Liberty head football coach Hugh Freeze held a video conference interview session with the media on Monday. Here’s everything he said during the nearly 45 minute press conference.
It’s just a very odd time. It’s very different than anything I’ve ever experienced. I was really enjoying the spring practices, the five that we got in. We were very fortunate to get them in. I certainly thought that was something that we needed, but everyone is in the same boat with that, some didn’t get any practices in. Obviously with the health crisis that came and the uncertainty around the virus, there was no question what was the right thing to do. The health and welfare of our students and our staff have to come first, and our staff’s wives and young kids. Trying to decide what exactly that looks like for people that are in decision making processes is not really easy all the time. We went on spring break after that last practice, so we’ve really only been back for a week, and we’re just still trying to process what this looks like. There’s no real end game, as coaches, for 26 years now my yearly calendar has been the same. I don’t have practice to script today or film to watch of practice yesterday. Recruiting is still right now the same other than you don’t have them coming to campus, but you certainly can still communicate with them. Normally what we do now, we’ve flipped with what we do in June. In June, we would be game planning for the first three or four games, so now we’ve kinda flipped that and that’s what we’re currently doing since we don’t have spring ball to get ready for and recruiting. Obviously, one of the biggest hurdles, concerns that I think, as I talk to my friends in the coaching business that we all have, is the well being of our students that are not around us. We don’t have our hand on them. They’re being asked to function academically differently than what is the norm with online and not having access to the tutors and the things that they typically have. I know our academic support staff, I met with them last Friday, they’re doing an incredible job, but it is a challenge. That is a concern for a football coach. Our staff is daily required to communicate with our players in regards to how the academics went for that day.
Are there any football related activities going on or any kids on campus?
I think there’s 22 that are in Lynchburg. I think most of them are in off-campus living situations. It’s hard for us to monitor that. We’ve communicated and they’re able to get their food in a to-go compliant way that the government has set forward like restaurants. It’s all to-go and I think they limit the number of people that can get in line to get the food. There’s no team activities going on, I don’t think that’s prudent, but Dom is doing a phenomenal job of trying to relay to them here’s the best practices to stay in as good of shape as you can. Here’s some great workouts you can do. We will evaluate that from week to week. We are on week two and right now we’re going to continue with the safest practices we have.
Have you entertained the idea that there may not be a football season?
I see people tweeting about that and talking about that, I think anything is possible right now because I don’t think any of us have been through anything like this. What is the end game? When is the end game? When do you say it’s time to return to the practice of a normal life for the sake of economy as opposed to the risk that is involved with health? I’m glad I don’t have to make those decisions. As much as we all love football and the football season is a good thing for our nation, it certainly is not worth the risk if we don’t have a control on this virus. I think that’s why all football coaches are stressing to their players, their fans, their families – let’s take this thing seriously so that we can hopefully get back to doing what we all love to do and love to watch.
We are allowed to have two hours a week with our kids via Microsoft Teams to do position meetings, those are occurring, but that’s a difficult question for me to entertain. It’s hard to imagine it, but when you see people that have some credibility say that this is a real possibility and they may have access to something I don’t, it certainly is concerning.
Players probably aren’t working out as much as they would if they were on campus?
They absolutely are not, they’re probably eating donuts and Burger King.
Teams typically reconvene at the end of July/early August?
Those dates would not work in my opinion. Our kids are here all June and July as they are everywhere getting in the shape they need to be in to prepare for fall camp in August. If you’re saying a date they could come back would be August, I don’t see how in the world the season could begin on time because you just couldn’t take the risk. If it continues to where players and universities are doing online, players are scattered – some home, some in the town – I don’t see how in the world the safety of players…they wouldn’t be ready to perform at the level we need them to perform unless they got back here at least a month before fall camp began.
Would you want to see a mini-camp?
I’m not for the extension of fall camp at all. I think it’s too long to begin with, but what I have been a proponent of that I would love to see us do in the future regardless of what happens with this, I wish we would do away with spring ball and allow our players to have a normal full semester of being a student athlete, work with the strength staff and rehab, and get as strong and as physically fit as they can. Give us two weeks in June to do a mini-camp like the NFL. Then, you have all your signees here and you have a full roster. Whereas, when you’re going through spring ball you only have about 58 kids and 3, 4, or 10 of those are recovering from surgery. I know the old school people say we’ve got to have spring ball, but I would much rather have it where those first two weeks of June when you’re doing your prospect camps here, that’s an awesome time to do your prospect camp in the morning, do your mini-camp with your team in the afternoon, and you have all 85 scholarship guys there that are getting to learn. Then you break after that two weeks and they go back to training and we don’t touch them again until August, real fall camp. Do I think that’s something we could look at when this is all over? I sure hope so. We’re all here anyway during those two weeks of prospect camps. I don’t even care if we have pads or not, it doesn’t matter to me at that point. It’s just about learning the system and the way in which we practice and go about our business to get ready for fall camp in August. I think that would be very helpful.
