Q&A with LU football head coach Hugh Freeze
The college football season never ends for a coach. While players get some time off, and fans spend most of the summer in eager anticipation for the return of the season, the job of a coach continues. Not even a global pandemic can make the responsibilities of a college football coach grind to a half. This week, assistant sports editor Chad Wylie spoke with Liberty Football Head Coach Hugh Freeze over the phone, looking back on his first year at Liberty, talking about the impact of COVID-19 and moving toward the 2020 regular season.
Chad Wylie: You have to replace a lot of offensive production this year, and that starts with the quarterback position. Johnathan Bennett and Malik Willis have been in the program, and new QB Chris Ferguson has completed his transfer from Maine. Are you expecting a quarterback competition this summer, or have you picked a starter already?
Hugh Freeze: I expect a competition. Competition makes us better, especially in the quarterback room. You have to have great leadership and competitors in that room. Unfortunately, we did not get to go through spring, so we will be starting when we get the green light from the NCAA, but it will definitely be a competition.
Wylie: How is recruiting different for you in an era with physical social distancing in place?
Freeze: You can learn a lot about a recruit through FaceTime. What you can’t get are the in-person evaluations to see them compete, how they act on the field, how they lead, are they a good teammate? That’s the part you’re missing because normally we can go see that first-hand, and now we won’t have that part of the evaluation done.
Wylie: I don’t want to ask you questions as if you are a medical expert and not a football coach, but based on what you have read and heard, do you expect to coach football this season, or are you mentally preparing yourself for the idea that football won’t happen?
Freeze: I’m probably a little different. I don’t worry about a lot of things in life anymore. I go week by week with my mind. All I know to do is this week: recruit, meet with my staff, watch film and try and make sure our players are in a good state of mind and body and academically doing well. Anything that you would allow to play tricks with your mind or cause anxiety for something that is months out is totally wasted time. I know right now the job I have for this week, and I want to do that to the best of my ability.
Wylie: Having gone to and won a bowl game in your first year at Liberty, how do you stay hungry after that first-year success, and what are your goals for the team to improve on that success?
Freeze: I’m not big on setting goals, like, ‘This is what it should look like.’ The goal I have is a standard we should chase every day. The programs I’ve led that have done that have been able to have good success. I think it is remarkable that we were able to go to a bowl game in year one and win it, that should be a standard that we get measured by. It’s not hard to motivate myself. Good coaches are made that way. And if you ever get to the point where you have to motivate yourself to stay hungry, that’s the time to retire.
Wylie: Did you have the opportunity to talk to your team before they all went home?
Freeze: We met right before spring break. I told them I had no clue what after spring break would look like, but that we trust in a God who is not surprised, and we shouldn’t be either. We control what we can control and do our best with the circumstances we have. Since then, our coaches FaceTime our players every week and I am on with them every other week.
Wylie: Currently being one of a few independent programs in the FBS, is one of your goals to be in a conference and are you part of that decision?
Freeze: If it’s the right time, and the right conference, we are very open to that. It’s not something I control, so I don’t think about it a lot. There are advantages to being independent, with setting our own schedules and giving our kids a variety of experiences instead of being locked into a conference schedule. I trust in our administration who would be involved in those discussions and would include me at the appropriate time.
Wylie: The first time you came to Liberty, for Convocation, what struck me was how vulnerable you were and you asked the student body, and Christians as a whole, to forgive you. What kind of reception have you felt from Liberty students you have talked to or heard from?
Freeze: I could not be more pleased with the interactions I’ve had with students, faculty and administration. The support I’ve received from them, the welcoming, the grace – I think that is what real Christians are. Jesus wasn’t much for hanging out with the religious superiors, and I have found this place to be welcoming and forgiving, and I couldn’t want (anything) more from the way they’ve treated my daughters, my wife and myself.
Chad Wylie is the Asst. Sports editor. Follow him on Twitter @chadewylie