ENGSTER: Freeze departure drips with irony

By JIM ENGSTER | President, Tiger Rag Magazine

Ole Miss Football Coach Danny Hugh Freeze Jr. is out of a job after his cell phone displayed a set of digits linked to an escort service. A buttoned down administration at the pristine Oxford campus delivered a swift and chilling knockout punch that cracked and crumbled Mr. Freeze. Considering the nature of the dismissal, it is appropriate that Hugh’s replacement, Matt Luke, takes his name from two books of the New Testament.

What Freeze termed an errant butt dial is arguably a violation of a morality clause in his contract. It may be the most expensive one-minute call in history with Ole Miss possibly contesting $12-million in remaining compensation for its defrocked coach. In the old days, phone booths were used for clandestine conversations. Lecherous coaches should realize they are not smarter than smart phones.

The Ole Miss Chancellor is a fellow named Jeff Vitter, brother of a former Louisiana U.S. Senator who possessed a phone number that surfaced on a Washington madam’s list five times in 2001. Sen. David Vitter apologized for “a serious sin” in 2007 and served the citizens of his state on Capitol Hill for another decade.

No member of Vitter’s family sought to remove him from Congress when he was outed by Hustler Magazine publisher Larry Flynt as a legislator on the prowl for carnal pleasure. The people of Louisiana re-elected the Senator in 2010 in a landslide.

Voters understood that a public servant saturated with testosterone might require some strange company while conducting constituent work thousands of miles from the homestead. Adultery may be viewed with scorn in the Bible belt, but it is celebrated with zeal in the Beltway.

Sen. Vitter was quick to note that he had not strayed in his native New Orleans, only in a decadent city where a president from the South sought comfort in the Oval Office with an intern. Vitter pounded the table and demanded Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998.

If there is redemption for a U.S. Senator who made a love offering to professionals, shouldn’t a football coach get the same break? Sounds logical, but standards are different in the Baptist dominated Magnolia State than they are in the sex-charged atmosphere that permeates the devil’s den of D.C.

Perhaps it was a youthful indiscretion for the Louisiana lawmaker to succumb to temptation of the flesh. Rep. Vitter was a young lad of 39 when he used the phone at his House desk to juggle his nocturnal pursuits.  Freeze is 47, much too mature to be ringing hookers on a state-issued cell phone.

Jeff Vitter could have extended to his coach the benevolent treatment the chancellor’s brother received for his transgressions. If Freeze could survive an array of NCAA allegations that put his program on probation, he could likely withstand a one-time connection to a prostitution ring. His unforgivable offense was last year’s 5-7 finish.

The Freeze fall is reminiscent of the late Bob Brodhead’s turbulent tenure in TigerTown. Bottom Line Bob dodged a federal prison term after pleading guilty in 1986 to wiretapping charges, but LSU welcomed its athletic director back with open arms. Brodhead responded by taking an expense-paid trip to Mexico with a publishing titan whose name adorns the LSU Journalism School. Brodhead got the axe from Chancellor Jim Wharton for the Baja ethics debacle just months after an appearance in federal court as the defendant in the United States vs. Robert Edgar Brodhead.

Sexual indiscretions are not new to the SEC. The University of Alabama fired popular basketball coach Wimp Sanderson in 1992 when his secretary claimed Wimp punched her out. It was revealed that Sanderson and Nancy Watts had an affair for 15 years.

Sanderson exited Alabama after 32 years and ended up coaching Arkansas Little Rock, a team that played its games in the basement of the same infamous hotel where Bill Clinton met Paula Jones. The meeting at the Excelsior between the Arkansas governor and a state employee spawned a deposition where the name Monica Lewinsky was first uttered publicly.

Alabama Football Coach Mike Price was dismissed in 2003 before he ever coached a game at Tuscaloosa. It was reported a trip by Price to Pensacola included a stop at a topless club. Price denied allegations in Sports Illustrated that he had relations with any of the women he met. Price received an out-of-court settlement from the magazine after suing SI.

The Ole Miss saga erupted due to another lawsuit. Former Rebels Coach Houston Nutt was miffed about being blamed for recruiting violations that happened years after Nutt left Oxford. Nutt went to court with some knowledge about the dangers of cell phones.

Nearly a decade ago, Nutt was sent on his way at Arkansas after it was notes that he was a participant in more than 2,000 text messages with a television anchorwoman. One missive to his platonic friend was sent minutes before his Razorbacks were trotting on the field for a Jan. 1, 2007 Citrus Bowl date with Wisconsin. The Hogs lost to the Badgers 17-14, and a wounded Nutt lasted one more season in Fayetteville.

Nutt’s successor at Arkansas was Bobby Petrino, who was fired after putting a side friend on the payroll at the U of A without the consent of the university or Mrs. Petrino. The moral of this story is that no coach ever wants to replace Houston Dale Nutt at a fine SEC institution that advocates strong family values.

At least Freeze didn’t pull a Petrino and get his neck messed up in a motorcycle accident as part of his exit from Oxford. This time the girl wasn’t riding on the coach’s back. She was in his back pocket.

Petrino has returned to the University of Louisville where Rick Pitino continues to guide the basketball program despite allegations of fornication with a friend on the table of a restaurant and revelations that his recruits were entertained by prostitutes.

Despite the embarrassment Freeze faces, it is likely that some compassionate university will hire him to once again lead impressionable young men. Petrino and Freeze are superior coaches, and in the NCAA’s hyper-competitive environment, a sexual escapade is not a permanent barrier to employment.

Performance on Saturday night will almost always trump an encounter with a lady of the night.

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Jim Engster | President, Tiger Rag

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