LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Hugh Freeze has enjoyed the highs of football, such as winning the Sugar Bowl and beating mighty Alabama. He’s also known embarrassment and shame following a personal scandal that cost him his job at Mississippi.
The 49-year-old Freeze believes those experiences will serve him well as the head coach at Liberty, where he’s been given a second chance.
“I believe in teaching young men on our team all of the lessons of when I got it right and when I got it wrong and what the consequences are,” Freeze said.
He was introduced as Liberty’s football coach on campus Friday, calling the opportunity an “unbelievable day for me and my family.” He was emotional at times during a press conference, thanking his family and calling them his heroes.
“I’ve made decisions that have hurt a lot of people,” Freeze said. “I don’t ever want to experience that again.”
Freeze will replace Turner Gill, who resigned after his seventh season to spend more time with his ailing wife. The Flames finished 6-6 this season, their first competing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, and were 47-35 under Gill.
Liberty will have full status for FBS bowl eligibility in 2019. The Flames are not part of a conference and are playing as an independent.
Freeze spent five years at Mississippi and led the Rebels to a 39-25 record and four bowl games. He resigned in the summer of 2017 amid a scandal in which school officials discovered a “pattern of personal misconduct” starting with a call to an escort service from a university-issued cellphone.
Ole Miss was also mired in an NCAA rules investigation during much of his tenure that eventually resulted in a two-year postseason ban.
Now Freeze gets a chance to rebuild his career less than 18 months after his stunning downfall in Oxford, where his abrupt resignation marked the end to a volatile tenure.
Ole Miss enjoyed a quick rise under Freeze, who came to the school before the 2012 season and immediately started recruiting at a high level. The Rebels quickly developed into a Southeastern Conference contender, beating Alabama two seasons in a row and reaching an apex when they won the Sugar Bowl over Oklahoma State following the 2015 season.
But an NCAA investigation that found 21 violations of academic, booster, and recruiting misconduct overshadowed much of that success. Most of the 21 charges happened during Freeze’s tenure.
The Rebels were eventually hit with a two-year postseason ban, probation and recruiting restrictions.
From a personal standpoint, Freeze received a light punishment in the case. He would have been suspended two conference games in 2018 if he had been a head coach, but he did not take a job last year. The NCAA’s ruling said Freeze promoted an atmosphere of rules compliance, but he failed to monitor his staff.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this story.