Press Conference: Hugh Freeze Talks New Coordinators
Dec. 16, 2016

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Ole Miss Football Head Coach Hugh Freeze met with the media on Friday regarding the announcement of the Rebels’ two new coordinators, Phil Longo (offensive) and Wesley McGriff (defensive).

Opening statement…
“It’s an exciting day for us. In my tenure, ever since Lambuth to Arkansas State to here, I’ve had very little change. That’s something I’m proud of, but there comes a time where change is good. I think this is the case. We’re very indebted to the coaches who have been with us for a long time, but I’m really excited today to announce a couple of new hires that I think are going to bring a new energy and new vision and take us from being good to great. That was the whole philosophy behind the search of these guys. Offensively, Dan Werner has done a great job. Our five years here, if you check, what we’ve accomplished is unprecedented in the history of Ole Miss football.”

On offensive coordinator Phil Longo…
“There were three critical areas that I really felt like we needed to improve on to take it to the next level: third-down efficiency, red zone scoring touchdowns and rushing the football in the structure of how we play in our tempo offense. As I searched through the candidates, it was very clear to me the one that had the best understanding that fit with us, was Phil Longo. We’re excited to announce him today as the offensive coordinator moving forward. He and his wonderful family will be joining us in Oxford very soon. We’re really excited about that. If you look at what he’s done, really over his whole career, but over the last three years, it has been pretty phenomenal, when you look at 80 percent scoring in the red zone, close to 70 percent third-down efficiency and being balanced in rushing the football. His last three years rushing the football were 3,700 yards, 3,600 yards and 2,658 I believe. That’s something that’s very important that we improve on and believe in the structure of who we are and taking what he’s done, it’s going to allow us to improve in all three of those areas that will be vital in taking us from good to the next level. Excited to have him. His offenses have been No. 1 throughout the FCS the last two years. He’s been very balanced. He’s coached All-American Jeremiah Briscoe throughout this and people like Mike Leach, Kliff Kingsbury, people who know him very well, did not have enough good things to say about him. He’s a tireless worker and he’s going to bring a great energy and drive and hunger to help us improve offensively. So we’re very excited about Phil.”

On defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff…
“Defensively, when recruiting ended, I started interviews immediately. A lot of great candidates. One name just kept coming back to me. The comfort level I have with Wesley McGriff was very important to me, and the energy he will bring in reviving our defense is going to be vital. The experience he has been able to have, whether it’s coaching the No. 2 secondary in the nation in pass defense at Miami, working for great coordinators at Vanderbilt and Auburn, and the NFL experience. In his interview, he blew us away. We love the energy he’s going to bring back to Oxford. He’s one of the better recruiters I’ve ever faced. And as we know, you have to have great players on the defensive side. There’s no doubt that he will assist us in that. The critical areas that I really wanted to look at defensively in this hire were stopping the run, red zone scoring and not giving up explosive plays. When you look at what he, along with his staff at Auburn, Kevin Steele highly recommended him. What they’ve done there in those regards, top 10 in rushing, top 10 in scoring and gave up very few explosive plays, and those areas were critical areas that I thought we had to really look closely at in hiring the defensive coordinator, and his name just kept coming to the top. The energy that I know he’ll bring and the staff we’ll put together on that side to revive the way we should be playing defense here. Just thrilled about these two hires. Can’t wait to get them here and get started.”

On the departures from his staff…
“It’s time for some change to revive us a little bit. We’ve had a good run. The first four years here were incredible. But we live in a society where they forget about those and move on to the next one and we needed a change. Two of those, I can’t comment on where they’re going because I don’t think it has been announced. But Grant Heard and Chris Kiffin, anytime my guys get to go and have a chance to pursue their career goals, both of those have a chance to go and be coordinators at good programs, and I’m one who gives them advice. Sometimes I don’t tell them what to do, but I tell them, when you get a chance, shoot your gun, go. Both have those opportunities at places. I think they’re close to finalizing those with their next schools. Corey Batoon right now is going to be assigned in an off-the-field position here. We love him and his knowledge of the game. Hope he’ll be able to stay here and assist us in some role, not sure what that is yet, but we’d love to keep him in the building. I’m giving Wesley some freedom to help me build the staff in the way he sees fit.”

