Tuesday marked the opening of SEC Media Days in Hoover, AL. This is the three-day extravaganza where all 14 members of the Southeastern Conference are represented by their head coaches and a few select players, and where they face questions from the media about their upcoming seasons.
There were no huge surprises for those who closely follow the Rebels—except possibly for the fact that Head Coach Hugh Freeze won four state championships as a girls basketball coach in Tennessee, and that he says he wears a visor because he wanted to be like South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier.
In typical fashion, Coach Freeze was sincere, motivating, and forthcoming about the state of his Rebels team. He asks that his players “win the day,” a phrase he uses to help them focus on their tasks at hand. Freeze stresses accountability to oneself and to the team, and believes his players’ goals and actions should match up. “If your spoken goals and your daily actions don’t match up,” he says, “you’re going to have a hard time winning the day.”
Freeze made introductory remarks before taking questions from the media throng assembled at the event, and recalled that last year, his first at Ole Miss, his main goal was simple. I wanted “to try to get our young men to compete very passionately for our university, over a 60-minute span in a game.”
Freeze was pleased with how his team responded to that goal. “With the exception of two halves, I thought our kids were extremely competitive, played with a great amount of passion and energy, and represented our great university and our fan base in a way that made them excited and proud to watch our team play,” he explained.
While Freeze expressed his pleasure with the development of his team, he was also quick to try and downplay expectations for year two. “I was reminded this spring when we lost a few of those (offensive linemen) to injury of how fortunate we really were,” he said. “Again, we had some injuries this spring, and it reminded me we’re not quite where we need to be depth chart-wise for this league.”
Coming off a 7-6 season and a bowl win, Freeze stressed how important it is to manage the high expectations surrounding the Rebels for the upcoming season. “I tell our team quite often that unrealistic expectations always produce frustration. I don’t care in what area of life you’re in, if you have an unreal expectation and it does not come to pass, you get very frustrated.”
He added that his main goal for the team in year two is to keep the energy and enthusiasm level of the fans and players, but to also remember that the recruits he has brought in to help with depth issues are still 18-year old kids who will need to adjust to the game and the league.
Not surprisingly, the first question Freeze fielded from reporters was about the health of QB Bo Wallace. He responded by saying he and his staff are pleased with Wallace’s progress following shoulder surgery, and that they are keeping an eye on the junior QB to make sure his throwing motion has not been altered as a result of the surgery.
“The NCAA gave us a waiver,” he noted, “just for Dan (QB Coach and Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner) to go out a certain number of times to make sure that his mechanics were solid. Everyone that has seen him feels like he’s right on progress.”
Coach Freeze also addressed the toughness of the Rebels’ schedule. In a five-week stretch to start the season, the Rebels will face Vandy, Texas, Alabama, and Auburn on the road. “Certainly I wish it wasn’t that way,” he said. “But we have a kind of a motto around our place. We talk about what we can control. I can control how we prepare for them.”
On several occasions Tuesday, Freeze expressed concern about his team’s depth. “We had quite a few post-season surgeries at a lot of places,” he said. He specifically mentioned C.J. Johnson, Bo Wallace, Aaron Morris and Charles Sawyer, and said the injuries reminded him that Ole Miss is not quite where it needs to be with respect to the depth-chart in a league that’s as tough as the SEC.
“We are thin on the OL, and we are thin at defensive end. Tight end is thin, and we feel we need help at corner and safety,” he cautioned.
Ole Miss did address some of its depth concerns by signing a top-five ranked recruiting class for 2013. It remains to be seen how many of the freshmen will be able to compete right away, but Freeze definitely believes some will step in and help fill the gaps.
One thing that is certain, however, is Coach Freeze’s speaking ability. It is not surprising he was very well-received at Media Days, as his love for Ole Miss, his staff, his players and fans is evident.
Early yesterday morning, Coach Freeze took to Twitter before later speaking to the media.
Even those who are not Ole Miss fans were impressed with Coach Freeze’s appearance at Media Days.
A former player for a rival team gave his thoughts on Coach Freeze’s appearance, as well.
Coach Freeze did a wonderful of “winning the day” at Media Days, and appears more than ready for this season to begin. Thankfully that happens 42 days from today against Vanderbilt in Nashville!
Hotty Toddy, Rebel Nation!