Coach Hugh Freeze has officially finalized his coaching staff, as announced by the University today.
As we have reported previously, Kent Austin will be the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Maurice Harris will be the co-offensive coordinator wide receivers coach, Sam Gregg will coach the offensive line, Ben Aigamaua will teach the tight ends, and Mike Brown will remain on staff as running backs coach.
“I’m going to call the plays in year 1, and probably year 2, and maybe year 5,” Coach Freeze said to the media Friday afternoon. “I do have great confidence in Kent and Maurice. Kent will be in charge of the offensive room in my absence.”
Freeze called the plays during his season as head coach at Arkansas State and for his first 3 seasons at Ole Miss. In his final 2 seasons with the Rebels, the play calling was divided up some.
Austin joins Liberty from an extensive coaching and playing career in the CFL, including stops at Ottawa, Toronto, Saskatchewan, and Hamilton. Most recently, he was a consultant for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. He has also served as the head coach at Cornell and offensive coordinator at Ole Miss. He played his collegiate football at Ole Miss before being drafted int he 12th round of the 1986 NFL draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Obviously, his pedigree speaks for himself,” Freeze said of Austin. “To me, there are a few guys nationally that standout as just tremendous quarterback coaches and offensive minds, and Kent Austin is one of those. I know he had a lot of options, and for him to want to join us here was a big hit.”
Harris was most recently tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Ole Miss, a place he’s been since 2011. He was also part of Freeze’s staff at Arkansas State.
“Maurice has been with me forever,” Freeze said. “(He) knows our stuff inside and out, will do a great job with those receivers and also the game planning. We may divide up some of it. As a play caller, you usually know when you’re on and when you’re not. I will control the tempo, for sure, but it may be that Kent does 3rd downs and tight red zone or maybe Maurice does tight red zone. I don’t know. I’m going into it thinking I’m going to be the game day play caller, but that can change of course. We will play to our strengths. I’m really confident in both of those guys, they are tremendous men.”
Gregg comes to Liberty from Division II West Georgia where he has been the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. He’s spent several seasons at the DII level in addition to West Georgia, also making stops at West Alabama and Arkansas-Monticello. Other coaching stops include Southwest Baptist, Memphis, and Itawamba Community College.
“I interviewed a lot of o-line guys and there are some quality ones, but Sam has answers for everything and he has really studied the game.”
Aigamaua has been on staff at Ole Miss since 2012, assisting with the offensive line and most recently as the Assistant Athletics Director for Community Relations. He’s also been on staff at Arkansas Tech and Lambuth, which followed a successful college playing career as a defensive tackle at Lambuth from 2006-09.
“Ben Aigamaua played for me at Lambuth and then he’s been with me at several of my stops so I know what I get there,” Freeze said of his new tight ends coach.
“Mike Brown is a guy that is well known here at Liberty,” said Freeze of the lone holdover from Coach Gill’s staff. “From Charlottesville, played here and did well, that’s the one exception as we get to know each other to make sure he’s the right fit. I certainly think he can be. He’s got a finance degree from Liberty, he played here, played in the league, there’s a lot of factors there.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Coach Freeze will rely on his new defensive coordinator Scott Symons who will also coach the safeties. The rest of the defensive staff includes defensive line coach Josh Aldridge, linebackers coach Kyle Pope, and cornerbacks coach Rickey Hunley, Jr.,
Symons comes to Liberty from Memphis where he spent the past year as an inside linebackers coach with the Tigers. Symons graduated from Lindenwood in Missouri in 2008, and then spent the 2008-2011 seasons at Harding University, serving in a variety of roles from receivers coach, defensive backs coach, and co-defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator. He left Harding in 2012 to join Gus Malzahn’s staff at Arkansas State as defensive quality control coach and also assisted as a strong safety coach. After 1 season at Arkansas State, he joined the staff at Arkansas Tech in 2013. He was then hired at West Georgia as defensive coordinator and safeties coach for the 2014 season. Three players off Symons’ defense at West Georgia went on to play in the NFL.
“You always keep a folder on people, and the job he did rising up from D2 ranks to West Georgia, 3 out of his 4 years there they were tops in the conference,” Freeze said of the new head coach of his defense. “I watched him coach, I know he fits the Liberty brand. I think you need a younger, go-getter that is hungry to prove not only himself but his system. He, Josh (Aldridge) and Ricky (Hunley) were all (at West Georgia) together so that made a lot of sense for us.”
“People talk about base defense all the time, but the truth is everybody is multiple. He will base out of a 4 man front, a 4-2-5 scheme. Everybody today is able to get into an odd man front when you need to and play 4-3 stuff if you’re facing a 21 personnel team. He will base out of a 4 man front.”
Aldridge joins Freeze’s staff following one season as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory, North Carolina. He was at West Georgia for 4 seasons as defensive line coach, recruiting coordinator, and NFL liason. Two players were drafted from West Georgia during Aldridge’s time there. He’s also had stints at Ouachita Baptist and Lindenwood.
