Do you believe in second chances?
Liberty University athletic director, Ian McCaw, showed that he does when he hired Hugh Freeze to become the ninth head coach of the Liberty University Flames football team. Coach Freeze took the reins in 2019, LU’s first season as an FBS squad. In his inaugural season with the Flames he led them to an 8-5 record and the program’s first bowl berth, and victory, defeating Georgia Southern at the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl. In 2020, Freeze earned the Lynchburg, Virginia based team a signature win, when Liberty defeated the Virginia Tech Hokies just a few hours down the road in Blacksburg. The victory over VT wasn’t the program’s first over a Power 5 opponent though. That happened three weeks prior when Freeze and company defeated Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Suffering only a single-point loss to the NC State Wolfpack, Liberty finished the season 10-1, including an OT win over the Jamie Chadwick led (No. 12 CFB / No. 9 AP / No. 12 Coaches) Coastal Carolina Chanticleers at the Flame’s second consecutive FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl. LU finished the 2020 season ranked No. 17 in the AP and No. 18 in the Coaches Poll. With ODU canceling their 2020 season and both UVA and VT opting out of bowl games last year Liberty is the only Virginia FBS program with an existing bowl streak.
Did it hurt to read that sentence? It hurt to write it.
This year Freeze has the Flames, once again, poised for a post season bid with a record of 7-3 and two games left to play. Last week Liberty put up a respectable fight against the then No. 16 Ole Miss Rebels, ultimately losing 27-14. The other two losses are three-point deficits to both the Syracuse Orange and the UL Monroe Warhawks. Coach Freeze and his staff have achieved all this success with recruiting classes ranked 135th (2019), 89th (2020), 115th (2021), and transfer quarterback Malik Willis. Originally a commitment to Virginia Tech as a defensive back, Willis de-committed in favor of an Auburn program that would give him a shot at QB. After losing the starting QB gig to true freshmen, Bo Nix, Willis transferred from Auburn to Liberty. A dual threat, Willis, was responsible for 325 total yards and four touchdowns during the 2020 win over Virginia Tech. What does all that mean? It means that Hugh Freeze recognizes overlooked talent and has developed players out of bottom-of-the-barrel recruitment classes into a team that can go toe-to-toe with ranked P5 programs. He has done this with facilities and resources that pale in comparison to P5 programs like Virginia Tech.
#RiseWithUs https://t.co/NRlHeYhIHC— Hugh Freeze (@CoachHughFreeze) November 18, 2021
Before heading the Flames, Hugh Freeze made a name for himself as the coach of the Ole Miss Rebels. In 2014 and 2015 the Freeze led Rebels were the only team to defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide during the regular season. In 2015 ‘Bama went on to win the national championship, but Freeze’s Rebels handed them their first home loss in 21 games. Prior to Freeze’s arrival the Rebels had not finished a season ranked in the top-ten since 1969. They crested at No. 3 under his tutelage and closed out the 2015 season No. 10 AP and No. 9 Coaches. Throughout his time at Ole Miss he collected wins against other nationally ranked powerhouse programs like LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Mississippi State. His recruitment classes were regularly in the top-20 with his peak being the No. 5 ranked 2016 class (247 Sports).
Controversy arose in early 2016 when the NCAA charged Ole Miss with several severe recruiting violations. The charges centered around college employees and boosters providing disallowed benefits, including allegations of cash payments and academic assistance. Fuel was added to the fire when the previous head coach, Houston Nutt, filed suit against Ole Miss accusing Freeze and other school officials for falsely attributing blame of the violations to him. During the ensuing investigation it was discovered that the phone number of an escort service was dialed on Freeze’s phone. Freeze stated that this was a misdial, but deeper digging resulted in the school administration finding similar calls present on Freeze’s call log. On July 20, 2017 Freeze resigned from Ole Miss rather than be fired by athletic director, Ross Bjork. Ultimately it was determined that the escort services were for Freeze’s personal use and was not part of the recruiting controversy. Two years later the NCAA ordered that Ole Miss vacate 33 wins from 2010-2016, including 27 of Freeze’s victories. During his time with the Rebels his record was 39-25, but now officially sits at 12-25.
In January 2018, Freeze, a vocal born-again Christian made his first public appearance since his disgraced departure from Ole Miss during an event hosted by Liberty University. A verklempt Hugh Freeze and his wife, Jill, spoke openly about the events leading to his resignation, her path to forgiving him, and his re-dedication to his faith and leading a moral life.
In 2009 I was elated to see the NFL and Philadelphia Eagles provide a second chance to Blacksburg’s most famous son, Michael Vick. Vick went on to earn comeback player of the year, in 2010, after serving 18-months in prison. He played six more seasons before retiring in 2017, as an Atlanta Falcon. Since the dog-fighting scandal ripped through the hearts of football fans Vick has been a vocal and staunch advocate against animal abuse. Mr. Vick was provided a platform and opportunity to turn his egregious misdeeds into combating the very thing that tore a hole in his career, which he took full advantage of. Virginia Tech has an ability to provide the same grace to Hugh Freeze.
I believe in forgiveness, in redemption, and I believe in second chances. At Ole Miss Hugh Freeze showed that he can rebuild a program that has lost its way and at Liberty he has demonstrated that he can develop a dangerous team with limited resources. In hiring Hugh Freeze the Virginia Tech football program would have a proven winner at the highest levels of FBS competition on the sideline of Lane Stadium. The Hokies would do well to be part of the Hugh Freeze redemption story as he rebuilds the Virginia Tech team or risk facing him as he progresses with another institution.
So, do you believe in second chances?
Should Virginia Tech hire Hugh Freeze?
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