Hugh Freeze, who resigned as Mississippi’s football coach in July 2017 amid an NCAA investigation into impermissible benefits given to the Rebels’ players and a school probe into his personal conduct, was introduced Friday as Liberty University’s head football coach.
Freeze will replace Turner Gill, who announced his retirement Monday.
“I believe in teaching young men on our team all the lessons of when I got it right and when I got it wrong, and what the consequences are, in [the] hopes that they can become the best student-athlete, the best player that they can be and also the best husband, father, citizen that they can be,” Freeze said Friday. “I’ve been on both ends of it."
Freeze led Ole Miss to its highest national ranking in 50 years, reaching No. 3 in both 2014 and 2015 and finishing 10-3 with a Sugar Bowl win in the latter season. But the NCAA found that the Rebels’ football program “lacked institutional control and fostered an unconstrained culture of booster involvement in football recruiting,” adding a one-year bowl ban (served this season) to the self-imposed postseason ban the school served in 2017.
The NCAA found that a dozen boosters and six former staffers had given players cash payments, free car rides to campus, free hotel rooms, food and Rebels apparel from an Oxford-area sports merchandise store. Two former staffers also were implicated for arranging fraudulent standardized test scores for three recruits. Freeze would have had to serve a two-game conference-play suspension had any school hired him as head coach for the 2018 season.
Freeze almost certainly would have survived the NCAA violations, but a defamation lawsuit filed by former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt against the school indirectly led to his downfall. Nutt alleged that Freeze and others in the school’s athletics department had spread rumors that most of the violations had occurred under Nutt’s watch and, as part of the discovery process, demanded that the school turn over the call records for Freeze’s school-issued cellphone.
Freeze was allowed to redact the personal calls he made from the phone but failed to hide a call made to a number with a Detroit area code that was connected to escort services. He resigned soon after Ole Miss told him it would release a statement on the phone call.
A born-again Christian who often espouses his faith on his Twitter feed, Freeze spoke of forgiveness in a speech given at Liberty in January, an address made alongside his wife, Jill. Hugh Freeze said in the speech that he had confessed his infidelities to his wife in 2016, before they became public knowledge.
He spoke of his faith again Friday.
“Faith, for me, is believing in the son of God, Jesus Christ, and he is the only one I’ve ever met that can handle my junk," Freeze said. “If you know somebody else that can do that, I’d love to meet 'em."
He also discussed his family, calling his daughters and wife his “heroes."
"They would say that I’m their hero, that blows me away,” Freeze said. “My wife would say I’m the godliest man she’s ever met, I don’t get that. But they’ve been with me a lot of times, and they’ve just been rock solid.”
Liberty, the largest Evangelical university in the United States, played its first season as a top-level college football program in 2018, going 6-6 as an independent. The 2019 season will be the first in which the Flames will be eligible for a postseason bowl.
“We’re bringing in someone that’s experienced success everywhere he’s been at. … That success certainly has been on the football field, but what really impressed us the most with him is he’s a man of great faith," Liberty’s athletic director, Ian McCaw, said.
McCaw resigned from the same position at Baylor in May 2016 over his involvement in a scandal involving the school’s football team. According to various reports, McCaw and Baylor football Coach Art Briles were both informed of a gang rape that involved the school’s football players, but they failed to report the allegations.
This post has been updated.