If you could separate the person from the football that’d be great. Ole Miss under Hugh Freeze beat Alabama twice in a row from 2014-2015, something no other team did in the same span. The 2015 game in particular is a peak: It’s at Bryant-Denny, it involves Chad Kelly, and it involves Chad Kelly and freakish plays capable of infuriating Nick Saban at the mere thought of how they actually happened, and can never be taken back.
They took years off Nick Saban’s life. When he retires at 109 instead of 114, say a silent thank you to Hugh Freeze for that.
They were fun, and not just for Ole Miss fans. They ran a glorified high school offense with spotty but occasionally brilliant passers. They wore the powder blue helmets and let wideouts like Laquon Treadwell run rampages through opposing defenses. Hugh Freeze recruited Robert Nkemdiche to Oxford, and then let the 6’5”, 305 pound defensive tackle play snaps at running back.
They were fun for outsiders for other reasons. Ole Miss would beat Alabama in 2014, and then eventually lose 30-0 to Arkansas later in the same season. They would outsprint Alabama again in 2015, and then with all the momentum in the world lose 38-10 to Florida. They were what you want an eccentric, talented, and erratic cousin from Mississippi to be: No inheritance unblown, no comeback too large, and no plotline without a series of improbably but verified reversals.
It’s also perfect eccentric Mississippi cousin form to take out loan after loan after loan, get those loans co-signed by your close associates, and then default on it grandiosely, possibly sinking your partners in the process. The administration backed Hugh Freeze at every turn in an NCAA investigation, answered almost every request he made for more funding, and publicly defended him against accusations of dirty recruiting.
In return, Freeze conducted embarrassing business on a company phone. It hurts to type because it is so obvious and straight from central casting. It really does, because everyone in this case will one day be portrayed sweating in a courthouse and covered in vaseline like it’s A Time To Kill. Still, every part of this is true: Hugh Freeze was accused of paying amateurs, but paying a professional is what ultimately destroyed his career.
And it gets worse. It does, the more you dig, and the more context you give it. There’s just cartoon in every direction, no end to the caricature. The AD in the case is a Twitter brawler who just got his otherwise outstanding credit rating nuked by vouching for his doomed football coach. The president of Ole Miss is the brother of David “The Shitter” Vitter—an irrelevant but still startling detail here, since apparently you can’t have one sex scandal in the Magnolia Belt without having at least an indirect relation to another.
The reason we know all this in the first place: Their ex-coach, inaccurately blamed by Freeze for the NCAA case he was facing, got the phone records by public records request. Houston Nutt knew to do that because he’d been torched by by a FOIA of his phone records ten years earlier at Arkansas. He’s working a defamation lawsuit against Ole Miss for Freeze’s allegations against him, and for everything else that happened after his firing. Somehow in all this, Houston Nutt just got Hugh Freeze fired, and evidently wanted Hugh Freeze fired, and really doesn’t stand to benefit from it beyond a simple but brutal piece of transactional revenge.
He just wanted blood, and he got it, and that’s probably all he’ll get until his suit gets settled.
In all this, that’s the most shocking thing. Not the extremely theatrical man of God being a philandering hypocrite, since that’s a storyline so tired it crosses over into reliable archetype. Not Ole Miss stepping facefirst into a tree shredder, since that’s the entire history of Ole Miss football. Not the administrative fallout from a coach being less than truthful and embarrassing the administration, since that’s happened like, every year for the entirety of college football’s history. Not even the churchy squeamishness about sex getting someone fired, because this is the South, and for some reason we’re fine with insane degrees of violence but turn into cowed peasants the minute someone points to the word “Sex.”*
*Reminder: You still need to sign a waiver-type thing to buy a dildo in Alabama.
The most shocking thing about it is that Houston Nutt just blew up a dude’s life for revenge. He had motive, sure, and Freeze had certainly set up enough debts he could not possibly pay off. No one can argue that, or that Freeze did not reel the entirety of his dick—literally in this case—out there to trip over in disastrous fashion.
It’s just not often you see someone actually pull the long arc of revenge off, and with such stunning speed and precision, and with such an obvious opening gifted to the avenger by the revenge-ee. Nutt might not even get anything out of it, either, and apparently that’s fine. Once, someone pointed out to the world that the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi never had a really clear reason for fighting the Empire. In the end, they just wanted to fight, and didn’t really care about the payoff, and just wanted the brute act of revenge.
That’s the conclusion I’m most shocked by here. Any leverage Nutt might have had by using Freeze’s philandering on a company phone evaporated the minute this went public. Someone just wanted a head, and they took one without even really thinking about the next step. It’s Friday, July 21st, and Houston Nutt’s a goddamn Ewok.