You mean that as a permanent change?
I do. I’d be for it. Everything today is about the health and welfare of the students. We use that, but then we do things that aren’t, I don’t think, the best, and spring ball is one of those. I’m not saying I don’t want to practice. I want to practice in June when I have 85 scholarship kids here, not in March when I have 58 on scholarship and we have 10 that came off surgery. I think the risk of getting more injured during that is greater. Why would we not want to go ahead and acclimate your signees to what you do? If you wait until June and give us those first two weeks of June to do these practices, I certainly think it would be more beneficial to everybody. I may be in the minority. I don’t know, but I sure would like to be able to introduce our kids to everything we’re doing before August.
You have a daughter that goes to Liberty? Did they go back when President Falwell invited them back?
I have two. They live with me so they never left the town. I get hammered with my phone all the time with national media hitting me. I don’t know. I think President Falwell certainly has evaluated the fact that we’ve got a lot of students that have nowhere to go. I don’t see that we’ve done anything differently than any other university. We’re online, our students had the option if they didn’t have a place they felt they could go, like our international students and others. They felt like this was the safest place for them to be to get food and support and a place to live, I don’t want to tell them they can’t do that. Someone has to explain to me how we’re different than any other university that is doing the same things.
I don’t think that any university, in my eyes, has closed. They just have to go about business differently. I don’t really know, I don’t keep up with it a lot. Certainly when I’m on campus right now, it’s a ghost town. I know there are signs everywhere about no more than 10, I know they are practicing that in the food lines and the one cafeteria they have opened right now to feed anyone that needs food. I believe everything that is being done here is the same…other universities may have told their students they have to leave, I don’t know that. I’m glad that we didn’t do that. Not for anybody to be around each other, but I certainly don’t want to tell students who couldn’t go back to their home land or their country that they have to leave.
Those decisions are never easy and as a leader you’re going to take criticism one way or another, but I do think it’s been a bit different than what I see is true here. I talked to my other coaching friends, I think we’re functioning the same way that other universities are. Maybe our wording could have been a little different, but we’re doing the same thing.
You may have noticed that he tends to be a little controversial.
I really don’t notice that. He’s been so supportive of football. The vision he’s had here and what he’s done to foresee things for the future to build this place to what it is…Leaders are controversial in general. People are either going to like you or not like you, and they’re either going to want to tear you down or build you up. I know that he has all of his people here, their interests at the best of heart and certainly the students which they are our customers.
With the idea of football could be threatened next year, what would you suggest as a way for kids that have no senior year get more exposure to impress scouts and finish their career?
Everything that I have heard discussed to the spring sport kids and to the basketball kids who didn’t get to experience the postseason, I think I would be open to any of that. I think they should be given the option. Here’s the problem with a coach like me when you ask that, we have our opinion but I’ll be the first to say that I don’t have a plan. We as coaches are probably quick to tell you I think it’s a great idea, I don’t want my kids not to have a senior season and get a chance to not be evaluated, and I’m certain others don’t either. On the back end of that, do I have the plan that pulls all of that together, how do the scholarship numbers work, where do you give and where do you take, do we still get to sign 25? All the issues that come with that, do I have the answer, am I willing to say that I have the plan for that? No. I’m quick to try to put myself in both sides of it. I hate it for these spring kids. Do I think they should have the option? I hope there are people that are working on that right now, but I don’t have the totality of the plan that makes total sense. If you’re asking me if kids that miss out on their last year should have the option to have another year? I would raise my hand, absolutely I’m in favor of that. Someone smarter than me figure that out.
Do you see the season extend in to December?
I would think the most likely, I have no basis for this, no one talks to me about those discussions, but I would think the most logical would be shortening the season and keeping the bowls on time so it doesn’t affect the calendar year at the universities would make the most sense. Make some adjustment as to depending on whatever the percentage of games you got to play, certainly the percentage to qualify for a bowl changes. That would make the most sense to me, but I’m not in those discussions. I don’t see how it would benefit universities or student-athletes to extend it and move bowl games back. Then, you’re overlapping with more things that are going on. I think the quicker we can get back into a normal calendar year at universities, the better off everyone will be.
Do you think the NCAA will allow you guys to do a mini-camp in June or extending fall camp?
I have no idea how to judge that. I don’t see why would we want to extend fall camp beyond the four weeks it already is without playing games. If we’re back doing things, it makes more sense to break it up and to get a couple weeks there in early June, then go back to training, and then go to fall camp. I really have no clue what people are thinking with that that are on those boards and decision making with that. I would hate to extend camp. To me, young men today, they’re sort of like me. They have a little bit of ADD. If you’re asking people to practice six straight weeks without a football game, that to me makes no sense.
