Hugh Freeze has been named the 31st head football coach in Auburn’s 129-year history, Athletics Director John Cohen announced Monday. An experienced head coach at the collegiate level for 12 years, Freeze has quickly elevated each program he’s led, including Ole Miss and most recently, Liberty.
The head coach at Liberty from 2019-22, Freeze led the Flames to four bowl games and a 34-15 record. During his tenure at Liberty, he took former Auburn quarterback Malik Willis and developed him into one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in 2021.
“After a thoughtful, thorough and well-vetted search, we ended where we started, with Hugh Freeze,” Cohen said. “Of all the candidates we considered, Hugh was the best fit. Fit has several meanings, but the most important factors were student-athlete development, football strategy, recruiting and SEC experience.”
Freeze has experienced similar success at each of his head coaching stops prior to Liberty that include Lambuth University (2008-09), Arkansas State (2011) and Ole Miss (2012-16). The Oxford, Mississippi, native led each school to double-digit win seasons, while helping Ole Miss to a top 10 national finish in 2015. His on-field coaching record in 12 years is 103-47.
Freeze has nearly three decades of continued coaching success, including head coaching experience that has led to conference titles, nationally ranked recruiting classes and bowl appearances at multiple stops during his highly decorated career.
“First, I want to acknowledge Cadillac Williams for the incredible job he did as interim head coach,” Freeze said. “The impact he made is immeasurable and cannot be overstated.”
“Secondly, Auburn is one of the preeminent programs in college football, and I’m very appreciative of President Roberts and John Cohen for this opportunity at Auburn. I’ve been fortunate to witness firsthand how special Auburn is during my time as a head coach in the SEC and while visiting my daughter Jordan, who attended Auburn and currently lives in the community. I can’t wait to work with our student-athletes and the Auburn family to bring championships back to the Plains.”
This season, Liberty finished the regular season 8-4 with a win at Arkansas and home versus BYU, while three of their four losses came by a combined five points.
Liberty was just one of five FBS teams in the country to win a bowl game each of the last three seasons, joining Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana. It also is the second team in NCAA history to win a bowl game during its first three full seasons at the FBS level, all coming under Freeze’s leadership.
“I’m pleased that our athletic director, John Cohen conducted a detailed and thorough national search process, and I look forward to welcoming Hugh and Jill Freeze to the Plains,” said President Christopher B. Roberts. “I am impressed with coach Freeze’s focus on player development and his on-the-field success at multiple universities and at multiple levels.”
Freeze guided Liberty to a 10-1 overall record in 2020 and the team’s first-ever national ranking as it finished No. 17 in the country. That season Liberty had the best start in program history (8-0), tied the program record for wins (10) and defeated two Power 5 programs in Syracuse and Virginia Tech. For his efforts, Freeze was a finalist for the George Munger Collegiate Coach of the Year Award that season.
Known for his fast-paced offensive style, Freeze’s 2020 Liberty team set a school record for rushing yards in a season in 2020 (2,776) and ranked No. 9 in the country in rushing offense. Liberty also ranked No. 15 in the country in total offense (482.7 yards per game) and No. 11 in total defense (317.7 yards per game). The Flames were one of three teams in the country to rank in the top 20 in both total offense and total defense in 2020, joining Clemson and BYU.
Spearheading Liberty’s outstanding offense in 2020 was Willis, who burst onto the national season leading the nation in rushing yards (944) and touchdowns (14) by a FBS quarterback. Willis earned All-America honors and was named to the Davey O’Brien Award Quarterback Class of 2020 listing was on the 2020 Maxwell Award watch list.
The Flames posted an eight-win in the 2021 season after facing eight bowl-eligible teams during the 2021 season. Liberty’s defense finished the 2021 season ranked No. 7 nationally in passing yards allowed, No. 11 in total defense and No. 24 in scoring defense. Offensively, Liberty finished 2021 ranked No. 25 in the country in scoring offense and No. 8 in passing yards per completion.
Leading the charge for the Flames in 2021 once again was Willis, who had an award-winning season. The quarterback was a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award and the Maxwell Award and a top 10 candidate for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
While the head coach at Ole Miss, Freeze led it back to championship form during his five seasons, guiding it to bowl games during three of his five years, including wins in the 2013 Music City Bowl and the 2016 Sugar Bowl.
Freeze’s time in Oxford was highlighted by a 10-3 campaign in 2015, the program’s first 10-win season since 2003. The Rebels won their first four games of the 2015 season, including a 43-37 road victory over No. 2 Alabama, Ole Miss’ first win in Tuscaloosa, since 1988
The Rebels were ranked as high as No. 3 in the national polls in both 2014 and 2015 and finished top 10 in the country for the first time since 1969 after the Sugar Bowl win. Ole Miss was ranked in the top 25 for 45 weeks over his five-year tenure, including a string of 27 straight weeks in the polls for the first time since 1957-62.
