Opening comment: “Thank you so much for showing up for me on the last day. Everywhere I've been, I always am thankful for the relationship I have with media, from the high school level, NIA Division I, the relationship you develop with the guys that cover our sport. I think I understand the concern you have, the desire you have to be the best at what you do, and I value that relationship. So thank you for being here. Our administration thrilled that Ross Bjork is with us today, our new athletic director. I've never felt quite the chemistry that I feel with an AD that I do with him. Our chancellor, Dan Jones, has been remarkable in supporting our vision and where we want to get Ole Miss football headed. It's a humbling thing to be here. My track is not the normal track to get to this point. I recognize that. I'm a realist. I also remember how blessed I really am and how fortunate I am to stand before you to represent Ole Miss and our great university and Rebel Nation. I'm a realist, I said. Our program is in a spot that none of us are happy with. I get that. I'm very, very anxious about starting the process and the journey to get us out of being where we are to back to where it's been in years past. Certainly looking forward to that. I know our kids are. They're not happy with the way the last year went. I've been real pleased that we have a core group of young men that are excited about change and about developing some personal accountability that will lead us out of this wilderness, so to speak.
Q. How do you view the City of Oxford as a recruiting tool?
COACH FREEZE: Well, have you ever been there? I'm sure you have. I could start and go for days. I'm glad you asked that. But people like Eli Manning and Michael Oher, Kendrick Clancy, Derrick Burgess, guys that are great ambassadors for not only Ole Miss and in the NFL doing very well, they choose to make that their living when they're not involved with their teams. I'm sure Eli could live anywhere he wanted to. I also saw Newsweek ranked Oxford as the number one college town in America. Sports Illustrated said we're the number one tailgate in the nation. Recruits, when they come there, they see a group of people that are very happy, that don't want to leave there. I think Oxford, Mississippi, is a great place to live. There's a lot of great places in the state of Mississippi, but I'd put that on the top. Where else could you go in the state of Mississippi where you find a town and university that is the home of three national championships, six SEC national championships, 13th all time in bowl wins, active in the nation, 20th in bowl appearances. The future, if we can get it to where the past has been, it's one of the greatest places in the world. You can ask Eli and those guys why they come back. Those are facts. If you want to tweet that out, that would be great (smiling).
Q. In the spring you introduced up-tempo offense. The kids adjusted somewhat. There were still conditioning issues and adjustment issues. How do you think this important off-season has gone for your guys?
COACH FREEZE: All the reports from Paul Jackson, I know his strength and conditioning program are centered around preparing them for the tempo we want to play. I think the reports have been very, very well. We still have certain positions that will take longer to get accustomed to playing in that manner, but I do think we're on track. We weren't able to install but probably 50% of what we do. However, you never run it all in a given week anyway. I think we're on a good track. I felt like at my last stop, there was a big advantage and big improvement from year one to year two. Hopefully we can accelerate that process here over fall camp and get our kids ready. I can't say enough about Paul Jackson and his staff. I think they're preparing our kids. I see their bodies changing as they walk through our offices. Looking forward to getting back out on the field with them.
Q. (Question regarding Spurrier comments.)
COACH FREEZE: I heard he said something to that regard. I guess my thought would be 2013, they're on our schedule. We will circle that date and maybe change his perspective about what he thinks about Ole Miss football.
Q. So much focus from the Ole Miss fan on the Egg Bowl. How much emphasis do you place on that game above the others and how do you handle that with your team?
COACH FREEZE: Coach Mullen's staff, his players have done a good job of capturing the momentum in that series. I give credit where credit is due. We're not talking about that right now because we have so many other issues to prepare for in getting us ready for the home opener. I know that's a cliché, but it really is the truth. When that week comes, obviously I was born and raised in the state of Mississippi. I understand the way it divides families. I understand the emotions that are involved in it. I get all of that. There will be a little extra incentive that week to be a little bit more energized, probably at little different feeling in your stomach, I guess. It would be hard because you feel that way in this conference every single week it seems like. Certainly I get what it means to the people there and to Rebel Nation, and our kids will understand that very clearly when that time comes. Right now our focus is on other issues.
