Ole Miss has tried nearly every strategy in the book when it comes to finding a head coach in the last decade-plus. They tried the hot assistant route with David Cutcliffe, but that didn't work out (in part) because he didn't recruit hard enough. They then went with a recruiting ace in Ed Orgeron, but he couldn't coach his way out of a cardboard box. In response they went with a seasoned veteran in Houston Nutt, a guy with a decade of SEC West experience. That era flamed out in just four years.
There were really only two new ways to go last winter: the up-and-coming coach of a non-BCS program or an NFL retread. The school made the right choice by going with the former, though it's not like the Hugh Freeze hire put all questions about the program to rest.
Freeze has just four years total (one as head man) of I-A coaching under hit belt, along with two more at NAIA Lambuth. The rest of his career was on the high school level. He also favors a fast-paced, hurry up offense, but he's going to face serious challenges in getting it running at top effectiveness in Oxford. He's a relative newbie in the country's toughest division where he'll do battle with three coaches with national titles to their names and a fourth who won one as a coordinator as his in-state rival.
It really doesn't help that he lost Nickolas Brassell not too long ago, as he was one of the few players on the team capable of making a defense as good as Alabama's look bad. The roster that Nutt left behind is just not in good shape. Ole Miss put only one player on Phil Steele's preseason all-SEC teams, a fourth teamer in WR Donte Moncrief. The three overall players on Steele's offense and defense combined are the second fewest in the league, ahead of only Kentucky and Vanderbilt's two each.
The good news is that Freeze is a perfect fit culturally at the school. He was born in Oxford, attended Southern Miss, and was an assistant at Ole Miss for two years. He's got Mississippi in his blood, and if he works out well there, he's not going to be a flight risk. He won his introductory press conference in a rout, and his good rapport with fans will be needed to get him through a rough upcoming transitional period.
I pointed out in last year's introductory Ole Miss preview post that Nutt's career tended to go on two year cycles. The 2011 season was the second year of a down cycle, and 2012 would be the first of the next upswing. As it turns out, he didn't get the chance to make his periodic magic happen again.
It would be a big help to Freeze if any residual magic got left behind because all signs are pointing to a difficult fall for the Rebels.