Back A Culture of Competition

Back To SEC

A Culture of Competition

By Matt Osborne
Follow us at  Become a fan at the Facebook Page

Refusing to settle for mediocrity, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has created an environment of intense competition in Oxford.

"Right now you have a lot of programs trying to take that next step, and I think Ole Miss is right on track with doing it.”
~Former Ole Miss OL Tre' Stallings

Though it might not currently be fully reflected on the scoreboard and in the win column, perhaps no program in the country has more momentum right now than Ole Miss.

After finishing just 4-8 in 2010 and failing to pick up a single conference win in 2011, the Rebels were understandably picked to finish at the bottom of the SEC West prior to the start of the 2012 season.

Coming off of consecutive losing seasons and riding a 14-game SEC losing streak, the Rebels turned to Hugh Freeze, a coach with just one season of head coaching experience at the FBS level (Arkansas State), to lead the program back to respectability.

A native of Oxford, Mississippi and a former Ole Miss assistant coach, Freeze was anxious to begin the rebuilding process in his home state. He even went so far to say that, at just 42 years of age, he intended to remain at Ole Miss until his retirement from coaching.

RELATED: Ole Miss Ready to Grow with Bo Wallace

Noted for his fiery passion and enthusiasm throughout his coaching career, Freeze immediately set out to change the mindset of the Ole Miss program. Playing in the toughest division in all of college football, settling for mediocrity was simply unacceptable. Winning season and postseason participation, long considered to be measures of success, were no longer to be thought of as milestone achievements under Freeze; they were to be expected.

And while wins were to be expected in the eyes of Freeze, his greatest expectation of his team was not one of tangible results. Rather, it was an expectation to become fierce competitors who left their all on the gridiron every week.

“You look at the way they played last year, it was pretty unique to sit there and watch them on television week in and week out just competing at a really high level,” former Ole Miss offensive lineman Tre’ Stallings remarked on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. “That’s really all you can ask for from any team is that they compete week in and week out.”

RELATED: Rebels Look to Continue Improvement

His demands and expectations clearly defined and understood by his players, Freeze then set out to lead by example for his team.

Going up against the likes of Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M, just in his own division, Freeze showed no fear in mixing it up with the most elite programs in the nation in his pursuit for elite high school talent. With a blatant disregard for the Rebels’ lack of past recruiting prominence, Freeze refused to settle for second-tier high school talent.

Driven by his innate desire to win and compete, Freeze did the unthinkable: he went toe-to-toe with the SEC powers on the recruiting trail, and he won the vast majority of the battles.

“I think they’ve done a great job of really selling the program and just not being afraid to go after the big-time recruits,” Stallings said of Freeze and the current Ole Miss coaching staff. “When you look at the SEC as a whole, I think there is a lot of parity in our league. Right now you have a lot of programs trying to take that next step, and I think Ole Miss is right on track with doing it.”

Signing multiple five-star prospects in the 2013 class, Freeze put the SEC, and the college football landscape in general, on notice that an Ole Miss resurgence in forthcoming.

Though it will certainly take some time for all of the Rebels’ elite talent to develop into impact players in the SEC, Freeze had already helped change the status quo in Oxford. Some media members are already picking Ole Miss to finish ahead of storied programs such as LSU and Auburn in the SEC West.

Powered by an amazing 18 returning starters, the most of any team in the conference, the Rebels are expected to improve upon last season’s seven wins and perhaps play the role of spoiler in the SEC.

In order for the Rebels to make the progress desired, however, the team must first overcome an immediate obstacle to start the 2013 campaign as Ole Miss will travel to Vanderbilt for a difficult season-opener on Thursday, August 29. Much like Ole Miss, Vanderbilt is an up-and-coming SEC program, led by a fiery head coach, that is looking to become a perennial contender in the conference.

“I think that’s great for the league and college football when you can have these teams facing each other opening week. That just kind of sets the tone for the rest of the season,” Stallings continued. “Whoever pulls that victory out, it’s going to give that team a real big momentum boost going into the rest of the season.”

People often say that nothing is guaranteed in college football. As the cliché goes, “if the team expected to win won every week, there would be no reason to play the games”.

And while that sentiment certainly holds true when it comes to determining a winner and loser, Hugh Freeze has found a way to create a guaranteed, solidified culture at Ole Miss.

Although he cannot assure that his team will emerge victorious every week throughout the fall, Freeze has set the example his team. If there is now one sure thing you can bank on in college football, it is that the Rebels will give it everything they have when they take the field under their impassioned head coach.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at