Q. When you came on about seven months ago, there was talk anywhere from 30 to 40 of the student-athletes may not be eligible going into the fall. That number dropped somewhere near four or five. Was it a total revision of the academic monitoring system? Can you talk about that?
COACH FREEZE: Yeah, I'm thrilled that we have Derek Coward with us today. He's our new academic leader. He is right on task with us, on the same page. There needed to be some revamping of that. I'm not one to stand here and place blame when I was not involved in it. I really don't know exactly all the reasons for the situations we inherited. But it's well-documented that we did inherit a significant challenge there academically. I'm real pleased. I do want to say also, though, that prior to that semester, Ole Miss was second in graduation rate at 68% in the SEC. So it's not a total disaster. We just had a poor semester for whatever reason. I really think it comes back to personal accountability that was lost for whatever reason within the program. Obviously we've been working extremely hard at increasing that accountability. We stand here today with a couple weeks left in second summer term. We have serious concerns about four kids. So there's been quite a bit of improvement made.
Q. Can you talk about your desire to run the up-tempo offense, trying to balance that with your lack of depth on both sides of the ball, knowing you really try to keep your defense off the field, yet you want to speed it up? Kind of a trick.
COACH FREEZE: I think that is going to be a juggling act in year one. How many consistent plays we can do of up-tempo without putting us at a disadvantage because of our lack of depth right now I think is something that we definitely have to weigh in on. I don't believe that we can go out in year one with the situation we have and sell out to that for the entire game, or even for long, consistent periods. I think we would be putting our defense and offense both in some precarious situations. We have some young kids that are coming in. Maybe they can add some depth to us early on that we're very pleased with maybe. Maybe that will increase what we think we can do with that. That's a great point, something we're going to have to balance throughout the year.
Q. When you talk about the program being in wilderness right now, are you concerned that your players hear that and maybe expect not to win?
COACH FREEZE: Well, I think they hear the consistent message we give them every day, that winning the day is the process of getting out of the wilderness. That's what they're focused on. I know our staff is focused on how do we win today, not talking about the negatives of where we are, but being real. This is where we are, everybody knows it, it's documented all over ESPN and everywhere else this week. So our kids hear that, they know that. What they hear from us is, Here is how we're going to change it. I'm thrilled we have a core group of guys that have bought in. I think we're setting around 60% of our team that has bought in. I think you need to get it to about 80% to have a fighting chance. Hopefully we can get that done before the fall.
Q. (Question about the quarterbacks.)
COACH FREEZE: I feel very blessed to have Dan Werner on our staff. He has three national championships as a coordinator. Coached 10 NFL quarterbacks, five set at the Heisman Trophy ceremony. He's done a good job in developing those guys. Obviously everyone knows that we've struggled in the recent past with quarterback play and leadership at that spot. That is a priority for us. His sole responsibility is to develop quarterbacks for this university and leaders. And he takes that very, very personally. I know the knowledge he has and the way he deals with quarterbacks, his demeanor, is a really good balance for me because I'm an emotional guy. Sometimes quarterbacks do not need to see that all the time. Dan is very good about talking and communicating in an effective way, particularly on game day. To have a guy with his experience and knowledge of that position, I don't care what offense you're in, quarterback's fundamentals need to be the same. Their progression, their leadership, the way they throw, their mechanics with their feet, all of those things, understanding the defense, having him setting in that room with them all week getting ready for the defenses we will face, I feel very confident with him there.
Q. Are you going to start off camp with co-number ones at quarterback? Also because he lives in Oxford, has Eli helped your quarterbacks at all?
