A winning tradition at the highest level of NCAA collegiate football was brought to Liberty Mountain when Hugh Freeze was introduced as the ninth head coach in football program history on Dec. 7, 2018.
Just like the other stops along his storied coaching career, Freeze has quickly elevated Liberty's program to unprecedented success during his short time with the Flames.
Freeze has experienced similar success at each of his head coaching stops: Lambuth University (2008-09), Arkansas State (2011) and Ole Miss (2012-16) and Liberty (2019-20).
Liberty is the second team in NCAA history to win a bowl game during its first two full seasons at the FBS level (2019 and 2020), both coming under Freeze's leadership.
Additionally, Freeze guided the Flames through one of the most unique seasons in NCAA college football history in 2020 where Liberty finished the year ranked No. 17 in the country and tied a program record with a 10-1 overall record.
After leading the Flames to an 8-5 record in 2019 and a 10-1 mark in 2020, Freeze has posted a combined 60-38 mark in nine seasons as a head coach (See ^ note below for more information about career coaching record).
Freeze's renowned high-powered offense allowed two of the program's best offensive standouts to cement their names in Liberty's record books with numbers that may last for quite some time during his first seasons at Liberty.
Wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden finished his career as the program's all-time career leader in receiving yards (3,814), receptions (240) and touchdowns. Gandy-Golden was a semifinalist for the 2019 Biletnikoff Award and was named to the Phil Steele All-America team.
Quarterback Stephen Calvert completed his days in a Liberty uniform passing for a program record 12,025 career passing yards, 93 career touchdowns and 896 career competitions.
As a team, Liberty finished the 2019 season ranked No. 21 in the country in passing offense (288.9 yards per game) and No. 32 in total offense (439.4 yards per game). Liberty posted an 8-5 record, the most wins for a Flames football team since 2014.
The Flames capped their first season under Freeze with a 23-16 victory over Sun Belt Conference member Georgia Southern in the 2019 FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl on Dec. 21, 2019, at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
Under Freeze's direction, Liberty had a season of "firsts" in 2020, including the team's first-ever national ranking, first win over an ACC opponent, the best start in school history (8-0 to start 2020), first-ever win over a top-25 FBS program and back-to-back bowl game wins.
Liberty defeated a pair of ACC foes in Syracuse and in-state opponent Virginia Tech. The two wins made Liberty the first non-Power 5 team to post a pair of wins over ACC schools in the same season since Houston in 2015.
The Flames finished the season with a 10-1 record, tying the program's record for wins in a season (Liberty finished the 2008 season with a 10-2 record).
Liberty made a return trip the Cure Bowl in 2020, upsetting No. 9/11 Coastal Carolina, 37-34, on Dec. 26 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. The game was widely viewed as the one of the most exciting bowl games of the 2020 Bowl Season and was the most watched bowl game involving "Group of Five" teams since the 2017 Armed Forces Bowl with 2.62 million viewers on ESPN.
The Flames set a school record for rushing yards in a season in 2020 (2,776) and ranked No. 9 in the country in rushing offense.
Liberty also ranked No. 15 in the country in total offense (482.7 yards per game) and No. 11 in total defense (317.7 yards per game). The Flames were one of three teams in the country to rank in the top 20 in both total offense and total defense in 2020, joining Clemson and BYU.
Spearheading Liberty's outstanding offense in 2020 was quarterback Malik Willis. The Auburn quarterback burst onto the national season by leading the nation in rushing yards (944) and touchdowns (14) by a FBS quarterback.
Willis, along with defensive end Durrell Johnson, earned All-America honors and were one of 16 Flames named to the Phil Steele Postseason All-Independent Team. Willis, who started to draw attention for the Heisman Trophy award during the season, was named to the Davey O'Brien Award Quarterback Class of 2020 listing was on the 2020 Maxwell Award watch list.
Freeze's efforts to quickly lift Liberty to national prominence did not go unnoticed in 2020. Freeze was one of six finalists the George Munger Collegiate Coach of the Year Award.
The half dozen standout coaches named as finalist for the award include Tom Allen (Indiana), Ryan Day (Ohio State), Jamey Chadwell (Coastal Carolina), Luke Fickell (Cincinnati), Hugh Freeze (Liberty) and Nick Saban (Alabama).
When hired at Liberty on Dec. 7, 2018, Freeze brought over 25 years of continued coaching success, including head coaching experience that has led to conference titles, nationally ranked recruiting classes and bowl appearances at multiple stops during his highly decorated career.
Prior to his current coaching position at Liberty, the native of Oxford, Miss., returned to his hometown school and led it back to championship form during his five seasons as head coach at Ole Miss (2012-16).
Freeze guided Ole Miss to bowl games during three of his five years with the Rebels, including victories in the Music City bowl (2013 season) and the Sugar Bowl (2015 season).
Freeze's time in Oxford was highlighted by a 10-3 campaign in 2015, the program's first 10-win season since 2003. The Rebels won their first four games of the 2015 season, including a 43-37 road victory over No. 2 Alabama, Ole Miss' first win in Tuscaloosa, Ala., since 1988.
Alabama went on to claim the national title, finishing the season with a 14-1 overall record. The Crimson Tide's loss to Ole Miss marked the third time in program history that the Rebels were the national champion's only loss during their championship season.
The 2015 campaign also included a thrilling 38-27 win over No. 21 Mississippi State in its rivalry "Egg Bowl" game with the Bulldogs and a 48-20 win over No. 16 Oklahoma State in a New Year's Six bowl game in a Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl contest.
Ole Miss was ranked as high as No. 3 in the national polls in both 2014 and 2015 and finished top 10 in the country for the first time since 1969 after the Sugar Bowl win (No. 9 in the coaches poll and No. 10 in the Associated Press poll).
Ole Miss was a mainstay in the national polls during Freeze's tenure, including top 25 rankings for 45 weeks over his five-year coaching stay and a string of 27-straight weeks in the polls for the first time since 1957-62.
In 2013, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) awarded Freeze the Grant Teaff Coach of the Year award. Freeze has been heavily involved with FCA during his entire coaching career and has been featured in the FCA Magazine and spoken at FCA functions.
Freeze was also a finalist for the 2014 Bear Bryant Award and the 2014 Dobb Trophy. The Bear Bryant Award is given annually to the top NCAA National Coach of the Year, while the Dobb Trophy honors the head coach whose team excels on the field, in the classroom and in the community.
Freeze has an eye for the nation's most talented high school players, collecting four nationally ranked recruiting classes at Ole Miss. In 2013 and 2016, his recruiting classes ranked in the top five nationally, making them the best in program history.
Freeze and his staff developed 20 players who earned All-SEC honors, including All-Americans Cody Prewitt, Senquez Golson, Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, Evan Engram, Laquon Treadwell and Trae Elston.
Treadwell was named Ole Miss' first ever SEC Freshman of the Year in 2013 and became the school's first Biletnikoff Award finalist in 2015. Nkemdiche was the first defensive lineman to be named a Hornung Award finalist. Engram won the Ozzie Newsome Award and Pop Warner College Football Award following the 2016 season.
Eleven Ole Miss players were selected in the NFL Draft during Freeze's time as head coach, including first-rounder Engram as well as D.J. Jones, Derrick Jones and Chad Kelly hearing their names called in the latest draft. In 2016, the Rebels had three first-round draft picks in Tunsil, Treadwell and Nkemdiche. Moncrief, Donte Golson, Fahn Cooper and Cody Core were also drafted over the last four years.
Before returning to Oxford, the former Ole Miss assistant experienced a record-setting run at Arkansas State.
With Freeze as head coach in 2011, the Red Wolves captured the Sun Belt Conference championship and became just the third school in Sun Belt history to finish undefeated in league play with a perfect 8-0 mark. The 10-2 overall record marked the program's first 10-win season since 1986, when ASU was a member of the I-AA Southland Conference.
In the best debut season ever by an A-State head coach, Freeze became just the 14th FBS first-year head coach to win 10 regular season games. He also returned ASU to a bowl game for the first time since 2005.
Freeze was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year, while 13 of his pupils earned all-conference honors. Freeze's first season in Jonesboro saw him serve as Arkansas State's offensive coordinator, guiding the Red Wolves' offense to a record-breaking year in 2010.
ASU, ranked No. 42 in the nation in scoring offense, finished the season averaging 30 points a game and recorded at least 20 points in 11 consecutive games for the first time in school history. Freeze's offense scored 46 touchdowns for the fourth-most in school history and the most since the 1975 season.
Prior to his arrival at Arkansas State, Freeze compiled a 20-5 record over the 2008 and 2009 seasons at the helm of the Lambuth University football program in Jackson, Tenn.
