Hugh Freeze is back in the SEC. The 53-year-old Oxford, Mississippi native will become the next head football coach at Auburn University. The new hire was announced on Monday, after letting former head coach Bryan Harsin go in the middle of the season.
After Freeze’s successor and current head coach at Ole Miss Lane Kiffin signed an extension to stay on with the Rebels, it was a no brainer for him to pick the Tigers and leave Liberty University.
Freeze’s first head coaching job came at Ole Miss in 2012 replacing the resigned Houston Nutt. The Rebels had a big rebuilding job and one of the first priorities Freeze made was to ramp up their recruiting strategy. In his first season, the Rebels went 7-6 (3-5 in the SEC). The highlights of the season were the big win in the annual Egg Bowl vs Mississippi State to claim bowl eligibility. Also the win over the Pittsburgh Panthers in the 2013 BBVA Compass Bowl gave Rebels fans hope of a big turnaround in Oxford.
Freeze’s most memorable moments came in 2014 and 2015 when he and his Rebels beat Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide in back-back seasons. The 2015 victory came in Tuscaloosa which to this day is the last time the Tide lost at home in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Unfortunately, that was his peak as the team went 5-7 in 2016 and in July 2017, Freeze resigned amid some serious NCAA allegations.
Some of these allegations included paying for players to have free meals, transportation services, and private “escorts” whenever and wherever available. One of his assistants was found to have paid former Ole Miss Rebel now NFL tackle Laremy Tunsil under the table, but this was back before NIL was legal so he would have been fine if it was legal then.
Despite his major discrepancies at Ole Miss, it didn’t stop one school from giving him another chance. After previous head coach and former UB and Kansas head boss Turner Gill retired on Dec 4, 2018, The Liberty Flames hired Freeze in only the program’s second year as an FBS independent.
In his first season, the Flames went 8-5 including a victory in the Cure Bowl on December 21, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. Defensive End Jessie LeMonier was the game MVP and the game was played at Exploria Stadium (home of the MLS’ Orlando City and NWSL’ Orlando Pride).
In 2020, Freeze and the Flames had a momentary Power Five win over ACC member the Syracuse Orange. While the Orange only finished 1-10 on the season, they had many prominent young players on the team including freshman running back turned star Sean Tucker. The team went onto win the game 38-21.
Another power five win for Liberty came in a 38-35 squeaker at the Virginia Tech Hokies on November 7, 2020.
The team then won its second straight Cure Bowl against Costal Carolina at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
2021 saw the breakout of quarterback Malik Willis and also Liberty’s third 8 win season in four years under Freeze. It included a different bowl game in which the Red, White, and Blue defeated Eastern Michigan 56-20 in the LendingTree Bowl.
Heading back to the SEC
This was without a doubt a great move by Freeze. He saw the Auburn job open up knowing that his heart remains with the SEC after the success and the scandals at Ole Miss. During his time there, he recruited some heavy hitters that may have gone to schools like Alabama, but saw early playing time and a chance to get recognized and carve their own path in Oxford.
Players like Robert Nkemdiche who was the number one defensive end in the Country and was drafted to the NFL. Other players like Laquan Treadwell who was a very dependable receiver during his time at Oxford. Treadwell was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. And don’t forget Tight End Evan Engram and offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil who also made careers in the pros too.
Say what you want about Freeze, but he is one heck of a recruiter and a developer of talent. Heck, his string of drafting players continued at Liberty when Willis was selected in the third-round of the NFL draft in 2022. What’s even more impressive about his time at Liberty was his ability to finally get players to go there and play for him. Everywhere Ole Hugh has been, he has recruited well and had players drafted.
Now, he has a chance to coach against Kiffin and his former team Ole Miss in the same conference. Now that Kiffin is a genius with the transfer portal, Freeze will have an opportunity to defeat the “Lane Train” at his own game. And let’s also remember, Freeze will have more opportunities to defeat Saban and the Crimson Tide in the Iron Bowl every November which will be an even bigger storyline with Freeze coaching the Tigers.
Freeze even said when asked if he was looking forward to coaching against Saban in the Iron Bowl, that he wouldn’t have taken the job if he wasn’t excited about that. At Ole Miss, Freeze was 2-3 against Saban.
What do you think?
Will Freeze be a good match for Auburn?
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