COACH FREEZE: The answer to question two is no. Eli does work out at our place during the off-season. To my knowledge, he has not worked with our quarterbacks. To answer your first question, yes, we will start with co-number one quarterbacks. Barry Brunetti and Bo Wallace will be guys that go into camp competing for that job. I said all along it wouldn't shock me for that competition to extend into the early parts of the season. It may not. One may totally separate themself. But both, I've been pleased with the way I've seen their physiques changing through Paul's workouts. I've seen them coming around a lot to study on their own. That was much needed. They'll go into fall camp 'co.'
Q. You mentioned about 60% of your players have bought into the new system that you bring in. Who are some of those guys you're counting on to be leaders for this team this year?
COACH FREEZE: Charles Sawyer, he's a maniac in workouts, Paul says. Mike Marry, who is here today, one of the finest kids I've been around. Donte Moncrief, who I think is talented. When I was there, I counted up, the last stint I was there, those three recruiting classes, we had 18 kids in the NFL last year out of those. Obviously Patrick Willis, Eli, Michael Oher are three tremendous representatives of that era. I do believe that Donte -- I say that because I coached Mike Wallace, Shay Hodge, Dexter McCluster, I think Donte and Ja-Mes Logan have chances to be in that same caliber. Offensively we have to develop some leadership. We need our quarterbacks to lead better. Jeff Scott, I've been really pleased with with the turnaround he's shown academically and attitude-wise, work ethic-wise. We need some offensive linemen to continue to improve and show some leadership there. But defensively I do think we have some quality leaders. Offensively we've got to get more.
Q. How would you compare the talent you had at ASU last year to the talent at Ole Miss?
COACH FREEZE: I don't know if that's a fair judge necessarily, because the year we had last year at Arkansas State was a remarkable ride. The chemistry we had, the discipline that was already there that I have to give Steve Roberts, the coach before me, a lot of credit for. He had a lot of great things in place, and I learned a lot of things from him. Defensively I thought we were really, really talented at Arkansas State. If you look at it, we have four kids off that defense that two got drafted, two were picked up in the draft. I think we had some really talented kids defensively. Then our quarterback play, you know, for him to complete 72% of his balls, throw for 4,000, lead us in rushing also, he had a phenomenal year. If you get that kind of play out of that the defensive line, whatever league you're in you're going to have a chance. I do think we were more talented at some spots, or maybe 'deeper' is the appropriate term I should use.
Q. What went into naming co-offensive and co-defensive coordinators? That's something that either works or fails a lot of times.
COACH FREEZE: Well, I think in all honesty it's more about trying to help people progress to where they want to be long-term. There's clear understanding in our schematic of the way our program runs of who has the ultimate say on both sides. While they're all deserving of that title, they have no egos, and they're here for the same purpose I am: to compete at a high level. So it's more about hoping to advance their career. But there's clear understanding of exactly what everyone's task will be.
Q. Another four years added onto the Memphis series. Did you have any input in that? Are you happy about that? There seems to be a perception that playing Memphis is almost necessary for recruiting despite the condition of their program. What specifically about playing Memphis is so beneficial for Ole Miss' recruiting?
COACH FREEZE: I think number one, you said it, recruiting in that town. I've made no bones about it. We consider that town to be in state for us. We have great relationships with the high school coaches, alumni and friends there. It's very important that we recruit well there. Secondly, I see it as an opportunity to increase my recruiting budget because it doesn't cost much to go play there. I'm always looking at ways to do more with a little less. I think that's a big plus for us. It gives us basically eight home games. I know it won't be labeled as a home game when we go there. But the benefit of that is the fact that we have 85 players or 80 players, 75 players, whatever we travel to away games. Their parents will get there. It's not like they have to board a plane, drive for a whole day. Most of the people that we have on our team are in a radius where they can get there. Anytime I can help our kids and their families with these decisions, certainly we'll stand on the table for that. Ross included me on all the discussions and I was very supportive of it.
Q. One of the best quarterbacks in the state of Mississippi last year played for a community college, went undefeated.
COACH FREEZE: And was the national MVP. 51 touchdowns.
