After a sudden explosion, the noise from the Ole Miss scandal continues to reverberate; it’s just doing so a bit more slowly now. Reports from the past week have borne an array of interesting developments, revealing Ole Miss’s godawful legal and press strategy and shining a sliver of light on some disturbing rumors concerning Hugh Freeze’s time as a high school teacher.
Houston Nutt and his legal team completed the first leg of the former Ole Miss coach’s hunt for justice and vengeance two weeks ago, when Ole Miss announced Freeze’s resignation after uncovering a “troubling” pattern of calls in his university cell phone log. The discovery was made after Nutt’s main lawyer Thomas Mars (who was tipped off by a Mississippi State fan, no less) found an outgoing call made from Freeze’s phone to an escort service in the coach’s call log. Initially, Mars was looking for logs showing Freeze making outgoing calls to journalists to bolster Nutt’s defamation case; instead, he found a way to get rid of the man that Nutt felt had dragged him through the mud.
The revelation of Freeze’s possible sex-having brought its fair share of confused hilarity, but did little to outline the future of either of Ole Miss’s ongoing, convoluted cases with Nutt and the NCAA. There were (are) still a number of questions to be answered—namely, how Nutt and Mars knew exactly where to look; whether anybody comparing this case to a William Faulkner novel actually read a William Faulkner novel; how long Freeze was possibly using school technology and school funds to maybe fuck; how far back into his career Freeze’s general misbehavior extends; whether Freeze was even the one doing the fucking; whether Ole Miss know about Freeze’s extracurriculars beforehand; and how Nutt’s legal team will use this information moving forward.
Some answers, or at least responses to these questions, have popped up during the past week. For instance, folks are now starting to question whether the escort service call made on Jan. 21 was even used by Freeze. A couple of bloggers at West Lot Pirates took a brief dive through Twitter to try and pinpoint Freeze’s whereabouts the days leading up to and following the day of the phone call. They found that, according to his tweets, Freeze was in D.C. the day of the call and returned to Oxford late that night; he supposedly stuck around town for at least the next three days, even getting in a picture with Brad Paisley before departing for the state of Washington.
Now, Freeze not physically being in Tampa doesn’t really prove or disprove anything; it just creates more hypotheticals to run through. Freeze could have called the wrong escort service; been scheduling ahead; or butt-dialed a number he’d called before. He also could have been calling to set up a date for recruits.
The first two options have been thoroughly reviewed by everyone interested in this case. Regarding the latter, a little digging shows that only one of Ole Miss’s three major Class of 2016 Florida recruits would line up. As of Jan. 21, 2016, Tre Nixon lived on the other side of the state; Shea Patterson, who played ball just 45 minutes up the road from Tampa at IMG Academy, was already in Oxford at the time. Only receiver Jacob Mathis, a Tampa native, is even close to fitting the timeline, as he visited Ole Miss on Jan. 29 and committed on Feb. 3, per 24/7. The only other recruiting connection in Nutt’s current investigation into Freeze is Mars’s public records request for calls to a Yuma, Az., burner phone that shows up in the former coach’s call log, and the only Yuma athletes Ole Miss has recently recruited are David Luafatasaga and Jonathan Konbo, who committed to Tennessee but gushed about Freeze and Ole Miss in a post-committal interview with SEC Country.
And, yes, before I open an angry email from an Ole Miss SID: Of course the idea that Freeze went the Louisville route is mostly speculation based largely upon the existence of a couple of conveniently-placed recruits. But it’s speculation that is, in large part, fueled by the school that wants most to extinguish it.
Ole Miss’s public-records office has been a pain in the ass for reporters ever since this whole mess started—it took more than a year and a half for the school to finally release the names of the boosters that the NCAA found paying recruits. This was after journalists and Rebels fans alike decried Ole Miss for concealing the names; it took the Mississippi Ethics Commission forcing them to come clean to get the school to stop protecting its beloved donors.
It’s not shocking then, that Ole Miss has continued to be a pain in the ass in light of the recent escort developments. Last Monday, ESPN reported that lifelong Mississippi State fan and author Steve Robertson tipped off Mars to the escort call after discovering it in Freeze’s log while doing some research for an upcoming book. (Initially, it seemed as if the fact that Mars requested a six-day window of Freeze’s calls and turned up an escort meant that either Mars knew exactly what he was looking for—which we now know he did—or that Freeze was making a lot of calls to escort services, which is also still possible.)
When Freeze was forced to resign by athletic director Ross Bjork, it was only after Bjork spearheaded an official review of every one of Freeze’s 39,000 phone calls and determined the school could fire him for “moral turpitude.” The review was spurred by an email sent to the general counsel from Thomas Mars that tipped them off about the Tampa call; the review and Freeze’s resignation press conference all took place in a 72-hour window.
Both at the time and currently, the only call that’s been reviewed by someone not employed by Ole Miss that was connected to an escort service was the Jan. 21, 2016 call Mars and Robertson discovered in their first records pull. Mars, along with every media outlet covering any college football team, is now waiting on the school to release Freeze’s cell records, though it’s unclear how untainted that log will be—Freeze was apparently allowed to redact his own calls and, per Yahoo Sports’s Pat Forde, the phone Freeze used was paid for by the school’s Athletic Foundation. According to Ole Miss, any non-employee who wants to conduct a similar, full review will have to pay a hefty price tag.
Mars submitted a records request on July 17 for Freeze’s phone log dating back to June 2012; the school responded by claiming the man hours required to properly prepare Freeze’s phone records for release would run up a $25,100 bill.
