Nov 28, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze during the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
One thing that has always been a constant in the MSU/OM rivalry is the perpetual degrading of each other’s head coach. The Mullen and Freeze eras plus social media has taken it to another level. Ole Miss loves to create the idea that Mullen is a terrible coach stuck at MSU, and have even thrown in the myth that he’s a Scientologist. State fans claim that Freeze is a fraud of a coach, and claim he uses his faith as more of a recruiting tool than a way of life. Well if we put name-calling and all hate aside to objectively quantify the tenures of both coaches, who is really better?
Of course, to start off Mullen has been the coach at MSU for 5 seasons while Hugh Freeze has been at Ole Miss for just two. A little bit more can be determined about Mullen than Freeze at this point, although neither coach’s book has been written yet. One of the interesting things to me about Freeze’s first two years is how similar they are to Mullen’s:
- Both 14-11 after first 25 games
- In Mullen’s first season, he went 5-7. Freeze went 6-6 in his, but Mullen had to play the ACC champion (GA Tech) and 10-2 Houston in the non-conference and lost to both of them. Freeze’ was able to face a slightly less difficult non-conference schedule (played Texas) allowing him to get the additional win and a bowl game. Both were 3-5 in the SEC with some close losses. Both won the Egg Bowl against an 8-3 opponent.
- In Mullen’s second season he went 8-4. Freeze is 7-5. Both got a big win: Mullen vs. Florida, Freeze vs. LSU. The difference was ultimately that Freeze lost his second Egg bowl whereas Mullen won his. But to Freeze’ credit MSU was much tougher than OM in 2010 and he played at Texas – a non-conference opponent far superior to any of State’s in ’10.
- Both had one really good recruiting class and one bad one in their first two. Mullen’s 2009 class was superb, and looking back it was even better than expected. His second class was mediocre at best. Freeze was the opposite – his first class was awful but he more than made up for it with an incredible class in ’13.
Going forward it’s hard for anyone to tell what will happen, or which coach will have more success. In Mullen’s third year he went 7-6….it’s hard to believe OM will slip to that level next year but going into the 2011 season MSU was ranked and expected a much better year than what transpired. Point is you never know.
Sep 7, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen during the game against the Alcorn State Braves at Davis Wade Stadium. The Bulldogs defeated the Braves 51-7. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Freeze’s 2014 recruiting class will undoubtedly be better than Mullen’s. But will that translate into wins? Ole Miss has been ahead of MSU in recruiting 7 of the last 10 years but MSU has 4 more overall wins over that time period, and is 6-4 in the Egg Bowl.
Both coaches have very different approaches. They have both proven to be good, but not very good.
My answer: they are the same. It’s too early to tell which coach is better. I could make a laundry list of things Freeze has done wrong, but he’s done even more right. Same for Mullen. They’ve both elevated their programs from doormats to good teams.
I’ve long sided with the belief that there are only 16 wins max to be had between the two schools, so for one to win big the other has to lose big. And if both are going to be good, it’s going to be a years like 2012 or 2013 where each team is at .500 or just above. Could that eventually change? We’ve seen how Auburn and Alabama have made each other better and elevated themselves to the point of the Iron Bowl being the determining factor in who will win the national championship. With both schools dipping out of state and keeping nearly all the in-state talent home, could this elevate both programs at the same time?
Time will tell the direction and level of success between Mississippi State and Ole Miss, and conversely Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze. They’re 1-1 against each other, and it looks like many more battles are in store.