Fallen football coach testifies to how grace restores
Former University of Mississippi football coach Hugh Freeze and his wife, Jill, unpacked their journey from heartbreak to healing for Liberty University students on Wednesday, setting the tone for a semester lineup of Convocation guests that will encompass themes of perseverance and redemption.
In introducing the guests, Senior Vice President for Spiritual Development David Nasser explained that often, such as in Wednesday’s first Convocation of the semester, both themes were tightly intertwined.
“You will see the hope of perseverance sewn into so many stories from our guests,” Nasser said. “Another one is redemption. … I have been so impressed with (the Freeze’s) authentic love for the Lord and their commitment to see God glorified in and through every bit of their story.”
Hugh Freeze led Ole Miss to four straight bowl games, three victoriously, during his six-year tenure as head coach. He had a cameo role in the Academy Award-winning film, “The Blind Side.” However, in July 2017, at the height of his career, Freeze was forced to resign due to a pattern of personal misconduct.
In his first public appearance since the highly publicized removal, Freeze used the acronym “FILM” (faith, integrity, love, and mental toughness) to illustrate how to reconcile failures.
Faith, Freeze explained, is believing in something bigger than yourself. Integrity involves owning one’s mistakes and being accountable for them. Love often requires asking for forgiveness or to be willing to forgive, and he reminded the crowd that God’s love never changes. Finally, mental toughness is the ability to get up day-after-day with the same level of enthusiasm and effort.
Freeze said that “the ability and wherewithal to finish” is an undeniable trait found in “the right kind of person.”
“Failures are not final,” he said. “You can move forward by the grace of God. … You can have the mental toughness (to say), you know what, ‘I am going to get up today and surrender again (to God). And surrender again.’”
“I cannot control what people say, what people think, nor can you,” he continued. “But I can make up my mind and my mind is set. It is settled, my eyes are clear. My heart is full. My feet are pointed forward and I am looking forward with thanksgiving to what God has for me and my family next because of His great love and His great forgiveness and you can do the same in 2018.”
Nasser invited two key members of Freeze’s support system to share with the crowd as well: his wife, Jill, and his pastor, Chip Henderson, the senior pastor of Pinelake Church.
Henderson said that in the valley of brokenness, it is important to show people that they are loved.
“There is going to be a moment in your life where you need the grace of God to be tangible and real,” he said. “Because a lot of people who are your best friends when everything is great will walk smooth out on you whenever stuff starts hitting the fan.”
It is also important that “the fullness of what brokenness really looks like” is realized.
“The win is to shepherd (Freeze) through this valley,” Henderson said. “To really keep bringing him back to the core values of his faith, his love for Jesus, true to himself, love for his wife, honoring his family. … Whatever God may or may not do, it will rise and fall on the genuine repentance and brokenness and walk that he has with Jesus.”
Jill Freeze shared how God worked in her life, through the heartbreak, to reveal His presence to her. When she decided to focus on healing, rather than hurt, she said she was able to hear God speak to her like never before, something she hoped all the students would experience.
“I want His power. I want His peace. I want His provision. I want His protection. But the only thing I need is His presence,” she said. “There are times when I’m seeking His presence, and I feel God, the angel armies, and I am ready to go. … And there are times I am broken on the floor. And He is picking me up, and He is putting me in His father-lap, and He is rubbing my hair, and He is pouring His love over me and singing over me in His presence. And I walk out of there with peace and rest.”