Liberty Director of Athletics Ian McCaw met with the media on Tuesday morning to discuss the open position for head football coach following Hugh Freeze’s departure for Auburn. Below is the full audio from this press conference as well as the full transcript from this media session.
“Let me start by just expressing our gratitude to Coach Freeze for all that he did for Liberty football and the university over the past 4 years. He and his staff moved this program so far forward, it is really hard to measure the contributions they made both on the field and off the field, the spiritual influence they had have been unparalleled. We are really grateful for Hugh. We wish him, Jill, and their daughters the very best as they embark on a new journey.”
“With that, we have already launched the search for our next head coach. We are looking forward to moving through that process very rapidly. My hope is that we will be able to complete that very quickly and have a new head coach in place by next week.”
WITH THE TRANSFER PORTAL OPENING ON DEC. 5 AND THE EARLY SIGNING PERIOD, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO MOVE QUICKLY TO NAVIGATE THAT?
“The December 5th transfer portal date is, I think, driving all the searches that are going on around the country right now. You certainly want to have a coach in place when the portal opens next Monday so the student-athletes know who their coach is going to be moving forward because uncertainty creates confusion. Certainly wouldn’t want to see a student-athlete make a bad decision that ultimately ends up being detrimental to them down the road. We’re going to do everything we can to have a head coach in place by a week from now.”
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN YOUR NEW HEAD COACH? DID YOU HAVE A SHORT LIST READY?
“Certainly, when you have a coach as outstanding as Hugh Freeze you always want to have a short list ready because he is one of the best coaches in college football. You have to anticipate that at some point he could have an opportunity like this. We were well prepared for that. In terms of the criteria, Liberty starts off with we have to have someone who is a strong mission fit, someone who wants to train Champions for Christ and who fits our University well. We’re also looking for someone who is a strong leader, CEO, culture-builder of our program. We need someone who tactically is very skilled and a strong recruiter. Those are the main criteria for our search.”
WHO IS THE INTERIM HEAD COACH?
“Last night we had a team meeting at 6 o’clock when Coach Freeze said goodbye to the team. I had the chance to address the team and introduce our interim head coach and that is Josh Aldridge who serves as our Co-Defensive Coordinator. Really impressed with Josh. I think he’s going to serve us extremely well during this interim period and through the bowl game.”
WHAT DOES THE PROCESS OF LOOKING FOR A NEW HEAD COACH LOOK LIKE?
“A lot of the work is done on the front end. This did not catch us off-guard on Saturday or the last few days. We knew that there was a possibility that Coach Freeze could be going to Auburn for the past few weeks. We put together a list of prospective candidates. We’ve hired a search firm to work with us. We have been screening candidates and had conversations with a number of individuals already. We are moving very quickly. Hope to have the search wrapped up next week.”
WAS THERE A POINT WHERE YOU REALIZED RETAINING HUGH WAS NOT GOING TO BE AN OPTION?
“We’ve known the last few weeks that Coach Freeze and Auburn have been in discussions. It was unfortunate, it was kind of a clunky process with the news being released Saturday morning before our game and playing out over the last several days. Ultimately, we’ve been able to get started with our search process. We are well underway right now.”
HOW DO YOU ANTICIPATE THE PROCESS GOING IN REGARDS TO PREPARATION FOR THE BOWL GAME?
“Our team is very excited about the bowl game. We expect it being pre-Christmas. We believe it will be somewhere in the Southeast region so that will be very close for some of our players and their families to be able to attend. I think it’s narrowed down to a few options right now. We’re excited about that. As you know, we’re 3-0 in bowl games. We want to go 4-0. We don’t have a championship game to play in like many schools do, so our bowl game is the championship for us. It’s something that our coaches, our staff, our student-athletes are excited about and looking forward to. I’ve got tremendous confidence in Coach Aldridge and the staff that they will have the team well prepared for the bowl game.”
IS THERE ANYONE ON THE CURRENT STAFF THAT HAS EXPRESSED INTEREST IN THIS POSITION?
“We’re considering both internal and external candidates at this time. We have had tremendous expression of interest in this job. That’s a credit to Coach Freeze, our staff, our players. This job is so much different than it was four years ago. We’re getting tremendous interest from around the country from very qualified coaches. The key differentiator for us is we have to have someone who really fits Liberty.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE?
“We’ve had strong interest from both assistant coaches and head coaches from around the country. We will consider all candidates.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO GET A COACH IN PLACE QUICKLY FOR ROSTER RETENTION?
“Very important. The portal is what’s driving it more so than even recruiting. The early signing period isn’t until December 21st. We have time to have one or two recruiting weekends after the portal opens. The portal is really the driver because we certainly want to do everything we can to have a coach in place so our student athletes can meet them in the event that they were considering pursuing the portal.”
