you lost. How close are you to maintaining the tempo the whole game? Last couple games of the year it seemed like you turned it loose.

COACH FREEZE: Some of that probably was me being a little overcautious in some of those games. But certainly anytime you're a tempo offense, the last thing you want to do is put your defense in a position where they're having to play too many snaps with not enough depth.

I think we've addressed some of that at a lot of positions defensively. They will be young kids, but I think we have addressed that. If we feel like that is the answer to us offensively, I think we'll be ready to do it more often, more frequently, longer periods of time.

Q. You're playing first four (games) on the road. Talk about that schedule, how it came about, how tough that's going to be starting off for you.

COACH FREEZE: Well, honestly I don't know exactly how the schedule came about. A lot of that was done before I got here. You know how scheduling is done quite far in advance. Some of it had to do with the reshuffling of who we play in this conference, with crossover games, adjusting your non-conference games to those.

Certainly I wish it wasn't that way.  I don't think it's ideal.  But we have a motto around our place. We talk about what we can control. I can't control that we're playing those five on the road right out of the gate.  But I can control how we prepare for them. So we try not to give much power to that as far as it being a negative.

I know that for our fans it's not ideal.  Then we get into October.  I don't think we leave the state of Mississippi.  It will be interesting, obviously.  We've got to gear up to go on the road and play in some very difficult places against some very good football teams, but we'll be excited about those challenges.

Q. A lot of players in the past have talked how quickly the ball is placed down after the play is over. What can you do to try to increase the official's speed in doing that? Guys have said sometimes it's really fast and sometimes it's really slow, can slow down your offense?

COACH FREEZE: I have great confidence in our officiating under Steve Shaw's leadership. I know whatever the rules are, he expects his officials to do that. Certainly we always are partial to what we want. Sometimes I have felt like in games, whether or not it was our officials or another league's officials, that it was different than the week before. Some of that could have been just me.
I have great confidence that whatever the rules are supposed to be, that our league will get it right, it will be consistent from week-to-week moving forward.

Q. Did you win four state high school girls basketball championships? If so, what is your key to winning championships in basketball, high school football, and your pursuit of an SEC title?

COACH FREEZE: Part one, the question about the four state titles in girls basketball is true. We were fortunate enough to win four in the state of Tennessee.  As far as the key, I again think it comes down to being personally accountable to whatever the core values are that you set forward for the team.

And obviously great players. You've got to have players at the end of the day. Then if you can set a vision forth as a coach, get that team to be a team that buys in and remains steadfast in the pursuit through your core values to those goals, I think you've got a chance to compete.

But you've got to have some talent, too. We're doing the same thing here now that I did with them as far as the off-the-field approach to how we want to build a program.

Q. Back on the schedule. Could you talk about opening with an SEC opponent, how you feel about that. Does the fact that you have the schedule front-loaded with the road games make a conference opener even more difficult than it might be?

COACH FREEZE: I don't think it makes it more difficult than it might be.  It's going to be difficult regardless of what comes after it. That game in Nashville in August is going to be a difficult task because of the job that Coach (James) Franklin and his staff have done at Vanderbilt. They're returning quite a few guys.  They're going to be a mature football team.

They understand quite clearly what this game means. Our kids will, too. Am I crazy about opening with a conference opponent? That's probably not what you would always desire, but an opportunity to put us on national TV is something that I'm always in favor of.  We'll get ready for it and look forward to it.

Q. Coach, you mentioned concerns in depth in several areas. Can you share with us those areas you are concerned?

COACH FREEZE: Number one, still offensive line. We had quite a few postseason surgeries at a lot of places.  We haven't talked a lot about that. One of the things that keep me awake at night is how will everyone, the C.J. Johnsons, Patrick Junens, Aaron Morrises, and so forth and so on, come back, and Bo Wallace, Charles Sawyer, come back from these surgeries. All of those guys are key to us. How will they prepare to come back and how will they be when camp starts is an unknown.  Offensive line is definitely a concern.

I think receiver-wise, we've addressed those issues with LaQuan Treadwell, Quincy Adeboyejo. They're young.  We've got to bring them along very, very fast because we need them.

Defensive line-wise we're a little thin at defensive end. Linebackers, we've got pretty good depth there. Corners and safeties, we're still thin.

