Freeze Talks Spring, Recaps Recruiting 

Former Auburn edge rusher Eku Leota (left, Auburn head football coach Hugh Freeze (center) and former Auburn edge rusher Derrick Hall (right) at the Senior Bowl. PHOTO BY AUSTIN PERRYMAN




Less than three weeks before the Auburn Tigers start spring football practice, head coach Hugh Freeze talked with the media last week recapping a whirlwind of a recruiting period and previewing the work that is to come. 

“It’s not an ideal calendar for us in year one,” Freeze said. “But it’s part of taking over a new job and the transition of it. I appreciate that February is a dead month that you can really start focusing on your team, but typically you would like to take a little breather right now. We are not afforded that opportunity. We have got to really hustle to get everything installed.” 

Freeze has been steady in rebuilding the Auburn football brand and culture since arriving to The Plains in November 2022. Since then, he has made good moves: re-hiring Carnell “Cadillac” Williams as associate head coach and bringing in experienced coordinators Ron Roberts and Phillip Montgomery from Baylor and Tulsa, respectively. Among other things, Freeze explained that this period in the calendar is big for getting his entire staff on the same page.  

“We are all coming from a plethora of backgrounds,” he said of his staff. “This is the first week that we have really sat down and said, ‘What are we calling this?’ I’m really open to new ways; I just want to do what is best. We have got a long way to go. We have got a full month of February facing us.” 

Freeze added that he has relied on guys like Williams and secondary coach Zac Etheridge to get a sense of what needs to change in order for Auburn to be more successful. 

“I lean on Cadillac quite a bit, and Zac,” he said. “And there are some in the off-field roles that we kept too, and I value all of their input as I’m trying to make decisions as to what do we change, what do we try to get a lot better at, or this was pretty good and how did work. Their input is valuable to me.”

In addition to filling his staff with quality and experienced members, Freeze did wonders on the recruiting trail for the Tigers across the last two months. National Signing Day just passed on Feb. 2, and the head ball coach has Auburn’s 2023 class ranked No. 18 overall by 247Sports, and its 2023 transfer class ranked No. 4. 

“I would love to say that I knew our team better, but the current roster demanded that we hit it hard,” Freeze said about the recent recruiting period. “I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to sit in the office and try to do anything else other than recruit. How much can you really do in two and a half weeks? It’s hard to really say how much we have closed that gap on the teams we are trying to catch. But I do think we have improved ourselves.”

The area of the roster where Freeze and his staff did the most work was undoubtedly the offensive line — signing eight new players overall. 

“That’s unheard of to try and get to your 16 number,” Freeze said of the new offensive linemen. “That’s a big challenge. There was no way around it. And you also feel like you’re behind on the 2024 class. That made for a full January to try and catch up on some of those.”

In terms of the roster he inherited, Freeze lamented the lack of time he has had to this point to get familiar with his squad. Going forward, however, getting acquainted is one of Freeze’s top priorities. 

“I don’t know if it is the right approach, but I’m listening and watching right now, trying to know them by their actions,” Freeze said. “Looking forward to getting to know our team. It’s one of the most uncomfortable things about transition right now,  and the way we have to recruit is you don’t get to know your guys. So I am excited to get to know them.” 

The head coach added that aside from getting to know his team, it’s the culture that he is trying to develop that is crucial to Auburn’s success right now. 

“There are so many dynamics to running a program at this level today,” he said. “I’m very convinced that the culture and locker room for teams that have talent — if the culture is right, it’s going to pay dividends. I think there is an enormous amount of time that I can put into that that will help us.”

Freeze and company are turning their attention to spring practice now, with an eye firmly locked on establishing basic concepts for the program’s future success. 

“I want us to get in spring ball and get good at something,” Freeze said. “Particularly, what can our quarterbacks do and how can we make that look different. And defensively, we must play hard, we must be physical and we must tackle well. Those will be my focus.” 

Freeze reiterated in his press conference that Auburn sells itself. The fact that he, his staff and the administration are all on the same page lends to success in the future. 

“Auburn sells itself pretty well if it has someone that is leading with a vision that people can see and buy in,” Freeze said. “I do think I have a gift [for that]. Our administration has the same vision and we are aligned on that — to be one of the most competitive programs in this conference and an elite program nationally. We have been supported very well by everyone on campus to try and help sell the vision.” 

Finally, Freeze stressed that the time to firmly establish the culture at Auburn is right now. It’s something he doesn’t take lightly in the new age of NIL, and what he hopes will be a pillar for the Tigers to come in 2023 and beyond. 

“It’s a new world now,” Freeze said on recruiting in NIL age. “The teams that can handle it, this new world of all the voices in their ears … I think it’s critical that you have to decide what your identity is going to be gotten from. If you don’t get this settled, its going to be wrestling match that wins against you if your identity is only tied to what I do and what I get. I’m praying and hoping that we can make Auburn different so that the culture we cultivate here and their value and identity is gotten from who they are becoming on the journey we are on, not the external things.” 


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