Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze resigns; escort-service calls cited

Hugh Freeze steps down as Ole Miss head coach (1:31)

Mark Schlabach discusses what transpired at Ole Miss that led to Hugh Freeze stepping down and how "bizarre" the timing is. (1:31)

Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze resigned effective immediately on Thursday night, with the Rebels' athletic director telling ESPN that school officials found a pattern that included phone calls to a number associated with a female escort service.

Assistant head coach Matt Luke, in his sixth season as co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, was named interim head coach.

Ole Miss chancellor Jeffrey Vitter, in a Thursday night news conference announcing the move, said Freeze, 47, resigned after confirming to him and athletic director Ross Bjork "a pattern of personal misconduct inconsistent with the standards we expect from the leader of our football team."

"While Coach Freeze served our university well in many regards during his tenure, we simply cannot accept the conduct in his personal life that we have discovered," Vitter said.

Bjork and Vitter met with Freeze on Wednesday night and again on Thursday, when Freeze offered his resignation.

Freeze, who had about $2 million left on his contract for this year, $5 million next year and $5.15 million for the 2019 season, will not be paid going forward. Bjork said Freeze would have been fired had he not resigned.

Bjork separately told ESPN that once university officials dived deeper into Freeze's phone records on a university-provided cellphone, going back as far as shortly after he was hired in 2012, they started finding more of a pattern with phone calls of the nature USA Today earlier reported after an open-records request.

"Once we looked at the rest of the phone records we found a pattern," Bjork told ESPN. "It was troubling."

Bjork, speaking alongside Vitter at the news conference, called it a "sad" and "unexpected" day for Ole Miss. He also called Luke a great coach, a leader and "a rock."

"He's an Ole Miss Rebel," Bjork said. "And I am confident -- especially even more confident after watching him address the team [earlier Thursday] -- that he will lead this team and program through this difficult time."

Bjork said school officials had met with the football staff and players to inform them of the developments.

"I saw some heads go down, as you might expect, but I thought they handled it very maturely," Bjork said.

Phil Longo, the Ole Miss offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, tweeted a photo showing a group of players several hours after Freeze's departure was announced.

Bjork said the aftermath of a recent, unrelated NCAA investigation gave university officials a blueprint for handling the situation.

"Unfortunately we had a routine for this," Bjork said.

Bjork wouldn't say how many phone calls were made to numbers similar to the one made to the female escort service, or how far back the phone calls went. He also said that not all of them were connected to different escort services but that they were similar in nature.

Former Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville, now an ESPN analyst, called for the Rebels to "wipe out the entire administration" and start over.

"Obviously people knew what was going on. Just get back to being Ole Miss and clean the slate, and get people in there that want to get the job done the right way," Tuberville said on ESPN Radio's "Freddie and Fitz" show.

"It's just a sad day for them, it really is, because people in that state really want to win games and want to be competitive at Ole Miss. They've done a great job to this point, and now they've had a terrible setback."

The news comes a week after Freeze addressed speculation about his job future at SEC media days and about six weeks before the Rebels kick off the season against South Alabama.

USA Today reported Thursday that Freeze made a one-minute call from a university-issued phone to a number associated with a female escort service. The number was found during preparation related to former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt's civil lawsuit against Ole Miss and Freeze, which was filed in federal court last week.

Bjork said six days of Freeze's phone records from early January 2016 were turned over to Nutt's attorney, and Freeze was allowed to redact personal phone calls before the records were released. Freeze failed to redact the 313 area code number in question, according to Bjork.

ESPN asked Freeze about the alleged phone call last week, and he denied purposely calling an escort service.

"We call the wrong numbers all the time," Freeze said.

According to emails obtained by USA Today, Nutt's attorney, Thomas Mars, sent an email to Ole Miss general counsel Lee Tyner, which referenced a "phone call Coach Freeze made that would be highly embarrassing for all of you and extremely difficult to explain."

USA Today reported Freeze resigned hours after the university said it would provide a statement regarding the phone call. The report said the call was made on Jan. 19, 2016, to a Detroit 313 area code number and lasted only one minute. The USA Today report said the number is associated with websites that advertise a female escort business based in Tampa, Florida.

In six seasons, Freeze guided the Rebels to unprecedented heights, but his success was also sullied by an ongoing NCAA investigation. In February, the school self-imposed a one-year bowl ban for the 2017 season after it received a new NCAA notice of allegations that accused the school of lack of institutional control and Freeze of failure to monitor his coaching staff.

The notice of allegations included eight new alleged rules violations and the lack of institutional control charge. The NCAA has now accused the Rebels of 21 rules violations by current or former members of their football coaching staff. Ole Miss agreed to forfeit its share of SEC postseason revenues for this coming season, which could be as much as $7.8 million, after it had already self-imposed a double-digit reduction in scholarships for football in May 2016 as part of its response to an NCAA notice of allegations it received in January 2016.

Freeze had a 39-25 record in six seasons with the Rebels, including a 19-21 mark against SEC foes. After going 10-3 in 2015, Ole Miss slipped to 5-7 this past season.

Among other charges, the NCAA accused the Rebels of providing improper benefits, including cash payments and merchandise, to prospects, as well as lodging and meals to recruits and their families. Freeze probably faced a multigame suspension this coming season if he were found guilty of failing to monitor his staff.

The Rebels are expected to appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis later this summer, possibly in September.

Last week, Nutt sued Freeze and Ole Miss in federal court, accusing them of orchestrating a smear campaign against him.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Oxford, Mississippi, alleges that Freeze and other school officials created a "false narrative" in an effort to place primary blame on Nutt for the NCAA's ongoing investigation.

According to the complaint, Nutt seeks damages to cover "lost wages, emotional distress, embarrassment, attorney's fees and punitive damages."

The suit leveled its harshest allegations at Freeze, alleging that he conducted off-the-record conversations with sports journalists as part of a "smear campaign."

The lawsuit says that it "is common knowledge among sports journalists that Coach Freeze does not take kindly to criticism." It also characterizes Freeze as "consistently exhibiting behaviors that are massively defensive," "going to extraordinary lengths through social media and otherwise to promote his self-image as a deeply spiritual Godly man who's done nothing wrong and is being persecuted," and "attempting to cultivate personal relationships with sports journalists for the purpose of promoting his self-image through positive news stories."

At SEC media days, Freeze chose not to comment on Nutt but said that he was "disappointed by the timing of it," coming one day before he and his players arrived in Hoover, Alabama, for the event.

"This is the fifth year in a row I've been here and I can't talk about our players," Freeze said, wanting to turn the focus away from off-field issues. Freeze said he took responsibility for the ongoing NCAA investigation into the program, pointing out how the school self-imposed scholarship limitations and a bowl ban.

"It's a lot we inherited and caused in some cases," Freeze said, alluding to the previous coaching staff.

After inheriting a team that won two games in 2011 and had lost 14 consecutive SEC contests, Freeze guided the Rebels to four straight bowl games in his first four years -- the first Ole Miss coach to do so. Ole Miss was one of only five FBS programs in the country to make consecutive New Year's Six bowl appearances in the first two years of the College Football Playoff.

Information from ESPN's Darren Rovell was used in this report.