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August 28, 2012MORE: FREEZE CURIOUS TO SEE DEBUT|QB BATTLE CONTINUES
OXFORD, Miss. -- Hugh Freeze's meteoric rise from Briarcrest Christian to Ole Miss is stunning to many.
On the eve of his son's debut as the Rebels' head coach, however, Danny Freeze isn't the least bit shocked.
Sure, Hugh Freeze's dad is a little surprised his son has landed at Ole Miss this early in his coaching career, but he just assumed the goals Hugh Freeze set would be achieved. After all, they always were.
"That was one of his goals," Danny Freeze said. "He's basically accomplished his goals as he's set them out there. Just watching him and his teams accomplish what they've accomplished, I guess you kind of get to where you believe that it's going to happen."
Hugh Freeze, 42, took over a crippled Ole Miss program last December, weeks after the Rebels wrapped up a tortured 2-10 campaign, one that included blowout losses to Alabama, LSU and at Mississippi State. He'll coach his first game as the Rebels' boss on Saturday when Ole Miss entertains Central Arkansas at 6 p.m. at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"I think it will probably be more intense, knowing everything is going to fall on him, one way or the other," said Danny Freeze, who holds two degrees from Ole Miss and has spent plenty of Saturdays making the 50-mile trip from his home in Independence, Miss., to Oxford to see the Rebels play. "I guess I've been around football so long that a lot of things don't bother me like they do other people."
The elder Freeze, who turned 68 Monday, coached at Independence and then Senatobia. The family returned to Independence after Hugh's career at Senatobia ended. Hugh played at Southern Miss and then embarked on a career in coaching. Danny Freeze never saw that coming, though he admits, given the benefit of hindsight, he should have.
"I guess I should have because he was on the sidelines from the time he could carry a water bottle," Danny Freeze said, laughing. "Most of the time, we wore khaki pants and a red coaches shirt, and he had his khakis on and his red shirt. He helped pack the bus from a very young age. Our property was right up to the back of the school at one point, and when he was almost still in diapers, he would crawl up to the fence and be laying in the weeds watching practice."
"I remember that," Hugh Freeze said Monday when told of his father's recollection. "It's not something I think about today, but I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for that experience. I knew from watching he and the other coaches he worked with deal with people and the fun that they had and the excitement they had, it was something I wanted to do. It's not something I reflect back on a lot now, but certainly what I am today is a result of that, yes.
"It was something where I said, 'I want my family to be like your family.' So wanting to be like them certainly had a lot to do with why I'm here."
NEVER A DOUBT: Freeze began his coaching career as an assistant at Briarcrest in 1992. In 1995, he was elevated to head coach, a spot he held through the 2004 season. Freeze joined Ed Orgeron's staff at Ole Miss in 2005 and worked as an on-the-field assistant in 2006 and 2007. After a two-year stint at Lambuth College and a brief stay at San Jose State, Freeze was hired at Arkansas State. After one season as the Red Wolves' offensive coordinator, he took over the head coaching post in Jonesboro, leading the program to a Sun Belt Conference title.
In the process, Danny Freeze made the transition from coach to fan.
"I used to watch the linemen all the time, because that would tell you what was happening," Danny Freeze said. "Now I've gotten to where I watch it a little bit more like a fan than I did then. I watch the ball more now than I did then.
"In a lot of situations, I'm thinking, 'What's he going to call here?' I've got two or three things in my mind that he's probably going to do, and most of the time, it'll be one of them in certain situations."
The game itself, Danny Freeze admitted Saturday night, minutes after leaving the Rebels' third scrimmage of fall camp, a glorified walk-through one week prior to the season opener, has changed from the one he coached.
"The game has gotten so much more in-depth now than it was then and the way they call plays and sets and the different personnel is so complicated now," Danny Freeze said. "We weren't near that complicated then, even though for three years, we ran the old single-wing type thing, which is awfully similar to what you see right there right now. They hand off in the front. We handed off in the back side, but we won 30 football games in three years doing it."
Being a dad, however, encompasses the same emotions as it always has. It's a mindset that transcends generations.
"Win, lose or draw, we're always there," Danny Freeze said. "I know when you lose a big game, life's not fun for about 24 hours, and then you forget it and go one. You've got to. You don't have a choice. I tried to instill that. I think that's kind of the principal he works on. I know he's moody the next day, but he gets over it quick and moves on."
Told of his dad's comments, Hugh Freeze smiles. Father knows best, after all.
"I clam up pretty much," Hugh Freeze said. "I don't talk to a lot of people when things don't go well or when things go well. When things go well, I talk to (his wife) Jill. When things don't go well, I don't talk to her. She lets me be, and that's kind of how I've dealt with things. I like to get by myself and take it all in.
"If you're around this sport long enough, you're going to have seasons where you've got more of one or the other and both. He is exactly right. If you can't put it behind you, the kids won't. We have a saying here on Sundays. Once we get through meeting in here with that film, it goes in the trash and it is over. We don't bring it up again. We move onto the next one. I did learn that from watching them."
A PROUD DAY: The Freeze family, years ago, turned the Grove into a venue for family reunions. On Saturday, Hugh Freeze will lead his team through that tract of land in the middle of the Ole Miss campus, through the Walk of Champions and to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"I'm just proud for him," said Carey Freeze, Hugh's younger brother. "Like Daddy said, there's never been a goal that he's had that he did not reach it. You just saw greatness in him. I'm not being boastful, but everything he does, it turns to gold. I think he's always been that way, really. I know as his little brother watching him, I wanted to be like him. Just watching him in everything he did in life, it just worked."
This season promises to bring adversity. The Rebels are thin in key spots, and the schedule is absolutely brutal. Still, within the family, there's no doubt Hugh will win at Ole Miss. It's a matter of when, not if.
"I truly believe he's going to win at Ole Miss," Carey Freeze said. "I believe that. I believe he's going to turn the program around."
"He's genuine," Danny Freeze said. "He loves them. He cares for them. Of course, his relationship with the Lord transfers to the people he works with and coaches. They just buy in because they can see the real part - that he genuinely cares about them as a people before he does as athletes."
Hugh Freeze said Monday he hopes the focus shifts from him to his players Saturday. Ole Miss has won just six games in the past two years. It has lost 14 straight Southeastern Conference games. Instilling belief and confidence promises to be a challenge, one that occupies his mind each and every day.
Still, there will be a moment Saturday, Hugh Freeze admits, when he'll think of his family. Specifically, he'll think of his dad, and for a fleeting moment, he'll take pleasure in the fact that he's made his father so proud.
"I think about that quite often," Hugh Freeze said. "I really do. I don't know that I will Saturday. I probably will walking through the Grove. Once I get here in this locker room, I kind of switch gears and I have to try to find a way to win a game.
"But I do know what it has meant to my father. I see him around his friends now and he's a little different in a good way. He's so proud and obviously as a son _ I don't want to sound boastful in any way, I'm not; I'm very humbled by this opportunity _ to know you pleased your dad, it does mean something."
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