Hugh Freeze is gone, but question remains: What did Ole Miss know, when did it know it?
It was easy enough for Hugh Freeze and his army of longtime enablers in the Ole Miss administration to write off a stray one-minute, out-of-context phone call to an escort service in January 2016 as a misdial. Happens all the time, he said. The number? It hadn’t appeared again in his tens of thousands of calls made on university-issued phones. Nothing there, the school claimed.
But by early last week, Ole Miss officials knew the press was still pursuing the story and that Houston Nutt’s attorney, Thomas Mars, had raised it in e-mails to school officials that would eventually be released through the Mississippi Public Records Act.
They also knew that Mars had requested phone records covering Freeze’s entire tenure, and if there was one potentially embarrassing call in the handful of days he already had, what more might he find? Given how vehemently Ole Miss had defended Freeze — not just on his rules compliance, but his character — it was crucial the school get the coach to tell them everything that might be coming.
And though it’s still unclear how much Freeze admitted to and what exactly Ole Miss found out before the lay-your-cards-on-the-table meeting that led to his forced resignation last Thursday, we now know it was embarrassing enough to crumble, within hours, a uniquely tight relationship between a coach and administration — and a contract worth almost $5 million per year.
Rest assured, we are still closer to the beginning of this sordid story than the end. Details will come out. People who knew the double life Freeze was leading will come forward.
And suddenly, the question of what Ole Miss officials knew and when did they know it will become central to the narrative of how the school moves forward.
There’s no reason to be coy here: Whispers about Freeze’s personal behavior have followed him since long before he became a college head coach. But at every stop along the way, it was difficult to do much with those rumors because so many people who were around him on coaching staffs and in athletic departments spoke so highly of him. His public embrace of Christianity, and the genuinely good charitable work he did, provided good cover and an easy narrative for all those glowing national newspaper profiles. Those who doubted his genuineness were written off as jealous or agenda-driven.
Even on Monday after the reality settled in, people who knew Freeze at various stops along the way were dumbfounded. Dean Lee, the former Arkansas State athletics director who gave Freeze his first FBS head coaching job, said he did extensive background checks on Freeze and found nothing that would raise a red flag.
“Never a scent of…