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  • In this week's mailbag: Would Hugh Freeze still be Ole Miss's coach, escorts and all, without the NCAA case? Can Lamar Jackson repeat as Heisman winner? And will Kliff Kingsbury still be at Texas Tech by the end of December?
By Andy Staples
July 26, 2017

The sudden forced resignation of Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze last week brought some interesting questions. Those dominate this week’s edition of #DearAndy. On to the questions…

From John: Knowing that his job was in jeopardy and that he could be axed for NCAA violations, not to mention the possibility of being fired for cause, do you think Freeze did an additional disservice to Ole Miss by hiring new coordinators and new assistants?

Hiring new assistants when one’s job is in jeopardy isn’t an unusual concept in college football. In fact, it happens all the time. Freeze’s situation is unusual in that he had the NCAA case hanging over his head even before Ole Miss discovered the behavior pattern that ultimately got Freeze forced out, but coaches on the hot seat for win-loss reasons routinely shuffle their staffs with the hope that the changes will allow them to stay employed.

Jim Mora revamped his offensive staff at UCLA this off-season, and he may not be back if the Bruins don’t bounce back from an awful year. Because he fired one coordinator (Brian VanGorder) and lost another (Mike Sanford) to a head coaching job, Brian Kelly has turned over most of his staff at Notre Dame after a 4–8 season. I don’t think Kelly is in any danger unless this year is as big a disaster as last season, but even if he was on the hottest of hot seats, he had to have a staff. Freeze made changes because the Rebels went 5–7, and he probably was worried that if he didn’t, he might eventually get fired the old-fashioned way: For losing too many games.

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Mississippi State Fan Played Key Role In Hugh Freeze Resigning From Ole Miss

From @RealBBBB: What happens if Ole Miss finds Freeze's calls but he isn't under active NCAA investigation? Were they the straw that broke the camel's back? [Answer linked here, and in the video at the top of this post.]

From Sofa King John Barry: If the Louisville O-line is significantly improved (nowhere to go but up), how likely is it Lamar Jackson repeats as Heisman winner?

There is a reason Jackson only gets mentioned in passing during Heisman Trophy discussions even though he won the thing last year, and it has little to do with his offensive line. It’s just incredibly difficult to win a second Heisman. The circumstances have to line up perfectly. Matt Leinart got beat out by Reggie Bush while trying to win his second. Tim Tebow had two cracks— including a season in which he led his team to a national title—and couldn’t win a second. Sam Bradford got hurt when he tried to win a second. Johnny Manziel’s numbers in 2013 were nearly as impressive as the ’12 numbers that won him the award, and he never really had a chance against Jameis Winston, who subsequently never really had a chance against Marcus Mariota in ’14. One reason Jackson won last year is voters realized by the end of the season that he was putting up video game numbers in spite of playing behind a porous offensive line. That made his feats even more impressive.

I do agree that Jackson will need better offensive line play this year to have a chance to repeat. Fair or not, he’ll be held to an absurdly high standard, so he’ll need to dominate in a stacked ACC Atlantic Division to have a legitimate chance to repeat. That said, the laws of probability suggest someone eventually will repeat. Perhaps this is the year.

From Brian: I have always wondered why five-star QBs pick a school that has a young returning starter. Jalen Hurts is just a sophomore, but Tua Tagovailoa chose Bama anyway. Great for them, but he may not be the starter for two or three years and, if that turns out to be the case, will probably transfer. [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

From Reid: How much has Houston Nutt's lawsuit (perhaps unintentionally) damaged his own potential coaching future? Will he ever coach again?

I don’t think Nutt would have filed that lawsuit if he thought he had a legitimate chance of being an FBS head coach again. Schools are skittish about coaches who might be litigious. Plus, the end of Nutt’s Ole Miss tenure is probably the biggest factor keeping him from getting hired. Forget the ACT fraud the NCAA unearthed. (Nutt wasn’t named, but one of his assistants was.) The Rebels were plain awful. In 2011, they went 2–10 and 0–8 in the SEC. In Alabama’s 52–7 win against the Rebels, the Tide tried to stop scoring at the end of the game, but the Ole Miss defense couldn’t stop the Crimson Tide’s backups.

Nutt was successful (if controversial) at Arkansas, but his Ole Miss tenure—winning with Ed Orgeron recruits and cratering with his own—probably hurt his chances of getting another job more than anything.

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From Terry: Why is Bo Pelini not mentioned in any head coaching searches? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

From Jonathan: How many more seasons will Kliff Kingsbury be the head coach of Texas Tech?

If the Red Raiders don’t improve on defense, the answer is one. No one in Lubbock wants to fire Kingsbury. He’s an alum and a truly likable coach who probably gets the school more national attention than the average coach would, but Texas Tech keeps getting worse on defense. That drags down an offense that has been quite successful.

In Kingsbury’s four seasons, the Red Raiders have finished 50th, 106th, 122nd and 126th in yards per play allowed. David Gibbs is in his third season as the defensive coordinator. His scheme is supposed to make up for yards allowed with game-changing turnovers, but the Red Raiders ranked 112th in the nation with 13 turnovers forced last year. If that stat doesn’t improve, Kingsbury could be someone’s offensive coordinator this time next year.

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From Zachary Cihal, MD: How surprised will you be when the #Longhorns are in the playoff?

Well Doc, I’ll be very surprised if they make it this year. Unless Tom Herman is seriously sandbagging, he’ll need a little more time and another recruiting class or two before the Longhorns are capable of competing for the Big 12 title on an annual basis. (The Longhorns seem to be on a hot streak in the hunt for members of the class of 2018, so that end of things is going well.) After the past eight seasons, I’m not going to believe that will happen until I see it. I’m still curious as to whether the Longhorns’ struggles are the result of the coaches or a byproduct of the place.

There simply is no excuse for a program with the resources, reach and recruiting territory of Texas to be average or below average. Mack Brown was not a bad coach, but his final seasons were lackluster. Charlie Strong is not a bad coach, but he performed poorly at Texas. Herman’s two years at Houston are a small sample size, but they suggest he understands quite clearly how to run a program. If he can’t pull the Longhorns out of this slide, perhaps the folks in Austin need to look a little deeper. That said, Herman’s staff and a mix of Strong and Herman recruits should be able to get Texas back into the mix in the Big 12 fairly quickly. Once that happens, we can talk about playoff contention.

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