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‘A pattern of misconduct’ unrelated to NCAA probe leads to Hugh Freeze’s resignation

Hugh Freeze
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Hugh Freeze has resigned as Ole Miss’ coach effectively immediately, the school announced Thursday night.

Offensive line coach Matt Luke, a former Ole Miss player, will serve as interim coach for the 2017 season. This is his 10th season as an Ole Miss assistant.

At a news conference Thursday night, chancellor Jeffrey Vitter and athletic director Ross Bjork made a point to mention that Freeze’s resignation had nothing to do with the NCAA’s ongoing investigation into the Rebels’ football program.

Freeze resigned after “a pattern of misconduct” became apparent in reviewing his phone records, Vitter said. “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.

“In our analysis, we discovered a pattern of personal conduct inconsistent with the standard of expectations for the leader of our football team,” Bjork said.

RELATED: Ole Miss already experiencing recruiting fallout following Hugh Freeze resignation

Bjork also said Ole Miss “would have exercised the termination clause in the contract for moral turpitude” if Freeze had not resigned and that Freeze will not receive a settlement or buyout of any kind. He was to make nearly $5 million this year.

Reports from Yahoo Sports and USA Today said Freeze’s resignation was motivated by the recent discovery of a one-minute call on a university-issued phone to an escort service in Jan. 19, 2016.

The call came to light through an investigation related to a current lawsuit against the university brought by former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt. Freeze told Yahoo Sports that he thinks the call was a “misdial.”

Bjork said at the news conference that a deeper investigation into Freeze’s phone records sparked by the discovery made by Nutt’s lawyers revealed an unsettling pattern of behavior.

Bjork told ESPN that once university officials dove deeper into Freeze’s phone records on a university-provided cell phone, 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. “Once we looked at the rest of the phone records, we found a pattern,” Bjork told ESPN. “It was troubling.”

Nutt filed a defamation lawsuit last week against Ole Miss and its athletic foundation in relation to how the school has handled an NCAA investigation into its football program. The investigation dates to Nutt’s tenure as Rebels coach from 2008-11.

The years-long NCAA investigation says the Ole Miss football program committed 21 rules violations over several years, including 15 deemed Level I – the worst possible offense.

Freeze, a Mississippi native, spent five seasons as coach. He went 39-25 during his tenure, which included a Sugar Bowl win following the 2015 season.

RELATED: Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze admits ‘drama’ with his program is self-created

(You can follow Kevin Connell on Twitter @_KevinConnell)

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