On McGriff coaching with Auburn through the bowl game…
“I always think that the kids come first. It’s a dead period right now. The things we can do right now, he can do when he’s not on the field there. We don’t go back on the road until January 12, he’ll be here January 3. So we’ll have plenty of time to get caught up on exactly what we’re going to attack. Right now, he’ll be working with us to communicate as we can with the guys we need to. But there’s nothing we can do right now as far as going on the road. So put the kids first. And he deserves to finish that run this year with his kids.”

On how Longo’s offense will mesh with his…
“Phil is bringing in his terminology. We’re so similar, but I love the way his terminology works. I think it puts us more in a great structure. We had gotten a little too spread out with too many ideas maybe, and I loved his presentation on, this is the structure, we stay within the structure as long as we feel like we have things that will be successful. So it’ll be his structure. We obviously have thrown the ball extremely well, so we’ll share ideas. The great thing about Phil is he’s the ultimate learner and he wants to learn. (Kilff) Kingsbury told me stories about him just driving, sleeping in his car just to talk ball, to get new things. We’re going to have a great offensive staff. I love the chemistry I saw when he was here and I believe that he’s open to whatever ideas we have. But it will be within his structure and terminology that we’re going to operate.”

On who will call plays…
“It will be Phil’s offense to call. Obviously, he and I will work closely together on the plan, but he has the understanding of it and he has the instinctive nature. The guys we’ve had here, we all have great knowledge of the game and how you should attack certain things, but someone who has done it as long has he has in his system, it comes instinctively to him. I think that’s something we needed. Having been a coordinator before, when you sit in that room all week long, it comes natural to you. If you really have a complete understanding of your structure, which is obvious to anyone who has spent time with him, that he has a complete understanding of it.”

On filling out the remaining assistant openings…
“I can’t speak on that right now. There’s only one spot open offensively. Matt Luke has opportunities every year to go other places, (but) we’re thrilled to hold onto him. He’s a rock here. He’s somebody who is extremely important to me and vital to our success here. I think he’s got his best offensive line room finally put together and they’re young, and he does a great job in all aspects of representing Ole Miss recruiting. Derrick Nix and Mo Harris, two of my better recruiters do a great job of capturing their rooms. Those guys are rocks here. Glad we held on to them. We’re excited for Grant (Heard) to get an opportunity, and the interest we have with the (receivers coach spot) with that room is quite nice. We’ve got some great candidates that we’ll go out and settle on. Then defensively, McGriff and I are doing that together. He’s going to be talking to some people this weekend. We have the linebacker spot and the defensive line spot, which will be critical for him. We really need a run-game coordinator up there who runs the fits. McGriff’s experience is in the back end and he knows what he wants, and we have to marry those two. He’s going to spend some time this weekend with those guys.”

On McGriff’s defensive philosophy…
“It’s a 4-3 scheme, but it becomes a 4-2-5 against certain personnel, it becomes an odd front against certain personnel. There are no more 4-3’s or 3-4’s really. Everybody is getting into even and odd fronts. It’s more about the structure of the fits and who you are going to put the stress on. Are you putting it on the safeties, are you putting it on the backers? Everybody’s philosophy is a little different on that, but we’ll base out of a four-down front.”

On the run game…
“We need to improve our running backs for sure. I think Jordan Wilkins is a solid one. We missed him. Obviously, who we thought were two of our top backs last year, we were without before the season ever really got going. We’re trying to recruit the best in the nation at that spot. That helps you more than anything. As we watch our cut-ups, you see that you get running backs in situations with the blocking scheme and some one-on-ones, you expect to see more explosive plays that we’ve been able to generate, and recruiting sure can help that.”

On Phil’s recruiting prowess…
“I think he’s going to be dynamic. You talk to his players who have played for him, the guy has been to 32 – I can’t say this and I think I’m close to my players – he’s been to 32 of his players’ weddings. That says a lot to me about the type of man he is. Family is important to him. His wife, Tanya, and his daughters, I’ve spent some time with them in their home, and it’s just a solid family. I think he’s going to fit really well here.”

On what impressed him during McGriff’s interview…
“The hunger, the energy, the desire to want to be with people he fits with. He loved his time here, obviously, but to get where he wanted to go, he felt like he had to move around. When somebody really wants something and really wants to be somewhere, and really has a hunger to accomplish something. He obviously knows this is his big chance, and we’ll be locked together in this endeavor. Not only that, just his knowledge and his plan. I like that it’s simple. Let our kids play and not think. Don’t give up the deep ball, don’t give up explosive plays and stop the run, play physical and fast. He’s got some everyday drills that I think will improve us.”

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