The immediate fallout from Hugh Freeze’s resignation may not be as catastrophic as one might expect — but that’s at least in part because the Rebels’ efforts have already been crippled by a lengthy NCAA investigation.
In the week since Freeze resigned as Ole Miss head football coach, five players have publicly dropped the Rebels and more are reexamining their pledges.
Heading into the weekend, the Rebels have nine commitments according to Rivals.com. The class currently ranks 59th nationally, which is far from its Top 10 classes in 2013 and ’16 under Freeze and even a significant fall off from last year’s class, which ranked 39th. (It should be noted Alabama, which is perennially among the top classes nationally, is 51st. Of the Tide’s seven commits, however, six are considered four-stars by Rivals.)
As was to be expected, rival schools have been hard at work wooing Ole Miss’ commits.
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“Just how long that number stays at nine (commitments) is up for debate because schools are extending offers and pushing harder now that Freeze is gone,” Rivals recruiting analyst Russell Johnson said. “... Schools have no reason not to reach out to the recruits that are committed currently to the University of Mississippi. The negative recruiting toward Ole Miss has hit a new level.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Johnson said things have at least leveled off a bit.
“After the initial shock of losing Freeze, recruits have had all positive things to say since then,” Johnson said. “Recruits aren’t eliminating the Rebels because he is gone, but it’s going to be a different kind of ‘closing’ with him gone and without a permanent solution at the head coach position.”
In Freeze’s absence, the Rebels have appointed Gulfport native Matt Luke as interim coach. Immediately after the news broke, Long Beach coach Forrest Williams took to Twitter to champion Luke.
“I like Matt a lot,” Williams tweeted. “Good coach, well liked by players and HS coaches.”
Johnson called Luke, who frequents Coast schools, an under-appreciated recruiter.
“Luke will do fine recruiting this season being the head coach,” he said. “Every recruit I have talked to since he took over as head coach has had good things to say about his first impression on them.”
Early signing period
New this year is the early signing period. It has been common in other sports for a while now, but starting in 2017 recruits can sign Dec. 20-22. The new window provides an added wrinkle for staffs who previously may have slow-played recruits in order to ensure they had space for higher-profile prospects. Still, schools who landed early commitments from big-time targets will look to get their top players signed early to protect from last-minute flips in February.
As for Ole Miss, Johnson said the Rebels will likely push their commitments to sign early to ensure its signing class remains intact as much as possible.
Ole Miss rankings
Ole Miss’ national recruiting rankings, according to Rivals.com.