Freeze resigns from Ole Miss

By ASSOCIATED PRESS,

Mississippi football coach Hugh Freeze resigned Thursday after university officials found a "pattern of personal misconduct" that they found unacceptable.

Freeze's resignation brings a stunning end to a five-year tenure that saw a Sugar Bowl victory, but also a wide-ranging NCAA investigation into rules violations. His ultimate downfall came after school officials investigated Freeze's phone records and found misconduct.

"In our analysis, we discovered a pattern of conduct that is not consistent with our expectations as the leader of our football program," athletic director Ross Bjork said. "As of yesterday, there appeared to be a concerning pattern."

Bjork said the school's investigation started last week after a Freedom of Information request revealed a concerning phone call that lasted less than a minute. The school then looked into the rest of his phone records and found more problems.

Bjork said Freeze "admitted the conduct" and that the coach offered his resignation Thursday afternoon. When pressed to explain Freeze's conduct, Bjork said the school needed to "protect that information."

"His privacy is important," Bjork said. "The conduct was just not something we could continue with as our head coach."

Co-offensive coordinator Matt Luke has been named the interim coach.

"This is a sad day for the University of Mississippi," Ole Miss Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

Vitter and Bjork both said Freeze's resignation is strictly because of his personal conduct and not because of the ongoing NCAA investigation.

The Rebels had a quick rise under Freeze, recruiting at a high level and reaching an apex with a Sugar Bowl victory over Oklahoma State following the 2015 season.

But an NCAA investigation — alleging 21 charges of academic, booster, and recruiting misconduct — has overshadowed much of that success, especially over the past year. The school has already self-imposed several penalties, including a one-year postseason ban for the upcoming season.

Freeze — who was making more than $5 million per year — had a 39-25 record over five seasons, including a 19-21 mark in the Southeastern Conference. Bjork said that Freeze will receive no buyout on his contract.

The 47-year-old Freeze's shocking exit — just a few weeks before preseason camp begins — completes a stunning fall for a coach considered one of the profession's rising stars a few years ago.

Freeze took over after Houston Nutt was fired during a miserable 2011 season that ended with a 2-10 record. Ole Miss immediately improved under Freeze, finishing 7-6 in 2012 and winning the Birmingham Bowl.

But Ole Miss' newfound ability to recruit at a high level drew the attention of the NCAA, which was already investigating the school for a handful of violations that occurred during Nutt's tenure.

The school has received two Notice of Allegations letters from the NCAA over the past two years. The first alleged 13 rules violations, including nine that were classified as Level I, which the governing body deems the most serious.

But the case expanded in April 2016 after Tunsil became the story of the NFL draft after a bizarre video of him smoking from a gas mask-bong contraption was posted on his Twitter account just before the selections began.

There was also a post on Tunsil's Instagram account showing an alleged text conversation with a football staff member about arranging payment for bills.

Though the NCAA didn't appear to find much from that particular exchange, the governing body did reopen its investigation, sending a second NOA earlier this year that expanded the case to 21 allegations, including 17 that are Level I.

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