Q. Speaking of players, your recruiting went very well by all reports. On the recruiting trail, did it help close the deal on these guys the fact you closed the season well? Mississippi State and the bowl game, how much did that help?

COACH FREEZE: No question it helped. The momentum that was created around our place from winning the Egg Bowl and the bowl game was huge. One of the recruits, Robert Nkemdiche, we talked about all year long, he wanted to see that. When that came true, he felt like he was coming with us, that helped. He carried a lot of weight and a lot of ears of recruits.  There's no question the momentum that was created at the end of the year was greatly beneficial to us in recruiting.

Q. Last year when you came here, you were like the feel-good story, girls basketball coach seven years ago, got a job in the SEC. How has it changed after a year, all of a sudden people pointing fingers at you, wondering what went on, why you had success so quick? Did that hurt your feelings or did you expect that?

COACH FREEZE: If you get your feelings hurt at this level, you'll always be on a rollercoaster ride.
It really didn't hurt my feelings.  Obviously, you get tired of hearing some of the same things over and over.  I'm very thrilled -- not thrilled, we're going to have to end up playing them, but Mark (Stoops) at Kentucky, Butch (Jones) at Tennessee, our guy at Virginia, can't think of his name right now, (Mike) London, is doing so good in recruiting. It can be done.

It helps if you have some natural tie-ins and things we were fortunate to have. Obviously it's well-documented, I have great trust and faith in our compliance staff. They handle all those issues. Certainly we're human.  If mistakes are made, we'll own up to them immediately and report ourselves.
Yeah, you get tired of hearing those things. But, you know, it looks like it's going to stay with us for a while.

Q. Gus Malzahn started wearing a visor because Steve Spurrier wore visors? Is that true?

COACH FREEZE: I can't speak for Gus.  But as far as I'm concerned, when I was a high school coach, I was asked this last year on ESPN when we went to the carwash, why I wore a visor. When I was a high school coach, I wanted to be like Steve Spurrier. That's the truth. Ever since then, Steve and I have become really good friends. He liked that story. He calls me his visor guy.

Q. How much more multiple can you be on defense this year with increased bodies?

COACH FREEZE: Dave's pretty multiple.  He was pretty multiple last year.  I don't think we'll change a whole lot defensively as far as how multiple we'll be. Obviously, with the addition of D.T. Shackelford back, I feel like we are more physical now if we do play a two-back system, or we can get in our 4-3 personnel and be more equipped to handle that.

With people like Tony Conner coming, I think he gives us a lot of flexibility if he can mature fast, because he can play that husky position for us.  He's big and strong enough to play the run also.  I expect Dave's whole package to be ready.

On the depth issue, we're terribly thin at tight end. We lost all three to graduation. Then our early signee that enrolled, Christian Morgan, had a knee issue, had surgery, will not be ready, then we had a kid not qualify. We're terribly thin at the tight end spot and are going to have to play some really young kids there.

Q. Some coaches have suggested with opposing hurry-up offenses, when there's a first down made, maybe the defense deserves 15 seconds or so to reset. What are your thoughts on that?

COACH FREEZE: Again, I want to qualify before I go any further, I'm partial obviously to what we do.
I don't think there's absolutely any proof out there that there is any kind of safety concern.  Defensive linemen traditionally and most commonly are more athletic than offensive linemen - not all the time, but most of the time. In this league, defensive linemen are very athletic.  They're going to play the same number of snaps that the offensive linemen are. I don't think they're at any more risk health-wise than at the start of the game. It's physical and rough in the trenches to begin with.  I don't buy into that philosophy at all.

Q. Could you talk about Trae Elston's progress, what you're hoping to see out of him this year?

COACH FREEZE: I think Trae is a phenomenal player. He's physical, can run. He's an SEC safety. We're glad he's on our football team. He's had a great summer. He looks physically as good as I've ever seen him.  I hope he can stay healthy because we don't have many backups at that position. We're really rotating three guys at our safety position. We're really thin there. Hope he can stay healthy.  But he's certainly a good player.

Q. I understand Bo is still recovering. What do you expect from him in year two as a starter once he gets healthy? What does it mean in this league to have an experienced quarterback?

