The college football offseason coaching carousel has already begun. And with Auburn hiring former Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze to its vacant position, one of the biggest dominoes has fallen.
“Every job I’ve ever taken over has had some type of struggles prior to our arrival and we’ve been able to turn them fairly quick,” Freeze said. “I look forward to that challenge here with this great staff that we’re going to put together and these young men that are gonna buy in. But they have to buy in to chase a standard and you have to set the standard.”
— Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball) November 30, 2022
As he has so many times in the past, Freeze was unashamed to talk about his faith in Christ in addition to football.
“We are a family of faith,” the 53-year-old said while nodding in the direction of his wife, Jill, and his three daughters, Ragan, Jordan and Madison. “And God’s faithfulness is so incredibly good to us, and I don’t know that I can put it in enough words of how gracious and good and faithful He has been to us.”
Freeze continued later, saying that faith would be a core value of his program that the players and coaches would need to buy into.
“I don’t mean faith in the spiritual sense like ‘you believe like I believe.’ I don’t force that on anybody. It is who I am, and I’m far from perfect but it’s who I am,” he said. “But faith in the essence of ‘you have to believe in something bigger than yourself to be a great football team, to be a great university or to be a great family.'”
One of Freeze’s first decisions was to retain Auburn’s interim coach, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, to be his associate head coach and running backs coach. The move was immensely popular, as many Tigers fans were clamoring for Williams’ interim tag to be removed.
“What I witnessed (in Auburn’s final games) was what I thought was one of the most outstanding jobs of leadership that I’ve ever witnessed in college football,” Freeze said. “Being in this profession, I know how hard it is to finish seasons even when you’re doing well, even when you’re bowl eligible, much less finishing a season with enthusiasm and passion and desire and excitement and having fun like what I witnessed when I turned on the Auburn football games.
“And to me, it was a direct reflection of Cadillac and his leadership, and how he led the staff and those young men, [which] I thought was a brilliant job.”
Hugh Freeze opens his introductory press conference by praising Cadillac Williams.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 29, 2022
Williams quickly reinvigorated the Auburn program with his passion and energy while going 2-2 after taking over for Bryan Harsin on Oct. 31. Harsin had begun the season with a 3-5 record.
“First of all, I would like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for His hand being on my life and guiding me to this university and the Auburn family,” Williams wrote in a statement he posted to Twitter.
He continued later, “Last night, I was able to meet with Coach Freeze where he shared his core values and vision for the football program and young men he will be coaching. He is a man of faith and we share many of the same values when it comes to coaching. I am excited about his vision and plan for getting Auburn back to its winning ways, including winning championships!”
Williams acknowledged that he was a candidate to be the permanent head coach before the university ultimately decided to go with Freeze.
“Sure, I was a little disappointed at first about not getting to sit in this seat as head coach, but it’s God’s timing,” Williams said, according to ESPN. “I get to learn more and continue to develop under Coach Freeze. I love his vision.”
— Cadillac Williams (@CoachCaddy24) November 29, 2022
Williams, who starred at running back for the Tigers from 2001-2004, has been back on Auburn’s sidelines as a coach since 2019. The Tigers’ annual Iron Bowl game against Alabama on Saturday to finish the season resulted in a 49-27 loss, and dropped them to 5-7 on the year. Still, Williams said the 2022 season, and especially his time as the interim coach, was spiritually rich for the team.
“I saw kids that were broken. I noticed kids that needed help. An opportunity to get to serve them and see how they have opened their hearts, how they did a [180-degree turn], and how they’re back believing,” Williams said after the Iron Bowl, according to AL.com. “I had many cool things in these four weeks. I mean, 12 guys gave their lives to Christ, and seven guys got baptized.”
With Freeze and Williams now on board, the hope around Auburn is that the wins will soon follow. Freeze has certainly proven he can coach in the SEC, having been at Ole Miss from 2012-16 and compiling a 39-25 record (later adjusted to 12-25) and four bowl-game appearances, including a Sugar Bowl victory in 2015. In fact, each season from 2012-15, he improved Ole Miss’s record. However, his reputation soon fell into disrepute after a number of scandals came to light, including various recruiting violations and calls to a female escort service. He was forced to resign and was out of coaching until the 2019 season with Liberty.
Many were critical of Freeze’s hiring at Auburn due to his history of impropriety, including this past summer when he was criticized for direct messaging a former Liberty student who was one of several students that sued the school in 2021 for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases and Title IX matters. Freeze was defending Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw.
“I learned from this situation that I should totally understand other people’s circumstances first before communicating or commenting on someone’s situation,” he told ESPN. “It was an inadvertent misstep with no ill intent, and I am sorry.”
Freeze said he has repented, cherished the forgiveness Christ offers and sought refuge from the criticism in Him. He addressed Liberty students and staff in 2018, his first public appearance following his Ole Miss resignation, to express his regret but also to share about Christ’s great forgiveness.
“When my walls came crumbling down around me, the faith that I stand on through the Son of God, Jesus Christ — it is a solid rock. A solid foundation,” Freeze said. “And when all hell is breaking loose around you and everybody has their opinion about what is going on, and you know that you’ve hurt the heart of God, His love never changes. Ever.”
Freeze continued, “My mind is set. It is settled. My eyes are clear. My heart is full. My feet are pointed forward. And I am looking forward, with thanksgiving, to what God has for me and my family next, because of His great love, and His great forgiveness.”
Freeze joined the Sports Spectrum Podcast in March 2019 to discuss his faith and his journey to forgiveness.
“The foundational core of who I am is based on faith in God through His Son Jesus Christ,” Freeze said. “And that certainly doesn’t mean I’m perfect, as everyone knows, but I am forgiven and I want everyone to experience that forgiveness, that same grace and mercy that I’ve received.”
Freeze said during Monday’s press conference that he’s grateful for the incredible position he finds himself in: head coach of what he considers a top-10 program nationally.
“It’s humbling,” he said. “I don’t believe in deserving something. I believe in earning something, and I do believe we fought to earn this.”
Freeze, Williams and their Auburn Tigers will open the 2023 season at home against UMass on Sept. 2.
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