Facing a top-10 schedule nearly every year, Hugh Freeze won 38 games in five seasons as Ole Miss’ head coach, 7.6 per year. The Rebels averaged 4.8 wins in the eight seasons before his arrival and have averaged 5.5 since. They peaked in 2015, with 10 wins, a No. 3 S&P+ ranking (their highest since 1969), and a top-10 AP poll ranking (ditto). Based solely on the product, he was the school’s best hire since John Vaught, after whom the Rebels’ stadium is named.
Just two years after he coached his final game in Oxford, he was hired … by Liberty.
Without any context, that’s an almost incomprehensible shift, going from holding your own in the SEC West to a school with no conference and one year of FBS experience. But the context is as significant as it is unique.
Freeze’s Ole Miss tenure was a wave of Bible quotes, allegations of recruiting misdeeds and improper benefits, and maybe the most misguided tweet in the history of college sports. Eventually, the story involved escort services and school-issued cell phones. It was the stuff documentaries and longform features are made of.
Freeze left Ole Miss in 2017, almost instantly pursued by SEC coaches for assistant roles. The SEC dissuaded schools from going this route, so the most loudly Christian coach in college football sought redemption at the most loudly Christian school in FBS, one that has become a Second Chance U for athletic administrators found involved in decidedly un-Christian situations.
This relationship will probably work very well on the field. For all Freeze’s flaws, he’s one heck of a recruiter and one heck of a coach.
Freeze replaces Turner Gill, the former Buffalo and Kansas head coach who spent seven seasons in Lynchburg, bringing solid FCS success (they won or shared four Big South title and reached the second round of the FCS playoffs in 2014) and helping Liberty ease into FBS life. He never had a losing record at LU, but he also won more than six games just twice — he raised the bar but left it pretty clearable for Freeze.
In Freeze’s first signing class at Liberty, he inked 10 three-star prospects, per the 247Sports Composite. That’s twice as many as Gill signed during his entire tenure. Virginia Beach cornerback Tayvion Land became LU’s highest-touted signee ever when he decommitted from Maryland on the day before February’s signing day and went with the Flames.
In theory, this wave of talent could mix with the veteran pieces Gill left. Senior quarterback Stephen Calvert threw for 3,000 yards last year, more than 1,000 of which went to 6’4 receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden. Senior end Jessie Lemonier was 12th in the country in sacks with 10.