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Liberty University hired Hugh Freeze to coach its fledgling football program on Friday.
There were cries about hypocrisy since Freeze was only available because he had been forced out at Ole Miss following major scandals both personal (prostitutes) and professional (major NCAA violations).
Really though, this is college football. Almost no one cares about that stuff, let alone a school whose athletic director, Ian McCaw, only went there because he had been forced out at Baylor following a horrific sexual assault scandal.
You don’t get good in this sport by accident, let alone by hiring nice guys who have always done the right thing. Freeze and McCaw have been winners. That mattered to Liberty. How they became winners did not matter to Liberty.
That said, the most telling part of Hugh Freeze’s past should not just be ignored.
It’s not that he cheated on his wife and kids with escorts. That’s family business.
It’s not that his Ole Miss program immolated the NCAA rulebook and is now mediocre again.
That could be something Liberty cared about, but it didn’t. He won. He beat Alabama. Twice. Now, did he beat Alabama twice because of his coaching ability or because he cheated to bring in the players that beat Alabama? We’ll see.
It’s quite possible that Liberty is even cool with him cheating to get the great athletes needed to win. It wouldn’t be the first school to go with that line of thinking.
NCAA rules are NCAA rules. Most of them are about making sure rich people don’t give money to poor people so athletic departments can make the rich people give them the money instead. You can argue those who wrote the rules are more corrupt than those who break them.
No, the most important part deals with this comment from Friday’s press conference.
“What really impressed us the most with him is … he’s someone who really pours into his student-athletes,” McCaw said of Freeze.
Yes, yes. The student-athlete. Let’s check that one out.
In January of 2016, Ole Miss was about to get slammed by the NCAA for myriad major violations. Freeze knew this. Freeze himself would eventually be hit with “lack of institutional control” and given a one-year “show cause” penalty, about as severe as the NCAA can do.
Freeze was concerned that the depth of the violations and the pending sanctions would get out publicly. If that happened, some of his players might have transferred so they could avoid playing for a school that was about to get hit with postseason bans and likely struggle to win many games.
It might also have caused members of the Rebels recruiting class to switch to other schools before they signed binding letters of intent. If they knew the truth, Freeze understood, everyone would do what is best for them and some would go elsewhere.
So Hugh Freeze did what was best for him and what was worst for those “student-athletes”: Ole Miss orchestrated a misinformation campaign, by supplying media with off-the-record lies so they’d write and broadcast inaccurate stories that Ole Miss wasn’t going to receive major sanctions, in part, because most of the violations occurred under former coach, Houston Nutt.
This was not true. Hugh Freeze knew it.
The goal was to trick his players, his recruits and all their families and high school coaches and everyone else who once believed in him, at least until the truth came out later and it was too late and they were stuck with him.
Later, when the NCAA report became public and it was clear Ole Miss lied, Nutt asked for an apology. His reputation had been trashed, after all. Freeze wouldn’t give him one. Instead, Freeze claimed persecution and declared himself the victim.
That caused Nutt’s lawyer to go all in and eventually use Freeze’s phone records to show he was calling hookers, which cost Freeze his job. A simple apology and he’s probably still in Oxford and no one knows about his side life. Irony.
But that’s an aside. Back to the “student-athletes.”
What Hugh Freeze did was deceive them. Fool them. Con them. Cheat them. Not cheat some questionable rulebook, but cheat all the guys who trusted him, worked hard for him and won him all those games and all those millions of dollars. He denied those guys the information that they deserved so they could make the best decision for their brief careers and NFL dreams.
He sat in the living rooms of recruits and did the same thing. Sat across from moms and dads and uncles and siblings and entrapped them in a fraudulent deal. Come to Ole Miss, it’ll be fine. He just wanted them signed, because once they signed, then leaving would be hard. They’d be stuck. He did this day after day; recruiting visit after recruiting visit.
If Hugh Freeze wants to say he is reformed, hey, go get them. Hope he is.
If Liberty wants to win football games by any means necessary, then have it. Go Flames.
Trumpeting the way Freeze treated his players in the past as reason to hire him though is absurd deceit.
There is no question Freeze had positive relationships with some of his guys through the years. Every coach does. But when the going got tough, when it was time for him to show himself for who he really was, he chose to screw over each and every last one them.
That’s what Hugh Freeze did. That’s what Liberty is claiming as a positive.
That’s what happened.
That is, if we are all being honest about it now.
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