Auburn hires Hugh Freeze as coach: Ex-Liberty, Ole Miss boss gets second chance in SEC return

Auburn hires Hugh Freeze as coach: Ex-Liberty, Ole Miss boss gets second chance in SEC return

Auburn has hired Hugh Freeze to become the Tigers’ next head football coach, the university announced Monday after the end of its 2022 season. Freeze, 53, last coached at Liberty after leading the Flames to a 34-15 record since 2019.

The conversations between the sides began weeks ago and continued through the weekend after Auburn’s 49-27 loss to No. 7 Alabama on Saturday in the Iron Bowl, sources said. to CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. Freeze signed a memorandum of understanding with Auburn on Monday, according to The Associated Press. His contract will pay him $39 million over six years, an average of $6.5 million per season, according to ESPN.

“First of all, I want to thank Cadillac Williams for the incredible job he has done as interim head coach. The impact he has had is immeasurable and cannot be overstated,” said Freeze in a statement. “Second, Auburn is one of the preeminent programs in college football and I very much appreciate President Roberts and John Cohen for this opportunity at Auburn. I had the chance to see firsthand how special Auburn is during my time. as head coach of the SEC and during the visit of my daughter Jordan who attended Auburn and currently lives in the community I look forward to working with our student-athletes and the Auburn family to bring the championships back to the Plains.

The former Ole Miss coach, who led the Rebels to a 10-3 season and second-place finish in SEC West in 2015, addressed rumors he would become the favorite to replace Bryan Harsin on the Plains after Liberty’s surprise 49-14 loss to New Mexico. State on Saturday. He was surprisingly direct in his response.

“I’m not one to tell them [the players] something that is not true,” Freeze said. “Is the job everyone is talking about a job I should talk about?” Sure. That doesn’t mean they offered me a job.”

Freeze’s attraction stems from his success at Ole Miss from 2012 to 2016. He was 39-25 (including vacated wins) during his tenure and beat Alabama and Nick Saban in consecutive seasons (2014 -15). Freeze led the Rebels to a 10-win season, a Sugar Bowl berth and a final No. 9 ranking in 2015, a campaign that didn’t include any of those 27 vacated wins.

Freeze was slammed at Ole Miss ahead of the 2017 season after discovering he had done inappropriate calls from her school-issued cell phone that was connected to a phone number for an escort service. Ole Miss accepted Freeze’s resignation on July 20, 2017, for what he called a “pattern of personal misconduct”.

Additionally, a NCAA investigation discovered a lack of institutional control and fostered an unconstrained culture of booster involvement in football recruitment. That investigation revealed 15 Level I violations, including unauthorized cash payments, use of automobiles, unauthorized lodging and unapproved meals worth approximately $37,000.

His success with the Rebels became stained following the two separate scandals. Ole Miss was penalized a two-year bowl ban and a two-game conference suspension if he was hired by an SEC school before Nov. 30, 2018. Freeze was not a coach during two years due to NCAA and personnel issues.

Saban attempted to hire Freeze as co-offensive coordinator in 2018, months after his release from Ole Miss, per AL.com. However, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey eventually pressured Alabama not to hire Freeze because the rebels risked NCAA sanctions for violations committed under Freeze’s watch. Saban then hired Josh Gattis for the role. LSU and Missouri also considered Freeze as an offensive coordinator candidate, but the SEC’s denial convinced them not to explore him further.

SEC statutes require schools to consult with the SEC commissioner before hiring a coach “who has engaged in unethical conduct as defined by NCAA statutes or who has participated in a activity that has resulted in or may result in a Level I, Level II, or Major Violation.”

With the window for this suspension closed and many upcoming changes in the college football landscape that will likely benefit Freeze in recruiting at the Power Five level (NIL rights, transfer portal), his return to a major program has only become only a matter of time.

Freeze was hired by Liberty in 2019 after his two-year hiatus. He never finished with less than eight wins while leading the Flames, who made the jump from FCS to an FBS independent school before the 2018 season. He led Liberty to three straight games, including a record 10-1 and a No. 17 overall in 2020. Freeze also developed quarterback Malik Willis, who coincidentally transferred from Auburn, into a third-round draft pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Proven QB Talent Developer

Auburn failed to help Bo Nix reach his full potential, and now he’s become a Heisman Trophy contender for Oregon after being traded to the Ducks for his senior season. Auburn’s 2022 quarterback situation is a mess with TJ Finley and Robby Ashford both starting games without providing much threat in the down passing offense. Freezing can solve this problem.

Chad Kelly threw for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2015 and Bo Wallace topped 3,000 yards in 2013 and 2014. Have these former Ole Miss stars turned into NFL-level thrills? No, but that’s not the point. They had a lot of success in college, and that’s what matters most as new athletic director John Cohen strives to overturn that program.

Watch out, Nick Saban

Former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was fired after the 2020 season for his failure to maintain success on the Plains. However, he went 3-5 against rival Alabama, which is the most wins on the Tide among active coaches.

Freeze has solved this conundrum in consecutive seasons, including in 2015 when the Crimson Tide won the College Football Playoffs. That’s a big plus for an Auburn program that aspires to national success no matter what happens in Tuscaloosa.

Saban, 71, is likely nearing the end of his run as Tide head coach, although he is locked into his contract until the 2030 season. However, Saban will be 79 when that term ends. contract. He has the same energy and insight as he did 20 years ago, but he will age if he coaches through the deal.

Freeze understands Auburn politics

Auburn is notorious for having too many chefs in the kitchen. Whether it’s boosters, alumni, ex-players, or administrators, the sphere of influence is quite wide and something Cohen must either master or at least organize behind Freeze. They have to let him run the program as he sees fit.

It may seem like a pipe dream based on how Auburn has generally operated; remember they tried to form a coup to overthrow Harsin in February and tried to hire Bobby Petrino from Louisville in 2003 when Tommy Tuberville was still Tigers coach. The problem with Auburn is that even though its methods seem dysfunctional on the surface, they actually worked. The Tigers went undefeated in 2004, won a national title in 2010, came within 13 seconds of repeating the feat in 2013 and won SEC West in 2017 despite Alabama winning the national title that season. The method has proven itself, even if, in reality, it is rather in spite of these efforts than thanks to them.

Will it work nowadays? Probably not. There are too many moving parts beyond anything boosters have had to deal with in the past. When Saban got the job in Alabama in 2007, he took control of all aspects of the program. Freeze must have the autonomy to do the same. He’s done it before in what was a pretty big pressure cooker at Ole Miss in its fierce rivalry with Mississippi State, which was then run by Dan Mullen. Whether he can do it again remains to be seen.


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