OXFORD, Miss. (WJTV) – Hugh Freeze’s coaching staff makeover began to come into form on Friday with the official announcements of Phil Longo as offensive coordinator and Wesley McGriff as defensive coordinator.
“It’s time for some change to revive us a little bit,” Freeze said. “We’ve had a good run. The first four years here were incredible. But we live in a society where they forget about those and move on to the next one and we needed a change.”
Longo comes from Sam Houston State, where he was also an offensive coordinator. Sam Houston State had the top ranked total offense in FCS (547.3 yards per game) and second ranked scoring offense (49.5 points per game). The Bearkats set a Southland Conference record in 2015, racking up 7,975 total yards for the season, which ranked third all-time in FCS history.
Freeze mentioned Longo’s plan matches the three areas he wants to fix with the Ole Miss offense: third-down efficiency, red zone touchdowns, and the running game. He said Longo meshes with his offensive philosophy well, as Longo will have the play-calling duties too.
“We’re so similar, but I love the way his terminology works,” Freeze said. “I think it puts us more in a great structure. We had gotten a little too spread out with too many ideas maybe, and I loved his presentation on, this is the structure, we stay within the structure as long as we feel like we have things that will be successful.”
Longo said on a teleconference call with reporters that he’s always wanted to make the jump to a conference like the SEC.
“I think when you’re a competitor, and I am, you want to have the opportunity to do what you do against the very best, and there’s no question that we’ll see the very best in the SEC,” Longo said. “It’s a dream come true.”
“Coach Freeze, based on what he expects of me, he wants me to come in and put the system in. Because there’s so much overlap, there may be some terminology to learn, but at the end of the day, there are a lot of things we both do. I’m going to rely very heavily on the entire offensive staff because there are a lot of good coaches in the room, and they have some SEC experience that I don’t have.”
Meanwhile, McGriff has SEC and Ole Miss experience. He comes from Auburn, where he was the co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach. The Tigers rank second in scoring defense in the SEC this season (15.6 points per game).
But before that and three seasons with the New Orleans Saints, McGriff was the co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach at Ole Miss in 2012.
“I always said if I had an opportunity to go back and work for anybody, it’d be Coach Freeze,” McGriff said on a teleconference call to reporters. “To have an opportunity to go back to Ole Miss and work for him as the defensive coordinator, that’s phenomenal.”
“The comfort level I have with Wesley McGriff was very important to me, and the energy he will bring in reviving our defense is going to be vital,” Freeze said. “The critical areas that I really wanted to look at defensively in this hire were stopping the run, red zone scoring and not giving up explosive plays. When you look at what he, along with his staff at Auburn, Kevin Steele highly recommended him. What they’ve done there in those regards, top 10 in rushing, top 10 in scoring and gave up very few explosive plays, and those areas were critical areas that I thought we had to really look closely at in hiring the defensive coordinator, and his name just kept coming to the top.”
“Here’s the biggest thing, that I have a lot of ideas from my past experiences in terms of what we’ll do on defense, but I think it’s all about the guys who are in the room,” McGriff said. “You have to formulate a plan based on the talent that’s in the room. You have to do a good assessment of who is in the building at what position, then you have to develop a plan that your assistant coaches are comfortable with.”
Freeze said McGriff will come to Oxford after Auburn plays Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. This past season, Ole Miss finished last in the SEC in scoring defense (34 points per game) and tied for 12th in total defense (461.3 yards per game).