Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
Freeze humbled by events of past years
Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze speaks during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days, Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It had been seven years since Hugh Freeze’s last appearance at the SEC football media days.
In 2016 he was flying high, having led Ole Miss to a 10-3 record with wins over Alabama at Tuscaloosa and Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl.
Freeze wasn’t arrogant during his 30 minutes in front of the glare of media that day, but he was very confident. He’s an optimist, but he was six months away from seeing his world implode.
On Tuesday, the only reference to his firing at Ole Miss was his own and it was in answer to Bob Holt’s question if Freeze ever doubted he’d make it back to such a big stage.
“All right, let’s go back to did I one day? … Truthfully, when the ending at Ole Miss occurred, it was hard to truthfully process would you ever get that opportunity again, so I would have to say at that point, no,” said Freeze, now Auburn’s coach.
More from WholeHogSports: Additional coverage from SEC Media Days in Nashville
“But as time passes and things tend to settle back in and you work through … I tell people all the time, I think that one of the greatest judges of people — and our players included and the people I come in contact with — are when you experience disappointment, failure, whether it was of your own doing or whether it was circumstances that come into your life, like Luke Deal, who’s with us today. He lost his father while being at Auburn.
“Those are tough circumstances, but how a person responds to those and reacts to those probably tells you more about them than the successes do.”
Freeze paid for his personal transgressions as well as the ones that fell on his watch that the NCAA discovered.
They didn’t come up because it was seven years ago and many times Freeze has admitted his wrongdoing and how sorry he was for the mistakes he made.
Still, he was untouchable on the highest level of college football and was out of the game for three long years.
His first opportunity to coach again came from Liberty, a school known for being religious but unknown in the world of perspiring arts until he came along.
Freeze took over the Flames in their second season at the BCS level and promptly led them to a 8-5 record and the Cure Bowl. He encored with a 10-1 record and another Cure Bowl appearance and by the time his four years were finished, he was 34-15 with four bowl appearances.
Last November, Auburn announced it had hired Freeze to rebuild the once-proud program.
Ironically, he was the third consecutive head coach the Tigers hired who started their careers at Arkansas State.
Freeze was 10-3 in his lone season with the Red Wolves, which got him the Ole Miss job.
Gus Malzahn replaced Freeze at ASU, also went 10-3 which helped him land the Auburn job, where he was the head coach for eight years before getting fired after a 6-4 season and a 67-35 record.
Bryan Harsin replaced Malzahn at ASU, went 8-5, which got him the Boise State job, which he left for Auburn, where he was 9-12 and was terminated with four games left in his second season.
There was no doubt Tuesday that Freeze relishes the challenge of restoring Auburn to “the upper echelon in this conference.
It will be an uphill battle as many players jumped off the Auburn ship, and the Tigers have a tough schedule that includes two-time defending champion Georgia. Only Auburn and Ole Miss play both the Bulldogs and Alabama this season.
In all the good ways the old Freeze was back, but there’s no doubt he’s been humbled by his journey the past seven years and he went out of his way to thank SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey several times.
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