“There are roughly 33,000 cell phone calls for the time period requested. Outside counsel estimates it will require roughly 190 hours to review, analyze, and redact the requested information. The rate for the lowest level employee capable of perming the task is $130.00 per hour. Thus, the costs associated with outside counsel’s time is $24,700. Our office will be assisting outside counsel. The rate for the lowest level employee of performing the task is $40.00. We estimate it will require 10 hours of our time to assist outside counsel with responding to your request. Thus, the total amount of responding to the request is $25,100.”
This is a tried-and-true method public universities and government offices often employ. Whenever a nosy lawyer or reporter comes around for a massive collection of records, especially records they’re scrambling to stay in front of, said lawyer or reporter can generally be shooed away by simply pointing to high hourly wages ($130/hour in this case) and the estimated time of completion. Most times, this results in the requestor going back and hemming their initial request to cover a specific time period so as to lower costs; in the Houston Nutt case, where nothing is normal, it resulted in a four-page screed from Mars.
On Friday, Mars released a letter and various legal materials he sent to the Ole Miss general counsel to USA Today and various other publications, including us, in which he admonished Rebels brass for attempting to conceal Hugh Freeze’s phone records behind exorbitant fees.
After all, this isn’t my first experience with the University’s stonewalling tactics in dealing with my FOIA requests. From the very outset, the University has found all kinds of creative and illegitimate reasons to delay producing documents, redact documents without legal justification, etc. What’s more, as every sports reporter who covers Ole Miss knows, the University has adopted the same “delay and conceal at all costs”approach with every journalist who’s sought information related to the pending NCAA investigation.
He cited the state auditor’s policies and the procedures manual’s section on electronic communications policy, which states that “Employees of the State of Mississippi and the OSA do not have a personal right to privacy” when it comes to their state-issued cell phones or computers. The full response can be read at the bottom of this post.
As one gleefully wades through the minutiae of this scandal, the surface-level allegations—SEC coach pays some top-flight recruits, blames it on another guy with a funny name, rings up hookers on his school phone, tries to claim it was a butt dial, gets shit-canned three days later because of the guy with a funny name—all appear to be largely harmless and even entertaining, as they provide an opportunity to point and laugh at a man who (possibly) squandered a million-dollar gig with his dick. But just as abruptly as it inspired droves of of terrible “busted Nutt” tweets, the salaciousness of Freeze’s scandal can sour upon a review of his past.
A number of stories published in the wake of Freeze’s firing alluded to rumors of scuzzy actions from his time as a high school football and girl’s basketball coach that have been around since he took the Ole Miss job. USA Today was able to speak with several of Freeze’s former students at Briarcrest Christian Academy, a private school in Memphis best known for being Michael Oher’s alma mater. Aside from being recognized as the starting point of Freeze’s meteoric rise through the coaching ranks, the school was also allegedly another institution of learning at which Freeze’s conduct went either unchallenged or unseen.
One woman, Katie Dalmasso, who did not responded to our request for comment, told the paper Freeze forced her to change shirts in his office, claiming her Grateful Dead shirt violated the school dress code because it “represented drugs.” At the time, Dalmasso was in eighth grade; according to her, Freeze did not leave the room while she changed.
“Coach Freeze pulled me in his office and told me that my shirt represented drugs,’’ Dalmasso said. “I said, ‘I’ll go change in the bathroom,’ and when I said that he said, ‘No, you’re going to change in here so I get the (Grateful Dead) shirt and you can’t have it back.’
“He didn’t do anything sexual. But I stood in the corner and faced the wall when I did it and I changed out of my shirt. No privacy.’’
Another student, remaining anonymous, claimed Freeze was “hyper attentive” when it came to making sure the girls’s skirts adhered to school policy. She also claimed that on one occasion, when she was late getting back to class from her lunch period, Freeze obliged her request to be paddled rather than sit in detention; instead of fetching a female administrator to complete or at least proctor the punishment, Freeze paddled her himself.
“(Freeze) did some bizarre warm-up taunt before actually making contact,’’ said the woman, who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because she said she fears reprisal. “I was humiliated that he didn’t have a female in the room.
“I don’t know if the acts were intentionally sexual or if he was really that oblivious to the inherently sexual nature of his approach to discipline.’’
Another woman told the paper she created a private Facebook page to allow former students a place to discuss Freeze’s actions; by that time, several people had received threats after posting their experiences on social media. Freeze, via a lawyer, rebuffed all of the claims made by his former students.
“These accusations are totally false. I can unequivocally say that during my time at Briarcrest Christian School I handled disciplinary issues professionally and in accordance with the school’s policy. I am very confident that the members of the administration who worked hand in hand with me during my tenure will verify that.”
The Hugh Freeze saga—every part of it, from Briarcrest to the recruiting violations to the escorts—is far from being finished; in all likelihood, we’re just finishing the first act. From here, there are multiple lawsuits to be resolved, an NCAA investigation and appeals process to slog through, and plenty of space for journalists to root around for information not currently being hoarded by Ole Miss. But as of now, no Ole Miss brass have admitted, publicly or on background, that Freeze was axed because they found him ringing up escorts to quell some pent-up, godly-man horniness; rather, a “troubling” pattern that amounted to “moral turpitude” was his downfall. Until Ole Miss gives the goods, or one of Freeze’s former companions goes public, entertaining questions are all we’ll really have.
Of course, if you know anything related to Freeze’s moral turpitude, contact us.