Secured SEC memos revealed Hugh Freeze’s Level 1 violation coach hiring process
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey sent a memo to member schools in 2018 detailing the process required to hire Hugh Freese, according to a document obtained by AL.com this week.
Sankey then followed up with another memo in 2020, also obtained by AL.com, that does not name Freeze but details the process for hiring a coach with past NCAA violations such as the former Ole Miss coach he suffered at his previous job.
Freese, Auburn’s new head football coach, had been considered by several SEC schools for jobs since his exit in 2017 prompting the league office to advise member schools of the steps needed to hire Freese. The first note, sent in November 2018, was titled “Re: Possible Hiring of Ex-Hugh Freese” Ole Miss Head Soccer Coach.
Freeze quits Ole Miss after he uses a university-issued cell phone to call an escort service. He was also the target of being notified of allegations from the NCAA including Tier 1 and Tier 2 violations during his time at Oxford.
As it relates to a freeze, Auburn must comply with the SEC’s directive as it moves forward with its new head football coach.
However, the steps are not as drastic as initially described in a 2018 memo when several member institutions sought Freeze’s service shortly after he resigned from Ole Miss amid personal and NCAA scandals.
“On November 20th, I sent a memo to our campus outlining what would be there,” Sankey explained to AL.com Thursday afternoon. … “We’ve done that with assistant coaches who were hired for prior Tier 1 or Tier 2 violations. We’ve done that with head coaches.”
In the 2020 memo, which does not specifically mention the freeze, there is a 3-step process:
(1) The head of the institution or its advisor is expected to contact the commissioner directly to discuss the candidate before offering the job. Auburn, according to an SEC spokesperson, has met that requirement. However, the details of this contact have not been shared.
(2) Auburn is required to provide the conference with a written plan to ensure the freeze adheres to compliance rules and will receive appropriate oversight. An SEC spokesperson told AL.com that this is a matter between the league and the member organization.
(3) The Rector, College Representative, Athletic Director, and newly appointed employee shall meet with Sankey at the SEC’s office in Birmingham after appointment on a date to be determined. The meeting did not take place, but Sankey said, “We’ll find out in due time.” According to the 2020 memorandum, this is due within 30 days of recruitment.
The criteria for the meeting are to review Freeze’s compliance record, including past NCAA violations, discuss Auburn’s written plan and make public any potential accountability of both Auburn and Freeze for any subsequent violations. Finally, the meeting is to confirm Friese understands the organization’s and conference’s compliance expectations.
A 2018 memo sought to freeze the suspension
In essence, the 2020 warrant is a scaled-down version of the 2018 warrant. On December 1, 2017, Ole Miss received a sanction from the NCAA for lack of institutional oversight and an “uninhibited culture of enhanced participation in football recruiting.” The program was hit with three years of probation, a monetary fine, postseason ban in 2018, suspension freeze (had he worked with the SEC in any capacity in 2018), scholarship cuts, staffing restrictions, and cause. Penalties for various employees and leave 33 wins between 2010-2016.
“In the fall of 2018, we had a number of organizations that were considering hiring Hugh and were asking us what happened at his previous organization at that point at Ole Miss and any accountability that might apply to the conference,” Sankey said Thursday.
“It seemed—and, in fact, was—appropriate to put everyone on the same level with consistent information about how we approach consideration and follow-up from an accountability standpoint.”
In short, Ole Miss was in the midst of NCAA sanctions and the league had to hold Freeze accountable.
As stated in a 2018 memo obtained by AL.com and not previously published, there were additional conditions because Freeze was charged with a Level 1 violation (NCAA Regulation 220.127.116.11, Head Coach Control):
- The moratorium on off-campus recruiting activities would have been suspended until August 1, 2019.
- The freeze was required to attend the NCAA regional rules meeting in 2019 and 2020.
- Because Freese was responsible for violations committed by members of his team (failing to monitor certain aspects of the recruitment process), Sankey declared, citing Regulation 19.9. December 2017, through November 30, 2018, will suspend the head coach from the first two conference contests of the 2018 football season.” A spokesperson for the Saudi Electricity Company confirmed to AL.com that the suspension would have been imposed on any coaching position, not just a head coach.
However, those terms did not carry over into his 2022 appointment.
“With respect to the 2018 memorandum, everything is out of order now other than the meeting and the compliance monitoring plan and the review of that monitoring plan,” Sankey explained.
It should be noted that the 2020 memo uses generic terms such as president, athletic director, and newly hired employee. The 2018 version specifically refers to Freeze.