COACH FREEZE: In this league to have an experienced quarterback is invaluable. I expect Bo to cut down on his turnovers.  He kind of plays the game a little bit too free for me at times with the football.  He'll be the first to tell you that. That's probably the biggest negative of him not going through spring practice, was the fact he didn't get quality reps against a live defense.  I know that he understands and knows that.  Now it's a matter of us, through fall camp, getting him prepared to take care of the football.

One of the positions I haven't talked about, I made a decision last year that got very much criticized in a lot of arenas in redshirting two seniors, Tyler Campbell and Andrew Ritter. So glad we made it through the year without them because now I think we have a guy that certainly will be considered as an all-SEC punter in Tyler.  And Bo has to understand it's okay to let him punt one.

Then Andrew Ritter will be our kickoff guy, field goal guy. We have to be solid on special teams.
Bo's play will obviously dictate a lot of our success. Hopefully he's matured some. I know he has off the field.  Hopefully now on the field he's matured enough to know there are times he's just got to take care of the football.

Q. How is Bo Wallace's approach to the season different this year compared to last year when he was fighting with another guy for that job?

COACH FREEZE: His approach, I don't know that I see a lot different as far as the way he's working with our strength staff.  I do think he understands going into it now that he knows he's the starter, a lot of the weight of the success of our offense will come down ultimately to how he performs.

Now, that can motivate some men. It can make some men tight. I don't think it will make him tight at all. He's a very good competitor. He's a tough kid. He played nine games last year with that torn-up shoulder. I give him a lot of props for that.

I think it motivates him knowing that he's the guy going into it, he's excited being able to prove that he belongs on that stage.

Q. When you came to Ole Miss, you had the reputation of a guy that would go for it every time, wide-open type guy. What did you learn in your first year calling plays in the SEC?

COACH FREEZE: Still be yourself. Obviously there are a lot of times that I'm getting yelled at from the stands on how stupid a call was. Half the time I want to turn around and tell them I agree with them, it was pretty stupid.

But you go with what you feel good about as far as putting your kids in the best position to win.  As we grow, probably our chances that we take will be maybe a little less.

But that's really who I've been.  I do think you have to be true to your personality, to who you are.  As long as your kids know that and understand it going in and we don't do something too ridiculous, I think we'll be okay.

Certainly it's a difficult league to call plays in because the defenses are so multiple and they're so athletic and so fast that, every play call can be a disaster because of the type of players we face on the defensive side.

So you prepare as hard as you can with your staff and hope you have a sound game plan and you can call some good ones every now and then.

Ole Miss Players

Quarterback Bo Wallace

On his injured shoulder and how the rehab process is going
"It's going good. We're in our last stages. Now I'm just getting to throwing everyday to get ready for camp. It feels good.  I have all the confidence in the world in it. I'm just ready to get back out there and compete with my team."

On the team's confidence level and their expectations for the upcoming season
"I think our confidence level is higher, but at the same time, I think expectations as a team, we kind of leave to the fans and leave to the media to talk about. We just control what we can in our building and know that we have the players to play in this league and play in the SEC West and control what we do every day in the building."

On if a six-win season would be a success or failure
"I think with our talent, I wouldn't say a disappointment. We would like to win more than six games. We were very close last year. Those games that we lost real close, with the guys that are becoming veterans, we'd like to win those games this year."

Wide Receiver Donte Moncrief

On the feeling of heading into this season after exceeding last year's expectations
"The feeling is great - knowing that our fans expect more of us. The big thing is just staying focused and listening to Coach [Hugh] Freeze and stay on the same page with him, because if we stay on the same page with him, it will be hard to stop us."

On the expectations for the upcoming season
"We know that we can do better than we did last year. There were a lot of small things that we messed up on and Coach [Hugh] Freeze says, `the small things will beat you.'  We have to work on the small things and get better as we go."

Linebacker Mike Marry

On not being able to catch teams off guard this year
"That's how we like it. We don't want people to feel like we beat certain teams because they weren't expecting us to play that hard. Now we'll really see who is the better team and there will be that much more competition on both sides of the ball."

On the offense and what they have been doing during the offseason
"They're working hard. From seven-on-seven to in the weight room, everybody on the offensive side of the ball is just working hard and trying to get better. They're having more meetings and doing more things without -- the coaches having to ask them -- to try and get better before fall camp."



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