DESTIN, Fla. – In hindsight, Hugh Freeze knows he shouldn't have fired off that tweet.
The Mississippi head coach took to Twitter following National Signing Day in 2013, after fans who follow college football began accusing Freeze of committing violations to land a star-studded class that included offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, receiver LaQuon Treadwell and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.
Freeze wrote the following in response: "If you have facts about a violation, email email@example.com. If not, please don't slander the young men." The tweet has since been deleted. But it still came back to bite Freeze given what he's facing at the moment.
The NCAA investigated his program over a three-and-a-half year period and uncovered nine violations, which included four Level 1 infractions. Three of those Level 1 infractions involved Tunsil accepting improper benefits as a student-athlete, although Freeze said none of his staffers were implicated.
Further digging Ole Miss into a hole was what happened just before the NFL draft, when Tunsil's Twitter account was hacked and had a video posted of the offensive lineman smoking out of a bong with a gas mask on. Tunsil's Instagram page was also hacked and featured a screenshot of a confirmed text message conversation between he and Assistant Athletic Director of Football Operations John Miller, which appear to have Tunsil asking for money to help his mother out with a utility bill. Tunsil admitted to taking money while a student-athlete at Ole Miss during his post-draft news conference.
With everything Ole Miss has been found guilty of, Freeze acknowledge the 2013 tweet was not a great idea.
"I ran that past my AD. I don’t know if Twitter was the right message board to do that from," Freeze said. "But it was from a sincerity that if there are things that are wrong we want to know. There’s too much stake. There’s too much at stake with your families, your reputation. Since that time, we’ve spent three-and-a-half years, countless man hours, $1.5 million in cooperation with the NCAA to search and try us. We’ve been tried in many, many areas."
Freeze said he owns the fallout that's occurred since. Still, he insists there was never any intent by the Rebels to intentionally deceive or circumvent NCAA rules. The NCAA found that impermissible benefits in the form of money, lodging and loaner vehicles occurred under Freeze's watch.
"We have owned these mistakes and with each of these, we’ve taken action of self-imposed penalties that have been punitive," Freeze said. "We are sitting kids out that chose to cross impermissible boundaries, to disassociating boosters, to financial penalties, to limits on the last two signing classes, to scholarship reductions, reduced days for recruiting, reduced official visits, coaches education, pulling coaches off the road, and most recently, no unofficial visits for a four-week period during spring practice. I stand here today owning the mistakes but that is what they are, and not some staff out there trying to buy players."