Q. You had a chance to recruit Bo Wallace twice. First time you redshirted him at Arkansas State. This time you're going into the season, co-number ones. Talk about the changes between your relationship with Bo and the road y'all have taken to get here and tell me why he's co-number one now and what's holding him back?
COACH FREEZE: I would love to hear Bo's description of our journey together. It was a little rocky at Arkansas State. He was a young freshman, I think he would say, had his idea of what the freshman year in college was going to be like. He's all boy. That had some rocky points in it, but I don't think it ever got to the point where we didn't care for one another or share the same aspirations. His leaving Arkansas State was his choice, and I understood it. We didn't want him to go. But he had Ryan Aplin in front of him for a couple more years. It was pretty clear, we're very honest and straightforward with our kids, tell them where they are. He chose to leave. It obviously benefited him greatly. He had numerous amount of offers, had the remarkable year he's had. I think he's matured as a person, number one. When I sit down and talk and have discussions with him about life or football or whatever, he's definitely a different kid. He's matured. Not that he doesn't still make poor choices like all of the kids that we coach in this league sometimes do, but he certainly has matured. I think the only thing holding him back right now is just more reps. Of course, I think Barry has successful talents, some strengths that maybe Bo does not have, and vice versa. Which one is going to be the best for our football team, not quite sure yet. But Bo is going to be in the mix. At the end of spring ball, arguably he had the best game that day, but not to a point where I don't want to see what strengths the other kids can bring also.
Q. You say you're realistic. What are your realistic expectations for this season? I'm not talking about wins and losses. How do you want to see your team develop?
COACH FREEZE: I've said this from day one. I think the reasonable expectation from our fans and our administration that they should have on us, our staff and our kids, is that we compete passionately for our university for 60 minutes. Whatever the scoreboard says it says at the end. We'll have to live with that. Outside of that, the goals I have are laying the foundational core beliefs of who we're going to be at Ole Miss, what we're going to build our program on. They're very simple. They're based around the word family, their faith, attitude, mental toughness, integrity, love. It takes all of us, the entire Rebel Nation, buying into the core values for us to get to where we want to get. It's not all of a sudden gone from being where Ole Miss has been. The last four years, Ole Miss has gone 2-2 with LSU and Arkansas. People tend to forget that real quick. How did it get from there to where we are today? I really believe the secret lies in personal accountability and chemistry. I was not there, don't know the reasons why, but there was a lack of personal accountability and chemistry. In year one, laying the foundational core beliefs, making sure we understand personal accountability, every action we take, it does affect our teammates, it affects our program and what we do. I know our young men are not going to be perfect, none of us are. But I do expect that they have a concern for this decision I make. I will be held accountable to it. It affects my teammates. Then the chemistry part of somehow building a unit and trust with one another that we actually enjoy the process of getting where we want to go.
Q. Can you go back to recruiting and specifically the start that you and your staff have gotten off to to get 15 commitments before summer drills start.
COACH FREEZE: Everything that we are we owe probably a thank you to someone along the way, that they helped us get there. The time I spend with Ed Orgeron, Mike MacIntyre at San Jose, Ed here at Ole Miss, I think were valuable recruiting experiences for me. We're different people, of course. We go about things maybe a little differently. But the plan that I saw enacted here again then Ed was here, we had 18 NFL players in those three classes that are currently still playing in the NFL, it worked for whatever reason. So I'd be foolish not to try to copy that in some, way, shape, form or fashion. That's what we've done. I've brought in guys that I think have great ties to certain places, that work hard and passionately at recruiting. I think coming off the year we had, to be in the situation we're in right now, the number of commitments and quality of those commitments I think is a testimony to our assistant coaches.
Q. In your first three years at coach, you lost seven games. You might lose more than that this year, maybe. Maybe in your high school career, I don't know if you had a rough, rough year. How do you plan to handle that with your team and yourself when that hits you? How are you going to handle that with your team to keep them from going down under and yourself, because you haven't had this in a while?
