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SPORTS: Ark. State coach heads to Ole Miss

OXFORD, Miss. (BP) — Hugh Freeze, who led Arkansas State’s football team to its best season in years and whose Christian testimony has made headlines, has been named the new head coach at Ole Miss.

A Southern Baptist, Freeze’s Red Wolves team won the Sun Belt Conference this year and finished 10-2 overall, 8-0 in the conference for their first winning season since 1995. They also received a bid to the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

Freeze — named the new coach at Ole Miss on Monday (Dec. 5) — will replace Houston Nutt, who was fired as Mississippi’s coach after two straight losing seasons.

Freeze and his family are members of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro.

“It’s God’s goodness and favor,” Freeze said earlier this year about the team’s success. “I tell my team that all the time. Why God has chosen to be good to me, I’m not exactly sure. I have so many faults and failures like most of us in this journey, but His goodness overwhelms me.”

It was Freeze’s only season as Arkansas State head coach. As offensive coordinator in 2010, the Red Wolves improved from 95th in total offense the year before to 43rd among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The former recruiting coordinator at Ole Miss, Freeze was the high school coach of NFL player Michael Oher, who was featured in the book and movie “The Blind Side.”

A message on the Ole Miss website said the Rebels had found the man to “return titles to Ole Miss.” The website also featured a video message from former Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning, co-chair of the coaching search committee, who listed the qualifications that were necessary for Ole Miss’s next coach. Among those, Manning said, was a coach with “high character and integrity” who had the “ability to build a staff, recruit this part of the country, develop those student-athletes, galvanize the fan base and win the right way.” Freeze met those qualifications, Manning said.

In an Arkansas Baptist News article that was reprinted in Baptist Press in November, Freeze said his players’ spiritual condition was important.

“The fact that God has put me and the staff in a position of leadership … carries with it a burden that you want to be found faithful,” Freeze said. “Hopefully, you can give them the greatest gift of all time, that being a relationship with Jesus Christ.

“I made a vow to God that I would never coach a kid who did not hear the plan of salvation.”

Many of Freeze’s players followed his spiritual lead.

“We know that nothing happens outside of God’s will, and nothing happens outside of Christ’s reign,” Arkansas State center Tom Castilaw said. “Any time there is success, it’s easy to say, ‘I am awesome; this is cool,’ and kind of forget God. We are constantly brought back to the point, ‘Let’s give God the glory for this.’ Coach Freeze wants to build a winning program, but his focus is ‘Let’s glorify Christ with our lives.'”

Freeze was state president of the Baptist Student Union while a senior at Southern Mississippi in 1991-92 and was licensed to preach by his home church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, in Independence, Miss., in 1991.
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press, with reporting by Bill Sorrell, a freelance writer and pastor of First Baptist Church in Whiteville, Tenn. Read the Baptist Press November feature about Freeze at http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=36651

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