Ravens

Freeze guides Mississippi to quick turnaround

201210271617586303526-p2.jpeg

Freeze guides Mississippi to quick turnaround

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) Hugh Freeze is working his turnaround magic again - this time in the Southeastern Conference.

The unlikely major college head coach, who was leading a high school program less than a decade ago and cobbled together the bulk of his offense by watching college games on his couch, has Mississippi competitive in the SEC and just one win from bowl eligibility.

Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2 SEC) will be about a two-touchdown underdog when it visits No. 7 Georgia (7-1, 5-1) on Saturday, but both sides expect the game to be competitive. That's hard to believe considering the Rebels were in the midst of an embarrassing 16-game SEC losing streak less than a month ago.

``What I see is a team that has a brand new head coach that's brought a lot of energy to the program,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said. ``A lot of times, you just never know how close you are to winning and breaking through and having success.''

Ole Miss was closer than many thought.

The Rebels won their first SEC game in more than two years against Auburn on Oct. 13 and then got a road win against Arkansas last Saturday. With each successful weekend, the Rebels' confidence has grown, and it's Freeze's unmistakable yet subtle fingerprints that have provided the biggest difference.

The low-key Freeze might be the least surprised person about the turnaround. After all, he's done this before.

The 43-year-old had already engineered remarkable one-year turnarounds at NAIA-level Lambuth (Tenn.) and at Arkansas State before accepting the Ole Miss job.

But both those revivals were done in relative obscurity. This one has been done in the harsh glare that comes with coaching in the nation's best college football conference.

It hasn't fazed him one bit.

The scary part for opponents? The Rebels are just now starting to believe.

``I see confidence growing, but yet their demeanor has stayed workmanlike,'' Freeze said. ``And I think the best teams that I've coached have had that quality. You're very confident, but it doesn't hurt your work ethic and the way you go about your business.''

That's not to say the Rebels still don't have issues.

Quarterback Bo Wallace has been a huge upgrade at quarterback, but still makes too many mistakes, throwing nearly as many interceptions (9) as touchdowns (10). The defense is thin and undersized at several spots, and ranks in the bottom half of the SEC in most major categories.

But in more proof that football's a mental game, simply gaining confidence has lifted the Rebels from league laughingstock to respected opponent.

Freeze's roster consists of most of the same players who won just two games last season. They didn't miraculously grow into 300-pound monsters or turn into speedsters overnight.

``There is no magic - the magic is in the effort,'' Ole Miss offensive line coach Matt Luke said. ``I think, number one, it's that the players know (Freeze) cares about them and in turn, they want to perform for him and each other. He's a genuine person. He's not scared to take a hard line. If someone misses class, he sits them. There's no wiggle room and kids respect that.''

Ole Miss junior cornerback Charles Sawyer said Freeze's egalitarian system has been a welcome change.

``He holds everyone accountable, and I mean from the star players to the scout team,'' Sawyer said. ``When you have a scout team guy, a star offensive player and an assistant coach all held to the same standard, it really produces a lot of respect.''

Freeze shrugs when asked how he builds that quick rapport with his players.

``It's the only way I know how to coach,'' Freeze said. ``That's who I am.''

Freeze's wide-open offense has also been a boost for the Rebels.

Unlike many major college coaches, who count a long list of legends as their mentors, Freeze developed most of his philosophy when he was a high school coach in Memphis, Tenn. He would comb through taped college games and write down plays that appealed to him in a notebook.

Some of it was Oklahoma and some of it was Oregon. He gained respect for guys like Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin in the process, coaches known for their ability to put points on the board in bunches.

Ten years later, he's turned those plays into a coherent offense.

Can it work in the SEC? It's early, but it certainly appears so.

``Everything that's going on now, it's not a surprise,'' Sawyer said. ``I felt this team was going to be different. Now that it's actually happening, you're not surprised, you're just appreciative.''

---

AP Sports Writer Charles Odum contributed to this report from Athens, Ga.

---

Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

Quick Links

Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

john_harbaugh.jpg
USA Today Sports

Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

The Ravens have reportedly agreed in principle to a new contract extension with head coach John Harbaugh, a move already being praised by national pundits everywhere. 

It was nearly a month ago that the Ravens announced Harbaugh would be returning as the team’s head coach in 2019, which was noteworthy considering his status as a potential lame duck head coach.

In the same release, the team announced they were working towards a contract extension with Harbaugh, whose current deal was set to expire next year.

Despite reports from national NFL insiders, including Jason La Canfora and Peter King, that Harbaugh might prefer to hit free agency as a highly sought-after head coach after the 2019 season, it appears the Ravens will keep him in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. 

This news comes on the heels of a busier-than-usual coaching carousel, with a quarter of the 32 NFL teams changing head coaches in the last month, including two AFC North rivals. Harbaugh almost certainly would have been the cream of the crop among coaching free agents no matter when he became available, so the Ravens were looking to lock him up long term.

After a tough November home loss to the Steelers that put the team at 4-5, Harbaugh was asked about his job security, and he remained steadfast and confident.

"I've never been someone who's worried about keeping a job," Harbaugh said. "It's always been, for me, [about] doing the job. I've got a bunch of great coaches and a bunch of great players that bust their tails every day to do the best job they can. I feel really good about the way this team has been coached for the last 11 years, and for the last number of weeks we've been in the season. So, there are no regrets. Never been any regrets here with me."

After that game, the Ravens rattled off six wins in seven games to make the playoffs, and many players credited Harbaugh with keeping the team together. It was prior to Week 16 when the front office announced Harbaugh would be returning no matter how the season ended, but the strong finish and AFC North title certainly made the decision easier.

A coach with a special teams background, Harbaugh is an anomaly in the current era of young, offensive-minded head coaches. He won Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, and holds a 104-72 career record in Baltimore.

The terms of the new deal have not yet been released, but it will be interesting how many years the team is committing to Harbaugh.

MORE RAVENS NEWS: 

Quick Links

Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

bealusat119.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

Bradley Beal, his agent Mark Bartlestein told Bleacher Report, would like to stay in Washington - even as he's a hot topic among front offices as the trade deadline approaches.

From Bleacher Report:

His agent, Mark Bartelstein, is not looking for a trade. "Brad wants to win, Bartelstein told B/R. "He wants to win at the highest level, and he wants to compete for championships. I think he's seeing progress, and he's going to do everything he can to lead this team. They got themselves into a huge hole, and he's going to do his best to get them out of it.

The Wizards are facing tough decisions when it comes to the future of the franchise as this season's trade deadline approaches. Beal, as NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig detailed this week, is among the most tradable assets they have, especially when it comes to their three major contracts. But owner Ted Leonsis took a firm stance against tanking while speaking to reporters in London, and Beal is integral to their playoff hopes with John Wall sidelined. 

This isn't the first time this season that Beal has denied wanting to be anywhere but DC. When drama swirled around the team earlier this season, Beal denied a report that he had requested a trade.

"That's nonsense," he said at the time. "I heard it earlier before the game and I was like, 'If it didn't come from the horse's mouth, it wasn't me.' I got this Washington jersey on and I come here and work everyday, you know, until otherwise. This is where I wanna be."

Earlier this season, it was reported that the Raptors were interested in Beal but couldn't afford what the Wizards were asking for him. According to the latest report on Beal from Bleacher Report, there are a number of teams who may still be interested. 

Again, from Bleacher Report:

There are so many teams in the mix trying to make that extra push that want Beal," a Western Conference executive told B/R.

But even if some fans are clamoring for a big trade at the deadline, the price tag for Beal - who had 26 points in the Wizards' comeback win over the Knicks this week - only seems to be rising. 

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: