What has been wildly speculated over the past 24 or so hours is now being widely reported and ASOR sources can confirm – Hugh Freeze will be officially named head coach at Auburn.
This ends his four year run as Liberty’s head coach. There were many highs during his tenure in Lynchburg – guiding the program to many firsts. Under his watch, Liberty posted its first ever wins over an ACC opponent (Syracuse, 2020), first ever wins over an SEC opponent (Arkansas, 2022), had its first ever national ranking in the FBS (2020), won three straight bowl games in the program’s first three years as being a bowl eligible member of the FBS, and saw the program’s first ever quarterback to be drafted to play that position in the NFL (Malik Willis, 2022).
Freeze and Liberty started the 2022 season with an impressive 8-1 record that included two of the biggest wins in school history over BYU and Arkansas. Following this start, the Flames had surged up the top 25 rankings and Freeze’s name was immediately mentioned for the vacant Auburn coaching job.
Since the Arkansas win things have soured at Liberty. The Flames lost dynamic running back Dae Dae Hunter to a season ending knee injury, and Liberty was unable to get back in the win column. Liberty lost three straight games to conclude the regular season, including a three point loss at UConn and a one point setback at home to Virginia Tech.
In Saturday’s regular season finale, with the rumors and news of Freeze to Auburn swirling, Liberty was embarrassed by New Mexico State who was fighting for a chance to become bowl eligible.The coaching staff, players, and fans in attendance were clearly distracted and rightfully so, by the news that was breaking in the hours leading up to kickoff.
“I’m sure it didn’t help,” Freeze said in his postgame press conference Saturday of the rumors. “I have a really unique relationship with my boss, Ian, and with our players. They know that I’m very transparent and honest with them. I’ve certainly told them that if I ever got to the point where someone was pursuing me and I thought it was right for Jill and I our family that I would tell them. I have not told them that. For that to come out, I haven’t been offered a job but it certainly was hard to refute that report. It was bothering some people, just hate it.”
In recent weeks it appeared that Auburn was pursuing Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin, but it now sounds like Kiffin is staying in Oxford and the Tigers have focused on Freeze. ESPN’s Chris Low reported on Saturday that Kiffin has reiterated to Ole Miss staff and officials that he is staying at the school. On Saturday, Ole Miss and Kiffin announced a contract extension to keep him in Oxford.
Freeze was named Liberty’s head coach in December 2018, going 8-5, 10-1, and 8-5 in his first three seasons. He has guided the Flames to three straight bowl games and wins, the first three bowl games in program history. The Flames finished the 2022 season with an 8-4 record.
Auburn fired Bryan Harsin in late October after the Tigers dropped to 3-5 on the season. Harsin was 9-12 overall in less than two seasons at Auburn.
Freeze agreed to a new multi-year contract extension with Liberty earlier this season. That contract extended him through the 2030 season and was set to average just under $5 million per year over the course of the deal.
Under Freeze, Liberty finished the 2019 campaign at 8-5 following its triumph over Georgia Southern in the Cure Bowl in Orlando, Florida. The following year, behind Freeze and new starting quarterback Malik Willis, the Flames had its best season in school history. Liberty finished the year at 10-1 and defeated its first two ACC opponents in school history with wins over Syracuse and Virginia Tech. The Flames would go on to defeat previously unbeaten and nationally ranked Coastal Carolina to win the 2020 Cure Bowl and finished the year ranked No. 17 in the final Associated Press top 25 poll.
Ever since he was hired at Liberty, Freeze has been mentioned as a potential coaching replacement for just about any Power Five job that has come available, particularly in the southeastern part of the country. Freeze, who is originally from Mississippi, has had previous head coaching stints at Lambuth, Arkansas State, and Ole Miss.
As Liberty and Director of Athletics Ian McCaw now turns its attention to filling the vacant head coaching position, things are expected to move quickly. The transfer portal opens Dec. 5, allowing FBS players to officially enter the portal at that time, and the early signing period begins Dec. 21. McCaw and Liberty will hope to have a new head coach in place in approximately one week.