LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) -- At a press conference Friday, new Liberty head football coach Hugh Freeze touted the environment and the chance to shape a program that has only been part of the Bowl Subdivision for one year as reasons he came to Lynchburg.
More than that, however, after leaving Mississippi in 2017 amid controversy, his arrival at the private, Christian school signifies something of a new beginning.
“This is somewhat a restart or a reboot,” he said. “The best environment for my wife and kids and myself to do that was pretty (clearly) this to me.”
School president Jerry Falwell Jr. confirmed that Freeze signed a five-year contract to coach the team.
Freeze joins the Flames after serving as head coach of The University of Mississippi's football team from 2012 until 2016.
Freeze, 49, spent five years at Mississippi and led the Rebels to a 39-25 record and four bowl games. He resigned in July of 2017 amid a scandal in which school officials discovered he used a university-issued cellphone to call escort services.
Ole Miss officials said Freeze exhibited "a pattern of personal misconduct inconsistent with the standards we expect from the leader of our football team." The calls from his school-furnished cell phone began as early as 2012, an investigation revealed.
Ole Miss was also mired in an NCAA rules investigation during much of his tenure that eventually resulted in a two-year postseason ban.
Still, Freeze was a hot property on the coaching market. Rumors had circulated that he was being sought by schools such as Florida State, Tennessee and Auburn as an offensive coordinator, and there were reports that the Southeastern Conference rejected Alabama coach Nick Saban's attempt to hire Freeze as the top-ranked Crimson Tide's co-offensive coordinator and position coach.
For his part, Freeze said that while he could have considered going to another school in the all-powerful SEC, personal factors weighed more heavily on the decision than bowl bids or Top 25 rankings.
“I like coming into places where the environment, in this case, is good for my family,” he said. “It’s somewhere you’re embraced and people understand grace and people celebrate you not only for who you are, but whose you are.”
Holding the top spot in a program didn't hurt matters, either.
“I’ve been a head coach for nine out of the past 10 years, and I love that position, because I get to dictate the tempo and the core values of the program," he said. That, combined with the values of the school, made the Liberty job too good to pass up.
Freeze had a previous connection with Liberty. He appeared at the school in January to speak at a convocation at the school, during which he expressed remorse for the incidents surrounding the end of his tenure at Ole Miss..
“I had to say to people that I loved, ‘I am sorry, please forgive me,” he said at the event, which included his wife and their pastor. “And today is really the first day I can tell the faith family, ‘I am sorry, please forgive me.'”
Freeze will be working under Athletic Director Ian McCaw, who resigned from the same position at Baylor in 2016, in wake of the school's sexual assault scandal.
Freeze replaces Turner Gill, who had been the head coach at Liberty since 2012. Gill announced his retirement from coaching earlier this week. Gill retired after his seventh season to spend more time with his ailing wife. The Flames finished 6-6 this season, their first competing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, and were 47-35 under Gill.