Hugh Freeze and the Gospel of Hate


Dec 30, 2013; Nashville, TN, USA; Mississippi Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze walks the field as his team warms up before a game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at LP Field. The Rebels beat the Yellow Jackets 25-17. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Mullen arrived at Mississippi State in December 2008 in the wake of one of the worst losses to Ole Miss in school history. The morale of the MSU fan base was about as low as it could possibly be. Mullen came to town talking about beating “the school up north” and dominating the state of Mississippi. Bulldog fans ate it up. Rebel fans were mildly annoyed.

Mullen then backed up his talk up with three straight wins over the Rebels and suddenly he was transformed into public enemy number one in Oxford.  And try as they might to spin the situation by pretending MSU was insignificant and only focused on beating Ole Miss, Mullen no doubt was extremely galling to Rebel nation.  Somehow this transplanted Yankee and his lack of respect for Mississippi’s “flagship university” had to be stopped.

Enter Hugh Freeze, who arrived at Ole Miss following Mullen’s third consecutive win over the Rebels.  Freeze inherited a situation much like the one Mullen had at State just three earlier.   And like Mullen, Freeze needed a rallying cry, a way to unite his team and the fans around his efforts to turn the Ole Miss program around.

Freeze chose a different strategy.  Known for his public expressions of religious faith, he used his faith as a recruiting tool.  He stayed very quiet throughout his first season and made no public references at all to Mississippi State.  It was a very different public strategy than the one Mullen utilized in his early days.

Privately, the narrative was different.  Rebel fans began to spread rumors about Mullen’s faith.  He was labeled an “atheist” and a “scientologist”. It is unclear the role, if any, Freeze may have played perpetuating those rumors.  Freeze allegedly told a recruit who later signed with MSU that he “feared for his eternal soul” if he signed with State. The implication was clear.  Freeze was posturing himself as morally superior and Rebels fans were helping by spreading the notion that somehow Mullen wasn’t a very nice person.

Just as Mullen did in his first year, Freeze won the first Egg Bowl that he coached in.  It wasn’t until after that Egg Bowl that the public became fully aware of Freeze’s motivational strategy.  As documented in the Ole Miss athletic department’s video series “The Season”, Freeze made an impassioned speech to his team prior to the 2012 Egg Bowl that included the following:

"“Some schools in rivalry games choose to play it out of hatred for the other school.  That’s not who we are.  Here’s why we will win the game tonight.  Because you’re going to play for love for one another.  Not hatred for somebody else, you’re gonna play out of love for one another.”"

There it was.  State coaches, players and fans are haters.  They promote the rivalry and attack us because they hate us.  But we’re better than they are because we play out of love for each other.  Mullen is the head-hater, who encourages State fans to publicly express their hatred for Ole Miss.  Hate motivates Mississippi State. But at Ole Miss, we’re above that kind of animosity.  We love one another and play for one another out of love.

The Rebel nation bought into this nonsense hook, line and sinker.  Across Twitter and Facebook, Ole Miss fans proclaimed their moral superiority.  I can’t document every instance, but here’s a great example.  Rebel fan Ronnie Fleming wrote on Facebook on October 12, 2014, in response to an post about potential coaching changes:

"“Mullens (sic) to Florida.  Maybe the hate he has pushed and promoted will go with him. “"

The narrative was established.  In one year, Freeze had beaten Mullen on the field and he did it without resorting to those hateful tactics Mullen used. It was instant moral superiority for a fan base that thrives on considering itself superior to everyone in everything.

Apparently Ole Miss Fans do not realize that the word hate can have multiple meanings.  Consider these three statements:

  1. I hate broccoli.
  2. I hate Ole Miss.
  3. I hate Islamic terrorists who kill innocent people.

Does any reasonable thinking person think the word hate means the same thing in those three sentences?  Of course it doesn’t.  This so-called hate that Mississippi State fans have for Ole Miss?  It’s a rivalry game, people.  This is how you do it.  Taking potshots at one another, ridicule, basking in one another’s misfortunes – that is the nature of a college football rivalry.  I’ll admit some of it (including some of my antics) occasionally gets close to crossing the line.  But this idea that State fans are all motivated by pure outright hatred is downright silly.  Come up with something else, Rebels – please – or continue to make yourselves look foolish.