Freeze was named the American Football Coaches Association's Southeast Region Coach of the Year in 2009 after leading the Eagles to their best regular season in school history with an 11-0 record.
Under Freeze's direction, Lambuth won the Mid-South Conference West Division, advanced to the second round of the NAIA playoffs for the first time since 1999, finished the year with a 12-1 mark and ascended to the No. 6 ranking in NAIA.
The Mid-South Conference Coach of the Year oversaw the offense and called plays for a Lambuth team that averaged more than 40 points per game and ranked ninth nationally in total offense (465 ypg). The Eagles also ranked first in the nation in fourth-down conversions, fourth in first downs per game and third-down conversions, fifth in passing and eighth in scoring offense.
Prior to taking over as head coach at Lambuth, Freeze served on the Ole Miss staff from 2005-07, including the final two seasons as an assistant coach.
Before going to Ole Miss, Freeze served 13 years at Briarcrest Christian School (Memphis, Tenn.) as a classroom teacher, coach and administrator. He was the Saints' head football coach from 1995 to 2004, running the no-huddle "spread system" for six years that led to six straight state championship games.
Freeze compiled a 99-23 record while at Briarcrest, which included an undefeated season in 1996 and led the school to state championship titles in 2002 and 2004. Briarcrest won regional titles in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001 and 2002, and Freeze was named the Region 8-AA Coach of the Year five times and Associated Press Coach of the Year four times.
Among his talented pupils during that period were eventual Rebels and former NFL starters Michael Oher and Greg Hardy.
Before assuming the role of head coach at Briarcrest, Freeze served as the teams' offensive coordinator and defensive backs coach from 1992-94, as the Saints reached the TSSAA state semifinals twice.
A 1988 graduate of Senatobia High School, Freeze received an associate's degree from Northwest Mississippi Community College in 1990 and was a two-year letterwinner on the Ranger baseball team. He earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics with a minor in coaching and sports administration from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1992.
It was while attending USM that he became active in mission projects, serving as a missionary in Houston, Salt Lake City, St. Petersburg, Russia and Australia. Freeze also served as the state president for the Mississippi Baptist Student Union.
Born in Oxford and raised in Independence, Mississippi, Hugh, and his wife, Jill, are the parents of three daughters: Ragan, Jordan and Madison.
Freeze's Head Coaching Career By the Numbers
Liberty (2019-20) 1 – Led the program to its first ever bowl game appearance and bowl game victory in 2019 2 – Liberty is one of two teams in NCAA history to win bowl games during their first two full seasons at the FBS level 3 – Liberty was one of three teams in the country in 2020 to rank in the top 20 in both total offense and total defense, joining Clemson and BYU 6 – Freeze was one of six finalist for the 2020 George Munger Collegiate Coach of the Year Award 8 – Total wins during his first season at Liberty, the program's highest win total since 20149 – Nationally ranked rushing offense in 2020 (252.4 yards per game) 9 – The Flames knocked off No. 9/11 ranked Coastal Carolina in the 2020 Cure Bowl, marking the first time Liberty had defeated a nationally ranked FBS opponent in program history 10 – Liberty tied a program record with 10 wins during the 2020 season 11 – Players named to the 2019 Phil Steele FBS Independent All-Conference teams 11 – Nationally ranked total defense in 2020 (317.7 yards allowed per game) 16 – Players named to the 2020 Phil Steele FBS Independent All-Conference teams 17 – The Flames finished the 2020 season ranked No. 17 in the final Associated Press poll, its first-ever end of the year national ranking 21 – Nationally ranked passing offense in 2019 (288.9 yards per game) 32 – Nationally ranked total offense in 2019 (439.4 yards per game)