Pope comes to Liberty from Alabama where he assisted with the defensive line. He played linebacker at Jacksonville State where he also served as a coach. His other coaching stops include Holmes CC, West Alabama, and Presbyterian. He’s been with the Crimson Tide for the past two seasons. Pope was defensive line coach for the 2016 season at PC, a position he also coached at Holmes for one season prior. At West Alabama, People coached the outside linebackers and standup defensive ends. At Jacksonville State, he was a strength and conditioning intern. He played in 26 games in his final two seasons with the Gamecocks, advancing to the FCS Playoffs both seasons. He is a cousin of NBA standout Gerald Wallace.
“Nick (Saban) and I have talked about him several times,” Freeze said of Pope. “(Tennessee head coach and former Alabama DC) Jeremy Pruitt and others that he has worked for think he’s a rising star.”
Hunley comes to Liberty after spending one season at Incarnate Word as the recruiting coordinator and safeties coach. He was also on staff at West Georgia under Symons and alongside Aldridge for 3 seasons serving as linebackers coach and special teams coordinator. Prior to West Georgia, Hunley also had coaching stops at Southwest Baptist, Lindenwood, Iowa State, and his alma mater Drake.
Tanner Burns joins the Liberty staff as special teams coordinator. Burns comes to Liberty after 5 seasons as a quality control coach for special teams at Arkansas. He also spent the 2013 season as a coaching intern with the Oakland Raiders, working primarily with their special teams. He knows Freeze from his playing days at Ole Miss.
“Burns played for me, and has really organized the special teams for Arkansas under Coach Bielema’s tenure there. He will also assist with the nickel spot on defense.”
Dominic Studzinski will replace Bill Gillespie as the program’s new head strength coach. Studzinski has been on the Ole Miss strength and conditioning staff since spring 2012. He currently works with the football team with a specific concentration on the long-term post-operative athletes. Prior to his time at Ole Miss, Studzinski was at Southern Miss, directing the strength and condition programs for the volleyball and women’s soccer teams. He also assisted with the football and baseball teams at Southern Miss. Prior to Southern Miss, he worked briefly at Tulsa, LSU, Notre Dame, and Augustana.
“They are both quality guys that can do the job,” Freeze said of Gillespie and Studzinski. “This train is moving so fast in college football at the FBS level, that I don’t have time to wonder, or to go and spend a week, and say, ‘This is really how it needs to work to fit our practice style.’ I know exactly, (Studzinski) is already prepared for that.”
“Bill Gillespie, what a heck of a guy, that was not easy, but we’re hitting the road. My coaches are gone today, and, after I get my family settled, I hit the road Monday. We start workouts (Monday). I don’t have time to wonder, is it the exact way we need it to be, and it needs to be that way from day 1. I’ve watched (Ole Miss strength and conditioning) for 5 years. These NFL guys that I coached, if they go back and work with anybody, that’s the guy they want. I’ve already had 2 of them call and say, ‘Coach in my offseason, I’m coming to Liberty because Dom is there. That means something to me. He has that ‘it’ about him that draws guys to want to work for him.”
While not announced today, Coach Freeze is also bringing in several new members in off the field coaching roles, highlighted by chief of staff Jim Nichols. Nichols is a former head coach at NAIA Faulkner who has also worked on staffs at Auburn, Troy, and Texas Tech where he went to 6 bowl games and was a part of the 2004 Auburn Tigers team that went undefeated and won the SEC Championship. Most recently, he was director of athletics at Mount Dora Christian Academy near Orlando, Florida. He was the first ever football coach for Faulkner in Montgomery, Alabama, holding that position for 2 seasons from 2007 until 2008. He took over as AD at MDCA in 2015 and was also their football coach in 2016.
Other members of the staff include offensive quality control coach RJ Fleming, Kyle DeArmon, who was Liberty’s wide receivers coach, and Aaron Wilkins, who was the coach of the spurs under Gill. Matt Bevins will also remain on staff. Three other spots haven’t been filled yet.
“We have an analyst spot that I haven’t decided on, and then two spots in our recruiting arm,” Freeze said of his off the field staff. “We’re going to run it just like I have in the past, where it’s an NFL style evaluations, and out of that room comes the recommendation based on the personnel that gets put in front of our staff.”
Freeze says he’s ready to get to work on building this program, and the next step begins Sunday in the first team meeting of the 2019 season.
“There’s a standard that will have to be set every day that we have to seek to meet,” Freeze said. “I think guys that are hungry to prove something, its easier for me to stress them to meet that standard. That’s what we’ve got to accomplish with these young guys in our program. The foundation is very good, but there’s got to be more. More expectation, more toughness. I think when you got coaches that are showing that energy and that drive to go through what the current ceiling is in people’s minds, I think it makes my job easier.”