Ole Miss

The wild story behind Ole Miss and Ed Orgeron

Ed Orgeron listens to a reporter's question, in Oxford, Miss., Thursday, Dec. 16, 2004, moments after he was introduced as the new Ole Miss head coach.
Ed Orgeron listens to a reporter's question, in Oxford, Miss., Thursday, Dec. 16, 2004, moments after he was introduced as the new Ole Miss head coach. AP file

Hotty toddy, gosh almighty!

That’s the start of Ole Miss’ traditional fan-led chant, the one that, in December 2004, a man named Rick Neuheisel memorized.

He knew that first line. He knew the second line, too.

Who the hell are we? Hey!

And, yes, the third.

Flim fam, bim bam; Ole Miss by damn!

Neuheisel was prepared to begin a scheduled meeting with Ole Miss administrators in Dallas with the full chant, arms raised, belting out the cheer while donning school colors — a Navy blue suit and red tie.

The meeting was a job interview, and the chant was part of his plan to win a gig that opened days before, when the program fired David Cutcliffe. Neuheisel appeared to be the top candidate, having led Colorado and then Washington to top-5 rankings in eight combined seasons.

He spent the second week of December not only memorizing the Ole Miss cheer but also dissecting the Rebels roster and formulating a plan to win in the Southeastern Conference.

While he drove to the Seattle airport to catch a commercial flight to Dallas, Neuheisel’s cellphone rang. It was Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone.

“Just before I parked my car,” Neuheisel said Thursday, “I was told the interview was canceled.”

Ole Miss’s hunt for a head football coach 13 years ago had turned, eventually resulting in the hiring of a fiery, Cajun-bred assistant at Southern Cal.

Ed Orgeron returns to Oxford this weekend leading another team, LSU, against Ole Miss. This storyline has played out for more than a year.

You know the gist, right?

Orgeron won three SEC games in three seasons here because he berated assistant coaches, meddled and micro-managed, treated every player like a nose tackle, banged drums up and down hallways and chugged a half-dozen Red Bulls by 10 a.m.

You know all of that. You know what he’s repeated for more than a year: He wouldn’t have the gig at LSU without the job at Ole Miss, failed or not.

“It was something I needed,” he said again Monday, “and I’m grateful for that.”

But do you know how he was hired at Ole Miss? Did you know that many members of the school’s search committee did not want him?

Did you know that school administrators spoke with former Florida and Illinois coach Ron Zook, then-San Francisco 49ers coach Dennis Erickson, then-Miami defensive coordinator Randy Shannon and, of course, Neuheisel? And that none of them actually turned the job down?

Do you know how Orgeron’s hire toppled dominoes that are still falling? He gave Hugh Freeze his start in college coaching, plucking him from the high school ranks to his support staff in 2005 and beginning a path for Freeze to eventually return to Oxford as head coach.

That path ended this summer at a dead end: Freeze’s resignation after Ole Miss officials uncovered calls to escorts on his school-issued phone; a looming NCAA cloud hanging over the program; and a team that has fought to 3-3 despite a self-imposed bowl ban.

This fascinating set of events comes full circle at 6:15 p.m. Saturday. The man Ole Miss hired in 2004 and fired a decade ago, the guy who began this incredible snowball, returns to this place — leading arguably Ole Miss’ most hated rival into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

“It’s crazy,” said Rick Cleveland, a longtime sports columnist in the state of Mississippi. “The whole thing.”

Read the full story at TheAdvocate.com

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