An overnight success.
Yep, that’s exactly what Hugh Freeze is.
And it took only 22 years to happen.
That’s a long time, for sure, yet it’s been a lot longer since the University of Mississippi football team has won an SEC title — 1963, to be exact.
But that’s what the unbeaten Rebels are poised to do following huge wins over Alabama and Texas A&M. Another clutch victory or two and they might start thinking about a bigger prize.
So, how has Freeze turned a perennial doormat into a national power in just his third season at Ole Miss?
After reading Lars Anderson’s marvelous “Bleacher Report” piece on the 45-year-old former high school coach, here are eight things I’ve learned about Freeze that just might help you become an overnight sensation, too.
Give or take a couple of decades.
1) He had a dream ...
In 1992, just after getting married at a Baptist church in Independence, Miss., Hugh Freeze and his bride, Jill, made a stop on the way to their honeymoon destination.
It was Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee. Although the 100,000 plus seats were empty, Freeze surveyed the massive structure and his mind was filled with possibilities.
“I will be a head coach in the SEC one day,” he told his new wife. “I will.”
The Lesson: Don’t let your dreams remain dreams. Make them your purpose for living.
2) He is a “catcher” ...
Growing up the son of a high school coach, little Hugh was “all in” with football from an early age. When he wasn’t serving as the team’s water boy at practices and games, he was taking mental notes and observing the player-coach relationships.
The Lesson: We constantly hear that more is caught than taught. So, who are you observing? And what are you catching?
3) He has a plan ...
When asked, Freeze is more than happy to share what he calls “The Journey,” a phone book thick manuscript held together by a three-ring binder. It’s filled with his detailed notes on everything from recruiting to engaging a community’s fan base. It’s taken him more than 20 years to gather such wisdom, and he adds to it each season. “Without this,” he told Anderson, “I’m not here today.”
The Lesson: Never stop learning. Never stop growing. Document your discoveries and let them guide your journey.
4) He is determined ...
Freeze had won two state titles at his high school, but it wasn’t enough. Remember that dream of coaching in the SEC? It wouldn’t go away. So, in order to break in as a college assistant, Freeze paid for a plane ticket and flew to Miami to spend three minutes — yes, three minutes — with the new coach at Ole Miss. That brief conversation led to a phone call a few months later, then an entry level job offer with a substantial pay cut.
The Lesson: Even mountain climbing guides and skyscraper window washers start at the bottom. It’s the most fulfilling way to the top.
5) He is disciplined ...
In grade school, Freeze followed a strict routine on his family’s farm: rise at 4:30 a.m., tend to 320 head of cattle, milk the cows, and bale the hay. Then he went to school. So when he started his college job, he followed a similar script — he began each day at 4:30 a.m. and refused to leave the football offices if he saw another coach’s light was still on.
The Lesson: We shouldn’t ask, “Is it possible?” Instead, here’s a better question: “Is it worth what it will require of me to make it happen?”
6) He is a family man ...
Freeze often has his three daughters at practice and on the sideline during games, and he encourages his assistants to bring their children to work. During his time as a high school coach, Freeze welcomed Michael Oher of “The Blind Side” fame into his home for tutoring from Jill, frequent dinners and conversation time with his own clan.
The Lesson: While many coaches talk about “family” with their teams, Freeze and his assistants are actually modeling it for those players who haven’t experienced it in their own lives. That’s powerful.
7) He is a man of faith ...
A devout Christian, Freeze truly believes that athletics can help transform lives.
The Lesson: The most significant aspect of our occupations is not what we do — it’s who we become in the process. And it’s using our influence to point others to a better future.
8) He is patient ...
Not only did Freeze spend more than a decade coaching high school football, he also led programs at the NAIA and FBS levels before finally landing the Mississippi job.
The Lesson: Contrary to popular belief, “overnight successes” don’t exactly come overnight. They come over time.
And with each Ole Miss victory, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Hugh Freeze’s time has come.
(To read Lars Anderson’s story on Freeze in its entirety, CLICK HERE.)