We’ve had some emails going back and forth with the AFCA. Todd Berry, who runs that, certainly listens to our voice and tries to represent the majority of what we feel to the people in decision making. That would be the process of going about doing that.
What do you have on your team after the first 5 practices?
I really thought they chased the standard that we wanted for five practices. I still have a lot of questions, a lot of unknowns. I thought Malik was getting better from practice to practice, but he’s got some improving to do on his accuracy. He’s a heck of an athlete. Chris Ferguson – learning the system. JB is back from an injury. He really needed these at quarterback. Linebacker-wise and safety-wise, those were the three spots…every group needed reps, but quarterback, linebacker, and safety we really needed to find out. We had some safeties here that just got here mid-year, that we were trying to find out about. Actually had one more coming in after spring break enrolled in D-term.
Look, every program is that way. I’m not saying we’re at some disadvantage. Whenever it starts back, whenever that is, we’ll all be on equal footing. We’ll have to coach them up.
Does Malik’s athleticism excite you?
That’s typically who I’ve been most places, I’ve had someone who could be dual threat. You don’t want them to take unnecessary hits if they’re your guy, but as you’re playing a defensive coordinator, the thought of this guy may add a plus one run into a call is a problem. It’s certainly a problem if a guy can run like Malik can. Yes, it does excite me, but Buckshot was incredible, look at the numbers, but he couldn’t outrun Damien (Sordelett). No offense, Damien. We will miss the heck out of his arm though and his accuracy and the way he could throw. Now, you’ve got to find another way. That always excites me though about coaching. I make myself feel like their people out there that say he can’t do it again with another quarterback. If you look at our quarterbacks from Ryan Aplin to Bo Wallace to Chad Kelly to all the ones I’ve had, their numbers have been incredible. It motivates me to have another guy to find maybe a different way to do it.
How much does this affect your recruiting?
I think that’s another discussion that’s got to be had at the higher levels of the NCAA. What are we going to do if you’re not able to do any spring evaluations? Are we still having an early signing period when you weren’t able to go and get the 6th and 7th semester transcripts? Are we at a disadvantage? No. Obviously you wish they could come to campus now, which they can’t. Really looks like we’re not going to get our days in April and early May to go on the road. I don’t see that changing now, which I’m ok with. Certainly, we’re Facetiming them and virtually recruiting and doing all the things that everyone can do now, but I do think the evaluation process is going to be slowed down. I’ll be real curios if we’re having an early signing period how many people will honestly choose to sign then because they didn’t get to…what will change it in my opinion is if this social distancing is lifted and you’re able to have your June camps where they can come to your campus and see…I think you’re right back on track with recruiting. Should you not have that period and then you get into the season, if we have a season, I don’t see who is going to feel really great about issuing their 25 scholarships in that early signing period without the things that we usually have to get to know the student athletes.
Is there any concern some of the current signing class might not qualify?
We’ve got a meeting (Tuesday) morning at 9 o’clock to update us on that. Every school system is different. Every school system is deciding different things. Most of our kids we signed are in good academic standing and we don’t foresee that changing, but there’s always the three or four that you have that needed to finish in a certain manner and it’s unsettling. Who do you get the information from right now with schools being shut and people being closed? We’ve got to get a plan, we’re going to do that tomorrow at 9. That is something that is concerning. I’m certain there are some schools sitting there that probably signed more than we did that are at risk. This will be very uncomfortable.
Take us in to those virtual meetings with the players. What is going on in those meetings?
We just got everything set up with that at the end of last week. So, we’re just in the beginning stages. Defense had a meeting at 8 this morning, offense at 9, and we had proper social distancing in those meetings by the way. The plan moving forward is to continue with our installs that started in spring. We were coming back from spring (break) and we had done three days of install. Along with our academic update that we need from them at least twice a week.
Actually showing clips, you can put the clips of the games on the board. We can teach it, instruct it and then show it. That will be the plan moving forward for the next few weeks.
Have you talked to AGG about his draft preparation?
It’s unsettling like everything else. I have on my list of things to do to try to reach out to him today or tomorrow just to encourage him. The place he was training at was down in Florida. I need to find out what’s going on with that. With the Pro Days being canceled, I don’t know…he definitely needs to stay in shape but he needs to stay healthy and safe too. I’m curious how some of the prospects for the draft are handling what they’re doing because it doesn’t appear any Pro Days are going to be taking place, as far as my knowledge. I heard the other day, it sounds like the draft may go on as scheduled. I think he’s done all he can do at this point. Every indication I get at this point is, I think he’d be drafted in the early 2nd, 3rd, or 4th round.