Ole Miss (2012-16) 1 – Top ranked scoring defense in the country in 2014 (16.0 points allowed per game) 2 – Alabama's national ranking when Ole Miss defeated the Crimson Tide, 43-37, in Tuscaloosa, Fla., on Sept. 19, 2015 marking the Rebel's first road win in the series since 1988 3 – Bowl game appearances (2013 season: Music City Bowl; 2014 season: Peach Bowl; 2015 season: Sugar Bowl) 4 – Top 15 ranked recruiting classes, including top-five classes in 2013 and 2016 5 – Wins over nationally ranked teams during a 10-win 2015 season 7 – All-Americans coached during his time at Ole Miss 11 – Ole Miss players selected in the NFL Draft during Freeze's coaching tenure, including three first-round selections in the 2016 NFL Draft 18 – Number of times Ole Miss scored 40 or more points in a game during Freeze's coaching career with the Rebels, including six games with 50 or more points scored 19 – Players who participated in mission trips to Panama and Haiti during Freeze's five years 20 – Players who earned All-SEC honors during his five-year coaching tenure at Ole Miss 27 – Consecutive weeks ranked in the national top-25 polls, the program's most consecutive weeks in the national rankings since the 1950s 40.8 – Points per game scored by Ole Miss in 2015, which ranked No. 8 in the country in scoring offense 45 – Total weeks ranked in the national top-25 polls during his time in Oxford, Miss. 48 – Third most points scored by a team in the history of the Sugar Bowl when Ole Miss defeated No. 21 Oklahoma State on Jan. 1, 2016 (Won, 48-20) 121 – Players who earned their degrees during Freeze's time as head coach 459.5 – Yards per game the Rebels averaged during Freeze's five seasons at Ole Miss 2013 – Grant Teaff Coach of the Year award winner 2014 – Finalist for the Bear Bryant Award and the Dobb Trophy
Arkansas State (2011) 1 – First 10-win season in the Arkansas State's time as an FBS program 3 – Number of times a team has finished a season undefeated in conference play in the Sun Belt Conference, including Freeze's 8-0 mark in 2011 9 – Consecutive wins during the Red Wolves 10-3 season 13 – Players who earned All-Sun Belt Conference honors, including both the league's Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year
Lambuth (2008-09) 8 – National ranking in scoring offense in 2009, averaging 38.1 points per game 10 – Weeks ranked in the national top-10 NAIA rankings in 2009, including a final season ranking of No. 6 11 – Regular season wins during the 2009 season, marking the first undefeated regular season in school history 16 – Combined weeks ranked in the top-25 national polls during the 2008 and 2009 seasons 446.6 – Yards per game the Lambuth in 2009, which ranked No. 10 in the country
Freeze at a Glance
Coaching Experience: 2019-Present – Liberty (Head Coach) 2018 – Arizona Hotshots (Offensive Coordinator/Oct. 2018 – Dec. 2018) 2012-16 – Ole Miss (Head Coach) 2011 – Arkansas State (Head Coach) 2010 – Arkansas State (Offensive Coordinator) 2010 – San Jose State (Offensive Coordinator/Dec. 2009 – Feb. 2010) 2008-09 – Lambuth (Head Coach) 2006-07 – Ole Miss (Tight Ends/Recruiting Coordinator) 2005 – Ole Miss (Assistant AD for Football External Affairs) 1995-04 – Briarcrest High School/Tenn. (High Coach) 1992-94 – Briarcrest High School/Tenn. (Offensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs) Education: B.S., Mathematics (Southern Miss, '92) Hometown: Oxford, Miss. Wife: Jill Children: Ragan, Jordan and Madison
College Head Coaching Records: Year School Overall Conf. Conf. Finish Postseason 2008 Lambuth 8-4 4-1 2nd MWC West - 2009 Lambuth 12-1 6-0 1st MWC West - 2011 Arkansas State 10-2 8-0 1st Sun Belt GoDaddy.com Bowl * 2012 Ole Miss 0-6 ^ 0-5 ^ 5th SEC West 2013 Ole Miss 1-5 ^ 0-5 ^ T-5th SEC West Music City Bowl 2014 Ole Miss 1-4 ^ 0-3 ^ 3rd SEC West Peach Bowl 2015 Ole Miss 10-3 6-2 2nd SEC West Sugar Bowl 2016 Ole Miss 0-7 ^ 0-6 ^ 7th SEC West 2019 Liberty 8-5 NA -- Cure Bowl 2020 Liberty 10-1 NA -- Cure Bowl TOTALS 60-38 (.612) 5 Bowl Berths * - Did Not Coach Arkansas State during the GoDaddy.com Bowl in 2011 ^ - Record reflects 27 total vacated wins during the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016 seasons and bowl game appearances in 2012 (BBVA Compass Bowl)
Career Coaching Honors: 2020 George Munger Collegiate Coach of the Year finalist 2013 Grant Teaff FCA Coach of the Year 2011 Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year 2009 AFCA Southeast Region Coach of the Year 2009 Mid-South Conference Coach of the Year 5-Time Region 8-AA Coach of the Year 4-Time Associated Press High School Coach of the Year