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Coach Freeze to ‘enjoy’ football again at Liberty

LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP) — Overcoming past failures and finishing life well were repeated emphases of former Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze when he was presented Dec. 7 as Liberty University’s new coach.

“I believe in teaching young men on our team all the lessons of when I got it right and when I got it wrong and what the consequences are,” Freeze said during a media event at Liberty, an evangelical university in Lynchburg, Va., and partner of the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia. “… I’ve been on both ends of it — won Sugar Bowls and been praised, didn’t handle it exactly right, and I’ve made decisions that hurt a lot of people. I don’t ever want to experience that again.”

Freeze coached Ole Miss to a 39-25 record over five seasons, 2012-16, including three bowl wins in four appearances and two regular season wins against Alabama. He also was outspoken about his Christian faith.

But Freeze resigned from Ole Miss in July 2017 over a scandal involving phone calls he made to an escort service. Additionally, in December 2017, the NCAA found he violated head coach responsibility rules by failing to monitor his staff’s recruiting violations. Had Freeze been hired as an NCAA head coach before Nov. 30, he would have had to serve a two-game suspension.

At the public announcement of his Liberty hiring, Freeze didn’t avoid speaking of his failures and sins. But he quoted an admonition by late Southern Baptist Convention President Adrian Rogers to “never let the moment define the man.”

“I’ve sat out of football the last better part of two years,” Freeze said, “and it’s given me time to reflect on the core values, to which, when I adhered to them followed great blessing. And it’s also given me time to” reflect on how “when I didn’t adhere to them, [I] learned what discipline looks like.”

Faith in Christ, Freeze said, is his first core value. Jesus “is the only one I’ve ever met that can handle my junk,” he said.

Freeze’s relationship with Liberty stretches back at least to January 2018, when he apologized publicly for his sins at Ole Miss during a Liberty convocation. Upon his hiring, Freeze credited David Nasser, Liberty’s senior vice president for spiritual development, among believers who “poured into me and helped me through a difficult time.” He also credited Georgia pastor Michael Catt and Mississippi pastor Chip Henderson.

Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. told reporters, “It’s just part of Liberty’s DNA to give people second, third and fourth chances,” according to Lynchburg’s News & Advance.

Athletic director Ian McCaw likewise found a second chance at Liberty in November 2016 after he resigned from Baylor University amid a sexual assault scandal surrounding the university’s football program.

At Liberty, Freeze said, integrity and love will be among his core values. He promised bowl appearances “fast” for the Flames, who went 6-6 in 2018, their first season competing in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision.

Freeze called his wife Jill and their three daughters his “heroes” for their steadfastness through a difficult season of life.

“They would say that I’m their hero,” Freeze said through tears. “That blows me away. My wife would say I’m the godliest man she’s ever met. I don’t get that. But they’ve been with me a lot of times, and they’ve just been rock solid from the good times and the bad times, and we can’t wait to enjoy this journey again. We’re all about finishing.”