Sources: Freeze leaves Liberty, takes Auburn job

Hugh Freese has agreed a deal to become Auburn’s next head football coach, sources tell ESPN.

An official announcement is expected later on Monday.

Freeze has spent the past four seasons at Liberty, taking the Flames to unprecedented heights. He is widely regarded as one of the best offensive minds in the game. This will be Freese’s second stint in the SEC, as he led the Ole Miss program from 2012 to 2016. He beat Alabama and Nick Saban in back-to-back seasons in 2014 and 2015 and capped off the 2015 season with the Rebels’ first Sugar Bowl victory since 1970.

But in the weeks before preseason practice began in 2017, Freeze resigned after Ole Miss officials discovered he had made a series of calls to multiple numbers associated with an escort service. Ole Miss was placed on NCAA probation in 2017 for violations that occurred partially under a freeze, and penalties included a two-year ban.

Freeze, while cited by the NCAA Division I infractions committee for failing to monitor his assistant coaches and school boosters, did not receive an incidental penalty and “encouraged an atmosphere of compliance,” according to the NCAA report.

Hired on October 31, Auburn’s new athletic director, John Cohen, narrowed his search to Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin and the Freeze. Kevin said Saturday that he was staying at Ole Miss and signing a new $9 million a year contract.

Freese, 53, replaces Brian Harsin, who was fired on Oct. 31, two days after Auburn lost 41-27 to Arkansas at home. Harsin was 9-12 overall in less than two seasons at Auburn, which saw frequent struggles on offense under Harsin and he struggled to maintain success on the recruiting path. Former Auburn athletic director Allen Green, who hired Harsin, negotiated a settlement with the university to leave in August. Green was entering the final five months of his contract, and sources told ESPN his contract would not be renewed after the season.

Harsin looked like he might drop out after the freshman year and survived an investigation by the university in January after an exodus of players and assistant coaches. It was retained after then-school president Jay Gogg said the operation “did not yield information that would change the status of the coaching staff or the football program”. Harsin came to Auburn from Boise State and had never been an SEC intern. He finished 4-11 against Power 5 opponents in Auburn.

Auburn owes Harsin a $15.5 million purchase, and 50 percent of that is due within 30 days of its termination.

Freese agreed to a new eight-year deal at Liberty in October at an average salary of just under $5 million per year, making him one of the highest-paid G-5 coaches in the country. Liberty accomplished several firsts over the Freeze, including its first AP national ranking in school history and the program’s first win over an ACC and SEC school.

Freese became Auburn’s third different head coach in the past four years. Gus Malzahn, who is currently at UCF, was released at the end of the 2020 season. Harsin lasted for parts of two seasons before being fired. The Tigers won the SEC Championship in 2013, Malzahn’s first season as a head coach, and he also played in the BCS National Championship Game that season losing to Florida State.

Over the past 12 seasons, Auburn has either won a national championship (2010) or played for a national championship (2013). Only five other schools in college football could make that claim over that period — Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, and Ohio State.

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