Ole Miss Announces Football Coaching Change
Ross Bjork, Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics
July 20, 2017


Ole Miss Head Football Coach Hugh Freeze has resigned his position effective immediately. Assistant Head Coach Matt Luke has been named Interim Head Coach.

Chancellor Jeff Vitter and Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Ross Bjork met with media Thursday evening. Below is a full press conference transcript.

Vitter's Opening Comments:

Good evening and thank you for gathering on short notice. This is a sad day for the University of Mississippi. Earlier today we announced that coach Hugh Freeze has resigned from his position as our head football coach, and it was important to meet with all of you as soon as possible. As Vice Chancellor and Athletics Director Ross Bjork will explain shortly, coach Freeze resigned this afternoon after confirming to Ross and me a pattern of personal misconduct inconsistent with the standards we expect from the leader of our football team. While coach Freeze served our university well in many regards during his tenure, we simply cannot accept the conduct in his personal life that we have discovered. As you will soon learn, this matter is totally unrelated to the NCAA case and our position on the facts documented in our response remains the same. Since we first learned last week of potential inappropriate conduct by coach Freeze, Ross has led the effort to uncover the facts, which he completed yesterday, with the ultimate goal of protecting our institution and our student-athletes. I’d now like to turn things over to Ross.

Bjork's Opening Comments:

Thank you Chancellor Vitter, and appreciate your support. Thank you all for gathering on short notice. I know some of you were trying to call my cell phone, so if I hung up on you or did not text you back, I apologize. As Chancellor Vitter indicated, this is a sad day. This is an unexpected day, especially for our players, coaches and the Ole Miss family.

I’ll walk you through how we got to where we are tonight. Earlier this month, as is reported in response to a public record request, we release coach Freeze’s work-related phone records for six days in January of 2016. Coach Freeze redacted personal calls from those phone records before they were released. There was a phone call that was not redacted and it was brought to our attention in the middle of last week. We did a quick assessment and determined that this was the only time that that particular number was ever called from coach Freeze’s phone since he started working here at Ole Miss in 2011. Because the call lasted less than one minute and did not appear at the time to be part of a pattern, we initially attributed this call to a misdialed number. As part of our core values in running the athletics program, we have an obligation to do the right thing, so we proactively looked into the rest of his phone records. In our analysis, we discovered a pattern of conduct that is not consistent with our expectations as the leader of our football program. As of yesterday, there appeared to be a concerning pattern.

So Chancellor Vitter and I spoke with coach Freeze last night. We discussed the entire situation. Coach Freeze was very transparent, open, honest, and admitted the conduct. Earlier this afternoon, Chancellor Vitter and I met with coach Freeze again. He offered his resignation, and we accepted. He has taken responsibility and is accountable to his actions. We will respect his privacy, and our thoughts and prayers are with him and his entire family.

Coach Freeze addressed the coaches, football staff, and the team within the last few hours and told them of his decision. As you can imagine, those were very raw, emotional, tough meetings for our coaches and players. There is obviously never a good time to make this type of decision, especially with practice coming up and the season right around the corner.

Matt Luke will serve as the interim head coach for the 2017 season. Matt is a great coach. He’s a leader. He’s a rock. He’s an Ole Miss Rebel. I’m confident, and especially even more confident in watching him address the team, that he will lead this team and program through this difficult time. And we will support him in every way.

In addition to coach Luke, Wesley McGriff will be elevated to associate head coach. He’s an important voice and face for our program. He provides an enthusiasm and leadership that our program needs as this time.

As Chancellor Vitter indicated, it’s important to note that this matter is not related to our NCAA case. We believe our response speaks for itself.

As leaders, we must do the right thing in every step of the way, no matter the consequences. This has tested all of us in unimaginable ways, but I know that we will live by our core values every day and our ultimate purpose is to serve our student-athletes. We’re asking everyone in the Ole Miss family to support our players, our coaches, and our university like never before. Thank you. 

Vitter: 

Thank you Ross. Ross has continued to provide outstanding leadership as vice chancellor. And I know he will handle this transition with integrity and the utmost care. Every decision made at this university is driven by what is best for our students and for our university. This is a very hard day. This is a very painful decision, but it is the right decision. I ask everyone in the Ole Miss family to pull together as we navigate this transition. Our student-athletes, coaches and staff will need our unwavering support in the coming months and throughout this football season. Together we will weather this storm and reach new horizons.

Q&A with Bjork and Reporters:

On specific pattern of personal behavior…

“I think we need to protect that information, and his privacy is important. Again, the conduct was just not something we thought we could continue with him as our head coach.” 

On any regret backing Coach Freeze during the NCAA investigation…

“I believe that our response speaks for itself. I believe he has an established record that’s well, well-documented in terms of how he ran the program around compliance, and we still believe in that.”

On if a search for a new head coach will begin immediately…

“It’s about the team. 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.” 

On whether Coach Freeze was allowed to address the team…

“Yes he was, and the coaching staff. He met with the staff around 6:00 p.m., and then the players at 6:30 p.m.” 

On the meeting between Coach Freeze and the team…

“There were several of us in the room. I thought they were locked in. I saw some heads go down, as you might expect. I thought they handled it very, very maturely. Several of them came up and hugged me, Matt Luke and the coaches. And from what I could tell initially, they’re ready to move forward. They went from there to individual position meetings to obviously talk through what just happened. They did the same thing when we announced the postseason ban, and so unfortunately, we had routine for this because we’ve gone through a tough time before. But I thought they were solid and ready to roll. We talked about 40-some days until the opening game. I think they handled it very, very well.

On Coach Freeze’s image…

“I can only go on the facts, and that’s really how we made our decision. We tried to take the emotional part out of this. What does the record show? What did we discover? How did he address it? He admitted that conduct to us. No one is perfect. None of us in this room are perfect, and I think moving forward we need to respect how we resigned. And we need to respect his privacy. 

On if players could possibly transfer…

Honestly, it’s hard to say right now. We know we start practice in less than two weeks, and we know we have a game on September 2nd. A lot of them are in summer school, and some of them are working out. They get off a few days before camp starts. From what I could tell, they’re going to lock in and focus. If we have to meet again tomorrow, we’ll do that. Many of them have my cell phone number. Obviously, they’re going to stay connected to our coaches. So we will give them space, we will listen, and whatever they decide to do, we will support them.

On the reason for the specific dates of the phone records request…

“It was a public records request, and they requested those specific dates. I think we know the outlet and the source of all of that. They were looking for some discovery around who he was talking to, and they asked for my phone records as well during the same type of period. Obviously, it’s part of a bigger issue that is well-documented, so I think it lies in that area.” 

On if Coach Freeze would have been fired if he didn’t resign…

“We would have exercised the termination clause in our contract for moral turpitude. We would have exercised termination for cause.”

On if there was a buyout situation…

“There is no buyout. No settlement.” 

On if one more coach will be added to complete the staff…

“Yes, we want to operate with a full staff with nine assistants. Matt (Luke) and I talked about a few things briefly. So, we will address that. If we have to go out and hire somebody, we will hire somebody. If we have to bump somebody up, we will do that. But we need nine assistants and we need the head coach, so we will make sure that we are fully staffed.”

On rumors around Oxford…

“We talked about several personal items, and I think we need to leave it there. We did not discover any of those things being true in our analysis of those items.”

On things coming from the media...

“I think we all need to be held accountable for our actions. I do, Coach does, everybody. We can only go off what was in front of us. What was the right decision? If all of this information was public, what is the right decision for the institution? That’s what we had to work with.”


 

 

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