In 2013, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) awarded Freeze the Grant Teaff Coach of the Year award. Freeze has been heavily involved with FCA during his entire coaching career and has been featured in the FCA Magazine and spoken at FCA functions. Freeze was also a finalist for the 2014 Bear Bryant Award and the 2014 Dobb Trophy.
Freeze has an eye for the nation’s most talented high school players, collecting four nationally ranked recruiting classes at Ole Miss. In 2013 and 2016, his recruiting classes ranked in the top five nationally, making them the best in program history.
Freeze and his staff developed 20 players who earned All-SEC honors, including All-Americans Cody Prewitt, Senquez Golson, Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram, Laquon Treadwell and Trae Elston.
Treadwell was named Ole Miss’ first ever SEC Freshman of the Year in 2013 and became the school’s first Biletnikoff Award finalist in 2015. Nkemdiche was the first defensive lineman to be named a Hornung Award finalist. Engram won the Ozzie Newsome Award and Pop Warner College Football Award following the 2016 season.
Eleven Ole Miss players were selected in the NFL Draft during Freeze’s time as head coach, including first-rounder Engram, as well as D.J. Jones, Derrick Jones and Chad Kelly hearing their names called in the latest draft. In 2016, the Rebels had three first-round draft picks in Tunsil, Treadwell and Nkemdiche.
As head coach at Arkansas State in 2011, the Red Wolves captured the Sun Belt Conference championship with a 10-2 overall record. It marked the program’s first 10-win season since 1986 and the best debut season ever by an A-State head coach. Freeze was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year, while 13 of his pupils earned all-conference honors. Freeze’s first season in Jonesboro saw him serve as Arkansas State’s offensive coordinator, guiding the Red Wolves’ offense to a record-breaking year in 2010.
Prior to his arrival at Arkansas State, Freeze compiled a 20-5 record over the 2008 and 2009 seasons at the helm of the Lambuth University football program in Jackson, Tennessee. Freeze was named the American Football Coaches Association’s Southeast Region Coach of the Year in 2009 after leading the Eagles to their best regular season in school history with an 11-0 record.
Under Freeze’s direction, Lambuth won the Mid-South Conference West Division, advanced to the second round of the NAIA playoffs for the first time since 1999, finished the year with a 12-1 mark and ascended to the No. 6 ranking in NAIA.
Prior to taking over as head coach at Lambuth, Freeze served on the Ole Miss staff from 2005-07, including the final two seasons as an assistant coach.
Freeze served 13 years at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis as a teacher, coach and administrator. He was the Saints’ head football coach from 1995 to 2004, running the no-huddle “spread system” for six years that led to six straight state championship games.
Freeze compiled a 99-23 record while at Briarcrest, which included an undefeated season in 1996 and state championship titles in 2002 and 2004. He won six regional titles and was the Region 8-AA Coach of the Year five times and Associated Press Coach of the Year four times. Among his talented players during that period were eventual Rebels and former NFL starters Michael Oher and Greg Hardy.
Before assuming the role of head coach at Briarcrest, Freeze served as the teams’ offensive coordinator and defensive backs coach from 1992-94, as the Saints reached the TSSAA state semifinals twice.
A 1988 graduate of Senatobia High School, Freeze received an associates degree from Northwest Mississippi Community College in 1990 and was a two-year letterwinner on the Ranger baseball team. He earned his bachelors degree in mathematics with a minor in coaching and sports administration from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1992.
It was while attending USM that he became active in mission projects, serving as a missionary in Houston, Salt Lake City, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Australia. Freeze also served as the state president for the Mississippi Baptist Student Union.
Born in Oxford and raised in Independence, Mississippi, Hugh and his wife Jill are the parents of three daughters: Ragan, Jordan and Madison. His daughter Jordan attended Auburn University and currently resides in Auburn.
FREEZE AT A GLANCE
2019-22 – Liberty (Head Coach)
2018 – Arizona Hotshots (Offensive Coordinator/Oct. 2018 – Dec. 2018)
2012-16 – Ole Miss (Head Coach)
2011 – Arkansas State (Head Coach)
2010 – Arkansas State (Offensive Coordinator)
2010 – San Jose State (Offensive Coordinator/Dec. 2009 – Feb. 2010)
2008-09 – Lambuth (Head Coach)
2006-07 – Ole Miss (Tight Ends/Recruiting Coordinator)
2005 – Ole Miss (Assistant AD for Football External Affairs)
1995-04 – Briarcrest High School/Tennessee (High Coach)
1992-94 – Briarcrest High School/Tennessee (Offensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs)
Education: B.S., Mathematics (Southern Miss, 1992)
Hometown: Oxford, Miss.
Children: Ragan, Jordan and Madison
Career Coaching Honors:
2020 George Munger Collegiate Coach of the Year finalist
2013 Grant Teaff FCA Coach of the Year
2011 Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year
2009 AFCA Southeast Region Coach of the Year
2009 Mid-South Conference Coach of the Year
five-Time Region 8-AA Coach of the Year
four-Time Associated Press High School Coach of the Year