By DAVID BRANDT
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) When it comes to wins and losses, the tenure of former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron was an undisputed disaster.
Current Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze – who worked for Orgeron during those tough times for the Rebels – has a slightly different perspective.
So when No. 23 Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) travels to face No. 25 LSU (4-2, 2-1) on Saturday, there will be a new twist to the annual rivalry. Orgeron is LSU’s interim coach after Les Miles was fired in September, meaning Freeze will be coaching against the man who gave him his start in the college game.
“Everybody comes up with their own opinions, but I’m so indebted to coach Orgeron,” Freeze said. “I have great respect for him and everything he’s meant to my career.”
For Orgeron, the respect is mutual.
“He’s a tremendous coach,” Orgeron said of Freeze. “He’s a tremendous fit for that school.”
Freeze was a high school coach in Memphis, Tennessee, when Orgeron hired him as an off-the-field administrative assistant in 2005. He was promoted to receivers coach in 2006.
The on-the-field results for the partnership were not good. Orgeron was fired following the 2007 season after a 10-25 record over three seasons, including a 3-21 mark in the SEC.
But Freeze said there were many good things he learned from Orgeron – especially as it relates to recruiting and passion for the profession – that he’s carried with him throughout his career. After bouncing around for a few seasons following Orgeron’s dismissal, Freeze became head coach at Arkansas State in 2011 and took the Ole Miss job in 2012.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever been around a coach who’s more passionate and came to work every single day with that same energy, same passion and same drive,” Freeze said. “It wasn’t a roller coaster in that regard. He was as driven as anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Orgeron was candid about his Ole Miss tenure on Monday, saying he squandered a good opportunity. But the failure made him reassess how he would run a program if he ever received another chance.
“You got to look at yourself in the mirror,” Orgeron said. “You can place blame on other people but nothing’s going to change. I’m the only person that can change me.”
So far, he’s made the most of his opportunity.
Freeze said LSU’s offense, in particular, is much improved since Orgeron took over the program. The Tigers have won both games under Orgeron, including a 42-7 win over Missouri and a 45-10 victory against Southern Mississippi on Saturday.
“Whatever he’s doing is working,” Freeze said. “They’ve played two games and looked really, really good in them.”
Ole Miss, on the other hand, has struggled.
The Rebels are coming off a 34-30 loss to Arkansas and look like a middle-of-the-pack SEC team after starting the season with championship aspirations. The Ole Miss offense has been consistently productive, but the team’s defense ranks at or near the bottom of the league in several major categories.
The Orgeron-vs.-Ole Miss angle doesn’t really matter to most of the Rebel players, who were in elementary school or junior high during the former coach’s tenure.
Instead, they’re focused on bouncing back from the Arkansas loss.
“Last week will not beat us this week – that’s our mentality,” Ole Miss tight end EVAN ENGRAM said. “We’re going to be ready on Saturday. We’re going to be hyped all week and we can’t wait to get down there.”
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this story.
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP . AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org