HAVE YOU ADDRESSED THE TEAM REGARDING THE PORTAL AND MOVING FORWARD?
“I did. I had a chance to speak to the entire team last night. After Coach Freeze said his goodbye, we introduced Coach Aldridge. I had a chance to speak to them about the bowl game to the transfer portal to just how to move ahead. Anytime you face change it’s very difficult. I told them this is the time that leaders lead. We’ve got a really strong group of leaders. The culture council, I met with them privately afterwards. I think we’ve got a really good group of veteran leaders that love Liberty, that represent the culture of our program extremely well, and will be able to really help encourage some of the younger players that are taken aback by Coach Freeze’s departure.”
DO YOU ANTICIPATE THIS TO MOVE AS QUICKLY AS IT DID WHEN FREEZE WAS HIRED?
“It’s going to need to proceed close to that quickly, but we’re going to be diligent. We need to be thorough in our vetting process. We need to also be respectful of some of the programs that are playing this weekend, as well. There’s a lot of factors at play right now. Ultimately, if we can have a head coach in place by December 5th that would be a great outcome for Liberty.”
HOW WOULD YOU SAY THE TEAM IS HANDLING THIS BIG CHANGE?
“Obviously, it did not serve them well on Saturday when some of the news reports came out. The leak that came out of Auburn just before the game Saturday, I think it was very disruptive to our team. We saw that in terms of performance on the field. I kind of chalk it up to Auburn just being Auburn. As far as how they’re doing right now, it varies by player, but I think we have a lot of mature locker room. I think the veteran players are handling it extremely well. I think that message will be carried on to some of the younger players who aren’t as experienced and haven’t dealt with something like this. I also had a chance to speak to some of the players who were here four years ago when Coach Gill surprised all of us with his retirement. Four days later we had Freeze as the new head coach. I think there’s a lot of confidence that this process is going to work out well and we’re going to have an outstanding head coach leading us forward.”
IS NIL A BIG FACTOR IN HOW A COACH HANDLES IT WITHIN THE PROGRAM?
“NIL is definitely something that is a factor in college football and college sports in general right now. The fact that we have our NIL marketplace with NFLCR, Flames Exchange, and the fact that we have group licensing opportunities with Brandr and we are also working with A Sea of Red on a collective are all things that I think will serve our program well and also beneficial to the new head coach.”
ROUGHLY HOW MANY CANDIDATES DO YOU HAVE AT THIS MOMENT?
“I probably need to check my e-mail for an up to date number, but it’s pretty substantial. We are getting tremendous interest. We’ve had interest from Power Five head coaches, Group of Five head coaches, assistants at the Power Five level, assistants at the Group of Five level. It’s a wide range of individuals that have expressed interest. We’re trying to vet that group as quickly as possible and really hone in on our top candidates.”
ARE YOU PUTTING ANY STIPULATIONS IN PLACE FOR THE NEW HIRE?
“We put together parameters for the job in terms of staff salaries and budgets and resources that we have to offer. As one of the blessings here, this is one of the best if not the best Group of Five resourced programs in the country. People know this is an outstanding job, facilities, salaries, resources, budgets. That’s why it’s attracted such strong candidates. That’s been really helpful for us.”
EACH OFFSEASON THERE HAS BEEN CHATTER OF FREEZE LEAVING, HOW HAS THAT SHAPED YOUR DATABASE OF POTENTIAL REPLACEMENTS?
“More than annually, you’re always updating your short list, your list of potential candidates, you’re hearing from individuals who might be a fit or someone you might want to consider for a future coaching search. What’s really unique about right now is this current week there are so many jobs open. It’s a very fluid, dynamic environment in the coaching search space right now. We’re trying to navigate through that well. I’m confident we are going to have a really good outcome here.”
WERE YOU PLEASED WITH THE WAY THE PROCESS PLAYED OUT PRIOR TO SATURDAY?
“Yes. Auburn had been very professional as had Coach Freeze in terms of dealing with everything. I think the leak caught everyone off guard. That is very disappointing. Coach Freeze was disappointed, our staff, our players, myself, it was very unfortunate.”
HOW HAS WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IN A COACH HAS CHANGED FROM YOUR LAST SEARCH?
“The college landscape has changed dramatically in the last couple of years. You mentioned two of the bigger areas – NIL and transfer portal – obviously having some experience and apt in dealing with those issues is something that would be beneficial and an important quality in the next head coach.”
IS AGE OR EXPERIENCE A FACTOR?
“Experience is always a factor. I think people who have a tract record and tract of great success is always something you value in a search.”
DO YOU HAVE THE FINAL SAY ON WHO IS HIRED?
“Some of our administrators are assisting me with the search. It is a group effort here in the athletic department. Ultimately, I will make a recommendation to President Prevo who will take that to the Board.”