I'm not a PR professional. But I am reasonably certain that when your college football team shows up on TMZ you're doing it wrong. Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze found this out today as reports broke that Freeze has been subpoenaed for a deposition in the lawsuit filed against former Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil by his stepfather, Lindsey Miller. Miller is suing Tunsil for defaming him by saying that a family domestic violence incident started when Miller attacked Tunsil's mother.
Miller claims the catalyst was actually Tunsil's meetings with agents while an undergrad at Ole Miss. He also contends that Hugh Freeze aided in besmirching his good name by spreading Tunsil's version of the story, including to the news media. He wants Freeze to answer questions about that, including presumably how Freeze came to the conclusions he did about how the incident occurred. He may want Freeze to answer other questions, too.
Freeze is not happy about it. He's asking a judge to quash that subpoena. But if he does have to give a deposition, Freeze definitely doesn't want the NCAA to get a copy of it, asking that the deposition be sealed.
I have to be honest, this sounds a lot like Freeze has something to hide. On the heels of Tunsil's draft night drama, new questions have arisen about whether he accepted unsanctioned benefits while at Ole Miss. Given that Freeze so adamantly denied wrongdoing in the past, you can imagine he'd be in a real bind if the Rebels aren't in fact squeaky clean and he were forced to answer questions on the subject under oath.
What's most odd about this story (and let's face it, the whole thing is really odd), is that Freeze may not have anything to worry about. You may recall that the NCAA has used subpoenaed deposition testimony in an investigation before, in the University of Miami/Nevin Shapiro investigation. In that case the NCAA's investigative staff considered deposition testimony in Shapiro's bankruptcy case received from his attorney. The NCAA then announced that it shouldn't have done so. Admittedly, in that case it looks like Shapiro's counsel was fed questions totally unrelated to the pending legal action by the NCAA enforcement staff, and then sent the NCAA a bill for her efforts (editor's note: Bold strategy, Cotton!).
That's all pretty egregious. It's entirely possible, however, that the organization might decide in this case that it again needs to steer clear of that type of testimony if there's any chance it might look like they butted into the proceedings to get it. The NCAA has shown a habit of being more worried about the appearance of impropriety in their investigations than perceived laxity in those investigations. Bottom line, the NCAA isn't going to go out of its way to nail a school if doing so opens it up to broader criticism, congressional hearings, or actual accountability.
That strikes me as odd, because sworn deposition testimony given under penalty of perjury seems like the most reliable thing the NCAA could hang its hat on. But the folks in Indianapolis seemed reluctant in that case to credit testimony which may have been elicited to burn a school in their investigative crosshairs (oddly stringent for an agency that takes anonymous tips from rival coaches and fans, but whatever). Again, nothing about the NCAA's amateur gumshoe process makes any sense, and we should never pretend otherwise.
I continue to believe that Ole Miss is a long way from any substantive sanctions arising from all this. But it's definitely not a good look for Freeze, a guy whose ambition has been clear for a long time.