Peruse the headlines of the day, and one thing becomes abundantly clear: We live in the dumbest of times.
In a world where the possibility of Kid Rock serving in the United States Senate exists, it’s only fitting college football provides us with a scandal of supreme stupidity. Such is the sordid tale of Ole Miss.
Hugh Freeze’s resignation late Thursday wasn’t the result of a lengthy and potentially ruinous NCAA investigation into recruiting violations. No, it would make too much sense for a former 5-star recruit turned All-American admitting he was paid to be Freeze’s undoing — even if the admission came as a result of a hacked Instagram post that showed Laremy Tunsil smoking weed from a gas-mask bong.
Sorry, not 2017 enough.
Adding College Football Twitter’s favorite (and thus most beaten-into-the-ground) Human Meme to the mix certainly ups the ante. Houston Nutt’s involvement in the Ole Miss saga added ingredients that make this story oh-so-perfect for this particular timeline in American history.
Before reaching 2017, however, we have to rewind a decade. T’was a simpler time; the tech vultures seeking cheap labor had not yet begun to circle, though the flourishing blog landscape of the time provided their inspiration. It was here, in the independent college football blogosphere, when Houston Nutt-as-meme was in its infancy, predating his arrival at Ole Miss.
Houston Nutt spent four seasons at Ole Miss, and started off a combined 18-8. The quick and steep decline in 2010 and 2011, which produced finishes of 4-8 and 2-10, paved the way for Nutt’s dismissal and Freeze’s hire. Freeze arrived in Oxford after just one season as a head coach: a surprising, 10-2 campaign at Arkansas State.
Freeze kicked off a trend at Arkansas State that lasted the next three years, with Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin both lasting just a single season before accepting the head coaching vacancies at Auburn and Boise State. Such is the nature of the job in 2017.
The immediate success Freeze enjoyed on the recruiting trail garnered some attention, but the 2013 signing class was what really drew interest.
The aforementioned thriving blogosphere that existed in 2007 had largely been replaced by opportunistic networks in 2013. The spiritual predecessor to the blogosophere lived on, however: message boards. Message boards fueled college football’s favorite memes before memes were a thing, spreading jokes such as the LSU corn dog theory — which Katy Perry honored in what it still the best Gameday celebrity picker segment ever, fittingly held on The Grove at Ole Miss.
Message boards have always long run rampant with far more mean-spirited discussion, namely incessant speculation into which football programs are cheating. Most of it stems from mere theory, based on circumstance without context. Laquon Treadwell’s tweet holding out fanned-out cash gave Ole Miss critics the circumstance to begin speculation.
But, as more such circumstances surfaced, the NCAA began to investigate. Tunsil’s hacked Instagram provided the strongest catalyst yet.
Major scandals in 2017 follow a certain template. One of the early steps is denial, followed by self-victimization. This Q&A from December, in which a Rebels recruit details the odd analogy Freeze invoked to describe the NCAA’s investigation, fits the mold.
And since we’re talking a 2017 headline here, what would the Ole Miss scandal be without some good, old-fashioned buck-passing? This has been the Year of the Passed Buck in America, and Ole Miss football partook. After self-imposing sanctions, including a bowl ban on a team that may not be good enough to surpass last year’s 5-7 finish, Ole Miss passed the buck squarely to Houston Nutt.
Of course, 2017 has also been the Year of the Self-Own. Deflecting all blame on Nutt is what got us to Freeze’s departure. Without Nutt filing a lawsuit, are Freeze’s calls to an escort service unearthed? No one can say for certain, but the finger-pointing at Nutt accelerated the process. That qualifies as a self-own.
And, yes, of course escorts were involved. Of course. And just to bring this whole thing full circle, Nutt leaving Arkansas and landing at SEC West rival Ole Miss before the 2008 season led to Bobby Petrino taking over the Razorbacks…because of course it did.
For those in need of a refresher, Petrino stepped down from Arkansas in a fashion very much reminiscent of Freeze’s departure from Ole Miss. The current Louisville head coach was dismissed in the spring of 2012 after a motorcycle accident led to the revelation Petrino hired the woman with whom he was having an affair to a university athletic department position.
But, because this is the 2010s, Petrino spent all of one year out of coaching. He resurfaced at Western Kentucky just eight months after his firing from Arkansas, where he used one successful season as a springboard back to Louisville. It’s no wonder, then, talk of Hugh Freeze returning to coaching came up less than 24 hours after his resignation.
It’s 2017, after all.