Hugh Freeze resigned from Ole Miss Thursday night. Sources told SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey that the school asked Freeze to resign.
But at the heart of the reason Freeze stepped down is a phone call.
Yahoo Sports inquired with Freeze and athletic director Ross Bjork about a call at 8:34 p.m. on Jan. 21, 2016, to a Detroit number that is linked via various websites to a Florida-based escort service. Freeze told Yahoo last Friday that the call had been brought to Ole Miss administrators’ attention by former coach Houston Nutt’s attorney, Thomas Mars, and that they had questioned him about it. Freeze told Yahoo he had no idea why the call was on his phone records.
A USA Today report stated that Nutt’s attorney, Thomas Mars, contacted Ole Miss the day Nutt spoke at SEC Media Days to inform the school that Nutt’s camp had the morsel.
Mars sent an email to Lee Tyner, the school’s general counsel, referencing a “phone call Coach Freeze made that would be highly embarrassing for all of you and extremely difficult to explain.”
The irony here is stunning.
Essentially, Nutt and his camp got his successor at Ole Miss ousted in a fashion similar to what Nutt himself faced 10 years ago at Arkansas.
A series of records requests preceded Nutt’s departure from Arkansas in 2007. One request, for Nutt’s cell phone records, revealed more than 2,000 texts between the coach and a local news anchor. Rumors circulated that Nutt was having an affair, which he denied. His wife wrote a blog post in his defense. A lawsuit was threatened, but ultimately not filed.
In another episode, a friend of Nutt and his brother sent a disparaging email to Arkansas freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain in 2006. Nutt reprimanded the woman who sent the email to his quarterback, but the situation was a public embarrassment. It all became part of a sweeping public records uproar while Nutt was in Fayetteville.
Nutt is in the process of suing Ole Miss’ athletic department for lost wages, emotional distress, and embarrassment, as well as legal fees and punitive damages.
He alleges that the school defamed him through a “false and defamatory PR campaign” as its NCAA scandal picked up steam last year, with the goal of shielding its current coaching staff.
Nutt’s complaint, filed in a U.S. District Court in Mississippi, says that the Rebels and current coach Hugh Freeze wrongly pinned their problems on Nutt. The ex-Rebels coach says Ole Miss did that in part through strategic leaks to reporters covering the team:
Coach Freeze had knowingly lied to the journalists and recruiting prospects by saying that the NCAA’s investigation had little, if anything, to do with him or his coaching staff and was instead focused on alleged rules violations by Coach Nutt’s staff.
As examples, Nutt’s complaint cites reports by journalists from Yahoo!, Rivals, Fox Sports, the Associated Press, ESPN, and Mississippi talk radio.
SB Nation is also mentioned in Nutt’s complaint, in regard to this story published in December. The relevant excerpt from the story was relayed by a recruit:
“Well, Coach Freeze told me when you’re that big and out there with faith in Christ, he’s like, ‘What do you expect? Jesus got nailed to the cross.’”
According to Nutt’s complaint, that was part of an effort by Freeze to come off as a “deeply spiritual Godly man who’s done nothing wrong and is being persecuted.” And the upshot of Freeze having “done nothing wrong,” in Nutt’s view, is that there’s only one other Ole Miss head coach who could’ve committed NCAA violations in the last decade.
Investigations will continue, but it seems that for now, Nutt has gotten the last laugh.