“We actually went into more standard notes from November 20th,” Sankey said. “There may be different needs depending on the facts of the matter. I wouldn’t call it ‘norm’ as it has in other circumstances. It may have been done verbally but given the amount of interest across our league in 2018, we needed a way to communicate consistently. That’s why there was a memo.”
Did Sankey block recruitment in 2018?
No, not according to the commissioner.
Citing Section 18.104.22.168, Sankey says universities make the hires.
However, months before Sankey’s memo was sent out in 2018, AL.com reported, citing sources, that Alabama was one of at least five SEC schools that had been in contact with Freeze about field jobs. Alabama coach Nick Saban wanted to hire Freese as co-offensive coordinator and position coach.
The report asserts that Sankey encouraged Alabama not to hire Friese, which is why Saban was unable to add Friese to his squad in the offseason. When asked about the report that spring, Saban said in part, “We also have a lot of respect for the SEC, and what they think is, in some cases, what’s best for the league relative to the conditions people have created for themselves.”
“We actually don’t,” Sankey said when asked about blocking the appointments. “So, they have to make their own hiring decisions. This has never been a discussion. Some of the ‘what if’ or ‘what is this’ or ‘what is this’ writing is just people speculating. It is very clear in our bylaws that our organizations are solely responsible for hiring decisions.” “.
Regulation 22.214.171.124 states in part that “each member organization makes its own employment decisions”.
“I thought Heo would come back to the convention in 2018,” said Sankey. That’s when the opportunity for freedom came. Obviously it didn’t happen. That is why it is important for it to be clear that the warrant was at one time based on a set of circumstances within a year after the Ole Miss infraction case was made public and has no effect now.”
Liberty Freeze hired him in December 2018, nearly a year after schools like Alabama were interested in hiring him as an assistant field coach. Prior to getting the Liberty job, Freese, who hadn’t been coaching anywhere that season, was expected to take an offensive coordinator job with the American Football Association’s (AAF) Arizona Hotshots.
In Sankey’s 2020 memo to SEC schools, he wrote, “As I have stated repeatedly, organizations make their own employment decisions. The purpose of SEC Regulations 126.96.36.199 is to assist institutions in making informed hiring decisions, and when a candidate has serious wrongdoing in his or her past, to ensure Ensure that the principal or consultant is aware of this information prior to an offer of employment. Made.”
When asked if previous reports of him blocking potential hires, specifically Friese, were “false,” Sankey preferred not to go into specifics.
“I don’t respond to people who speculate as to what may or may not have happened,” Sankey explained. I’ll read you the simple text of the bylaws: “While each member institution makes its own hiring decisions, member institutions must, at a minimum, request specific information from each candidate regarding his or her rules compliance record and communicate with NCAA enforcement personnel and the conference office regarding Same thing before a job offer.
“So, they make their own hiring decisions. I couldn’t be more clear than that.”
Freese was asked at his introductory press conference Monday about the SEC blocking his return and said, “I’m not sure that’s accurate. I think I had chances to get into the league as offensive coordinator and I chose to go to Liberty as head coach. I’m very confident about that.”
Bylaws 188.8.131.52 were modified due to the freeze?
The regulation, which deals with hiring practices, is part of the 2020 memorandum. The memo states that the regulation will be revised on June 2, 2017.
It was just over three months after Ole Miss received its second notice of the allegations (February 22, 2017) and four days before Ole Miss issued its response to the NCAA (June 6, 2017), which included a defense to the freeze, claiming it did not facilitate or participate in the violations, Nor did he ignore potential red flags.
The revision was to add the first two paragraphs, which can be read in full below. Was it reviewed because of the Frieze case? An SEC spokesperson sent a statement regarding the matter.
The intent, which was made available to the media at the 2017 Spring Meetings, is to “specify that the member institution comprehensively assess an individual’s record of compliance with the Code prior to offering a position in any coaching or non-coaching position with sport-specific responsibilities. Further, to specify that it is expected to consult The head of the institution or the consultant with the commissioner before offering employment to an individual who has engaged in unethical behavior or engaged in activity that has resulted in a gross infraction.”
After less than two months of revisions, Freese resigned as All-Miss head coach after then-director of athletics, Ross Björk, said the university had found a “worrying pattern” of behavior. Freese resigned eight days after former Ole Miss head coach Houston Nat filed a lawsuit against Ole Miss, alleging that the program orchestrated a disinformation campaign to shift the blame for the NCAA allegations onto Nutt and his former employees. The lawsuit was settled in October 2017.
Mark Heim is a sports reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @employee.
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