What do you get when you cross Faulkner with Pork Rind Jimmy? Mark Schlabach has the answer.
The man who helped take down Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze is a lifelong Mississippi State fan who attended his first Bulldogs game 37 years ago and has the university’s logo tattooed on his left hand.
But he insists he never set out to bring down the Rebels and their coach.
It just kind of happened that way.
When Steve Robertson was sifting through Freeze’s phone records on July 5 as part of his research for an upcoming book he’s writing, he discovered phone calls he expected to see. There were mostly calls to recruits and assistant coaches.
But when Robertson saw a phone number with a 313 area code, he was stunned by what he discovered in a Google search. A call made on Jan. 19, 2016, lasting one minute, was made to a number connected with several advertisements for female escorts. Robertson then asked his wife to read him the telephone number again to make sure it was correct. The escort service ads came up again.
Robertson called Thomas Mars, an attorney who is representing former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt in his defamation lawsuit against Ole Miss. Mars had been introduced to Robertson through a third party he found while doing online research into Nutt’s case. They’ve since developed a close working relationship, talking on the phone several times a day and sharing what they found in their investigations.
“He asked me to fill in some blanks,” Robertson said.
When Robertson told Mars to enter the phone number in Google, Mars was silent for nearly a minute before yelling an expletive in excitement.
Ole Miss had unwittingly provided information that would lead to Freeze’s resignation.
Robertson, if you will recall from one of yesterday’s posts, is a guy that Rebel Rags pointed to as a member of a vast conspiracy to bring down Ole Miss. The thing is, it sounds like he’s been doing just fine on his lonesome.
Robertson had been butting heads with Ole Miss officials for the past several months, since they denied his open records request for an unredacted version of the notice of allegations the Rebels received from the NCAA in January 2016. Robertson wanted the names of the Ole Miss boosters who are accused of providing improper benefits to recruits, and university officials wouldn’t release them.
When Mars advised Tyner about the call Freeze made to the escort service, he told him that he’d shared the phone records with Robertson.
“Steve is obsessed,” Mars said Tyner told him.
“Had anybody in this state done their job, I wouldn’t have had to do it,” Robertson said. “It got to the point where I was sick and tired of being sick and tired of it. I was willing to pass the baton to someone, but no one was willing to take it.”
Robertson filed a complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission, which ruled in his favor earlier this month. One of the unnamed boosters — identified in court records as John Doe — filed a lawsuit in state court in Jackson in an attempt to block the release of his name.
“I don’t care if it goes to the Mississippi Supreme Court,” Robertson said. “I’m in this all the way. The law is on my side.”
It’s a good thing for Ole Miss that the NCAA investigators aren’t as dogged as Robertson.
As you might expect, local fans haven’t taken these developments well.
The fact that a self-described Mississippi State fan helped expose the wrongdoing of a popular Ole Miss coach will only add more bad blood to an in-state rivalry that has been boiling with venom for months.
“If it weren’t for Steve Robertson, I don’t believe this case would have transpired the way it did over the past week,” Mars said.
Robertson has already received multiple death threats. He shared one with ESPN in which someone wrote on a message board that “he will be lucky if he can ever speak again” and “he won’t be around much longer.”
Even before Robertson helped expose Freeze’s alleged misdeeds, Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans had been pointing fingers at each other. Many MSU fans accused the Rebels of cheating in recruiting during their rise to national prominence under Freeze, while some Ole Miss fans believe the Bulldogs helped orchestrate many of the more serious allegations of rules violations. And, of course, they’re battling for many of the same high school players in a sparsely populated state.
“It’s a family feud every day of every year,” said ESPN college football analyst Tommy Tuberville, a former Ole Miss coach. “Recruiting is so much more involved and there’s a lot more on the line. Auburn and Alabama is more of a rivalry game between the players, coaches and fans. But probably 80 percent of the guys signed by Ole Miss every year were recruited by Mississippi State. It’s that cutthroat.”
When you consider the lesser stakes involved — at least Alabama and Auburn are regularly duking it out for SEC titles and playoff bids — the heat here is almost amusing. (Almost. Death threats ain’t funny, peeps.) It seems like there’s more to come, too.
Loyd, who represents former Ole Miss staffer Barney Farrar, and who said he played junior college football with Mississippi State president Mark Keenum, all but predicted Freeze’s ouster a month ago. “There’s just so much drama and it involves a lot of tragedy,” Loyd said. “It’s going to get worse and there’s going to be a lot more that’s coming.”
Somebody’s gonna write one helluva book about this some day. In the meantime, stock up on popcorn.