Has your health scare last year changed how you reacted to this virus?
I was having a conversation this morning with a guy in my office, I said five years ago I probably would have blown this off and been life as usual and hate it for those that are going through a difficult time. Once you have a health scare where they tell you you are really close to going on to glory, which that’s not a bad thing either, Heaven is a much better place than here, but you’re certainly not wishing for that today. I think once you have that experience, you kind of view things differently. When you hear of people that seem very healthy and contract this and it attacks you different ways. I’ve heard some say I’ve tested positive and feel great, but others are testing positive and it ends their life. I think the health scare that I went through probably gives me more sensitivity to the fact that this could be very serious for a lot of people.
Have you had NFL personnel people leaning on you more heavily than in the past?
I think I’ve talked to every team about AGG. They ask me about others, particularly from the SEC, but I’ve been out of the SEC for two years, really three seasons now. So, I don’t feel like I have enough information to make an opinion. Really the only ones I talk about are our current kids at Liberty. Yes, there’s no question that those guys are reaching out a lot more.
How much can the new LFC help you moving forward?
It’s an unbelievable facility. It still has some punch list things that are going on with the construction guys. I’m sitting in my new office. We’re very very blessed. I think it would be hard to find a Group of Five type school that we view ourselves as that has put the money where their mouth is so to speak and the vision of trying to create and build a football program. We’re thankful to President Falwell, Ian and the Board for doing that. Our Indoor (Practice Facility) and this operations center, I think it rivals many Power Fives and certainly the Group of Five.
Do you know anyone that has been affected by this virus personally?
I do not to this point other than Sean (Payton) and he and I are friends. He’s doing well, we’re thankful for that. To this point, I was talking to a national media guy last night and one of his texts says he’s confident we will all be affected either by it directly or indirectly to family members or friends that we love before it’s over. Our prayer is for those that are affected and those that have loved ones that are, that they come out of the other side of it for sure. To this point, no.
What kind of guidance have you given your players during this pandemic?
I struggle with that too because I’ve daughters – 21, 20, and 17. All three have approached this differently. I try to always put myself in those shoes. When I was 20, I probably felt invincible. I’ve had to have some difficult conversations with one of my daughters. The other one is like stay inside and go walk on the trail by our house and that’s pretty much it. Then, there’s another one that’s, ‘Dad, I can’t stop living. I keep my distance from them.’ I struggle with that some too. I enjoy playing golf. When I do go, I play in my own cart with my disinfectant wipes, and I don’t get around others more than 6 feet – stay away from me. I know that our kids are dealing with that too. I’m constantly sending them texts and remind them of the best practices to protect ourselves. Please take this seriously. Do not, do not think this is some type of joke or this attitude of it can’t happen to me. That’s not true, that is a lie, that’s not accurate, it can. Pick the things that you think are really important doing, and can those things be done while practicing proper social distancing and disinfectant and all those things. You can’t just ignore it.
Is it weird to not be able to shake people’s hand?
It is, but I sure don’t do it. That’s hard for me. Some people reach out still and I say I can’t shake it, I’m sorry. The only places I’m able to go are home, I come to the office every now and then and we keep our distance. If we do have a meeting it’s in the team room where everybody is like 30 feet apart and we only do it with certain numbers. Then, I go to the golf course from time to time, but I’m very aware of practicing what’s been directed.
How does not having a Pro Day affect guys that are more on the fringe of getting NFL looks?
There is no question it’s disappointing and it hurts. The thing that you hope is there’s enough tape to get them in a camp somewhere and that’s their chance. There’s also the XFL that hopefully will come back, that gives people opportunities. That’s the hope is that you get them into camp, but there’s no question, Pro Day was another chance to prove they deserve that opportunity so it definitely hurts.
What’s your handicap?
My back has been…since the surgery and the infection and stuff, I was down to a 2 last year, but I’m probably about a 6 right now.
Did you watch much of the XFL?
I Tivo’d it. I Tivo most football games. I had some former players who were playing in it. I Tivo’d St. Louis who had Jordan Ta’amu who I recruited and coached some. I love watching it. I think they have a unique idea with the kickoff. I think it has some merit to the safety of collisions on that play. I enjoyed watching the games. I don’t like all the mic of the coaches.
Have you watched any of the replays of the games that are on?
I haven’t. I got a text the other day we must have been when we beat at Alabama back at Ole Miss because a bunch of the Ole Miss people were telling me how much they enjoyed that day.
What’s the status on your football camp you had scheduled this summer?
Totally up in the air. We still have them on the calendar, but obviously we would have to have the government and everyone feeling good about social distance and the large group gatherings changing where we certainly stand on those things happening. Right now they are on the books, but certainly can’t move forward with them until things change.