COACH FREEZE: That's a good question. I think time will tell how I deal with that. I do surround myself with three people that I hope will hold me accountable to being a positive influence on the young men that we're dealing with, even in difficult times. I've said again from day one, there's going to be some times we're going to rejoice this year, there will be some difficult times. I think the leadership of our school and our Rebel Nation understands where we are and where we want to go. I think those are times we'll have to lean on our core values. Hopefully we'll pull a few surprises that will sustain us or good play that puts us in position to compete in games. I know this, the kids we're coaching here are no different than the kids we coached at Lambeth and Arkansas State. They have the same desire to compete. I know if we have that and can somehow create some chemistry and accountability, we might pull a few surprises.
Q. What is your perspective on the four-team playoff? What kind of reservations
do you have?
COACH FREEZE: Well, I came in a little late on those discussions with our conference. I fell in line real quickly with being for that. I think it's a good thing for our sport. Obviously here's no total fixes to where there's someone that's not going to complain. There will be a fifth or sixth team that gets left out of it that will complain. I do believe it's going to get it right 90% of the time. In those four teams you're going to find probably the best team that's playing the best at that point in the year. I was a big proponent that we keep the bowl system in place. I think the experience that families and kids, student-athletes, have in those, and the city's experience, the benefit that comes to those cities, I think is very important. Certainly didn't want to do away with that. I wasn't a big fan of extending the season any longer for the young men. The season is very, very long and grinding now. Certainly wasn't for that. So I think this was the best scenario for us at this point.
Q. I know you said you don't want to think too much about the Egg Bowl, but Dan Mullen has had his way of keeping that rivalry stoked year-round. Do you think it's important to do that somewhat?
COACH FREEZE: At this point I don't see that as necessarily a priority today. I'm sure there will come a time when that happens again. I give credit to Coach Mullen's staff and his kids for being able to capture the momentum. We know that Ole Miss holds an advantage in the all-time series, just haven't recently. We accept that. We don't run from it. Our kids will understand the importance of that game, I assure you.
Q. I've seen where your strength of schedule is rated number one or two. What do you think about that, particularly Texas coming to Oxford? Talk about Dave Wommack as your defensive coordinator and his SEC experience, what he brings to the table for you.
COACH FREEZE: I'll answer that one first, if that's okay. Dave Wommack, I said the same thing about Dan Werner, but his experience as being a coordinator at South Carolina, Georgia Tech, experiencing it firsthand with him turning the defense totally around from the year before, becoming one of the dominant defenses statistical-wise in the nation. I feel like the amount of wisdom he has, the way he goes about dealing with the young men, it works for me. I'm thrilled to have him onboard. Then Texas coming to town. Again, we don't look past games. Obviously, if we can go into that game with some type of momentum, with ESPN picking it up as their primetime slot on that given night and all the possibilities surrounding that day, whether game day may come or may not, I don't know. But that could be one special day in Oxford, Mississippi, which is already a special place. That would just be another check on the list that occurs in Oxford.
Q. Strength of schedule overall?
COACH FREEZE: Strength of schedule, I read where one of you guys, may have been Ron, tweeted out the coach's clichés. I tried not to say one today, but it is what it is (laughter). It doesn't help to focus on that. So I really don't talk about it a lot 'cause, you know, we're going to play it. We're going to show up and compete in every game hopefully.
Q. It isn't quite the same situation, but Coach Sumlin and Coach Pinkel were both asked did they have that kind of moment when they realized, Here I am in the SEC. Coming from the Sun Belt, did you have a moment where it hit you?
COACH FREEZE: Yeah, I'm kind of going through that right now (laughter). No, Coach Sumlin is a good friend of mine. We go back. I actually talked to him the other night. I was kind of prepared for today. But mine was really the same, I hate to steal his answer. Really, when you walk into that room for the first time, you sit down with the other coaches in this great league, Commissioner Slive shuts the door, gets down to business with you, you kind of realize this is a different deal.