Wilderness No More

Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

When Hugh Freeze was hired on December 5, 2011 he said that it would take a journey for the Ole Miss Rebels to leave the wilderness. He even told the team that they would have to cross a few “jordans” when he first met with them. Whatever that means.

It’s obvious we were lost. Ed Orgeron drove the Ole Miss program into the ground, never winning more than four games a year in his three seasons. Houston Nutt revived it with some Cotton Bowl wins in 2008 and 2009, but then drove the program back into the ground going 6-18 in 2010 and 2011.

Ole Miss fans had a false sense of hope for many years, and it was draining. After a bad year, we would always find ways to think we were going to be somewhat successful the following year. It usually didn’t work out like that.

We always find ourselves looking back to the Eli Manning days. Or we think of Dexter McCluster, Deuce McAllister and so many more Rebel greats and their time in Oxford. We were always rationalizing why we were doing so badly too. Sometimes even saying “Well, there’s always the Egg Bowl!”

I’m still not really sure why we always thought we had a chance in the Egg Bowl. We’ve lost to Mississippi State four out of the last five times we’ve played them. Just a thought.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen some good Ole Miss teams.I remember the 2003 matchup between Ole Miss and LSU. The Tigers won that game in Oxford, and went on to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship and Oklahoma in the BCS Championship. That could have been Ole Miss.

I remember the 2008 Cotton Bowl comeback win over Texas Tech, followed by the 2009 Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State. We still didn’t really get close to winning the SEC those years. That was Florida and Alabama’s time. That could have been Ole Miss too.

We could have won that game. We could have caught that pass. We could have made that tackle. Hell, we could have had better officials too. It could have been Ole Miss.

We as Ole Miss fans have said those things so many times since Eli Manning’s final year in 2003. We’ve also been known for accepting moral victories. “Oh we only lost to LSU by seven!! That’s a win for us!” Those days are over. Hugh Freeze has changed that mentality.

When Ole Miss named Freeze as the 37th head football coach in 2011 many wondered (including me) who the hell he was. Oh, a former high school football and girls basketball coach? Wonderful.

I was actually somewhat angry when I opened the video email from Archie Manning announcing Freeze as the coach. Sometimes I think about that morning in my dorm at Ole Miss, and I want to go find Coach Freeze and apologize.

(Hugh, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. You’ve proved me wrong.)

This man has changed the culture of Ole Miss football. Record crowds are flocking to Oxford to see the Rebels. We are selling more season tickets than ever, and donations are at an all-time high. Ole Miss is one win away from being bowl eligible for the third straight year under Freeze, and they have only played five games.  I even feel like when I say “Hotty Toddy” to other Rebel fans in passing, it means more now.

Ole Miss was on the grand stage last weekend, and delivered in a big way they beat No. 3 Alabama. College GameDay wanted to come here, and I hear they had a hell of a time too. I’m not sure you could have paid them to come to Oxford during the Orgeron or Nutt days.

After the game Saturday, as students rushed the field and took down the goalposts, Freeze told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, “I want to deliver a winner to the State of Mississippi.”

Freeze’s No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels are off to their best start since 1962, so I think it’s safe to say he has brought a winner back to Mississippi.

For that I tip my hat to you Coach Freeze, and say thank you. Thank you for making Ole Miss football relevant again. When I grow old, I will proudly tell my grandchildren that I was here when Freeze turned this thing around.

Welcome to the new normal Rebels.

Connor Hennessey Headshot Connor Hennessey is a writer and radio host in Oxford, Miss. He can be reached by email at cmhennes@go.olemiss.edu or @ConnorHennes on Twitter. Visit OleMissSports.com for up-to-date information pertaining to the Ole Miss Rebels.



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