Ole Miss' Freeze 'owning mistakes,' denies paying players
DESTIN, Fla. (AP) Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze is ''owning the mistakes'' made during his tenure, which now includes NCAA violations, but said neither he nor his assistants knowingly did anything wrong.
Speaking at the Southeastern Conference's annual meetings Tuesday, Freeze delivered a lengthy, prepared statement and then took several questions about violations involving first-round NFL draft pick Laremy Tunsil.
''I stand here owning the mistakes, but that is what they are, not some staff out trying to buy players,'' Freeze said. ''There's not a single charge in our letter that charges a coach with (being) out buying players. While I have struggles in life that I don't always get right, breaking the rules in recruiting is not one of them. I won't do it.''
Ole Miss released a 154-page response last week to the NCAA's notice of allegations received in January. The NCAA's investigation began in 2012 after a university probe discovered academic and recruiting misconduct involving the women's basketball program. Ole Miss later acknowledged the investigation had spread to the football and track and field programs.
The university's self-imposed penalties to the football program include three years of probation and 11 fewer total scholarships over four years starting with the most recent recruiting class, limiting Ole Miss to 22 signees instead of 25 in each of the next three years.
The NCAA can accept or add to the self-imposed sanctions.
''I don't know what the end result will be,'' Freeze said. ''I think we've been pretty punitive to ourselves, but that's not for me to decide.''
The violations include left tackle Tunsil's use of three loaner cars over a six-month period.
Two boosters who provided money and/or lodging to Tunsil's stepfather, including one payout of at least $500, were indefinitely disassociated. A third, one of the owners of an Oxford car dealership, was disassociated for three years for providing the loaner cars. Tunsil was only identified as ''Student-Athlete I'' in the response. Another athlete kept a loaner vehicle for more than a month after his own was repaired.
The car dealer also allowed Tunsil to postpone his $3,000 down payment on a 2010 Dodge Challenger for three or four months.
Freeze seemingly blamed the allegations on people who didn't want to see Ole Miss rise to prominence. The Rebels went 7-6 in Freeze's first season in 2012, and increased their win total by one game every year since.
''There are rivals fans that are not used to Ole Miss being relevant,'' he said. ''But again, there were mistakes made. We have to own those. It's just like any academic failures. I don't want any of those. I don't want any compliance issues. I don't ever want to deal with compliance, but we had some and we've got to deal with them. We've rocked the narrative of college football a little bit, and there's obviously some people that don't like that.''
It could get worse for Ole Miss, too.
The university has asked to delay a hearing before the Committee on Infractions while it looks into draft-night allegations involving Tunsil, who was selected with the 13th overall pick by the Miami Dolphins. A 30-second video of Tunsil smoking from a gas mask-bong contraption was posted on his Twitter account shortly before the draft, and there also was a post on his Instagram account showing an alleged text conversation with a football staff member about arranging bill payments.
Tunsil said both accounts were hacked, but acknowledged following the draft that he accepted money from an Ole Miss assistant.
''I can't discuss that case because it's still ongoing,'' Freeze said. ''We'll gather the facts in cooperation with the NCAA. But that certainly didn't help the narrative.''
Freeze later vehemently denied that any of his staff ever gave Tunsil money.
''I don't believe and have zero knowledge that any of our coaches have ever paid a player,'' he said. ''And if I get that knowledge, there will be problems.''
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org