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“After a thoughtful, thorough, and well-vetted search,” Auburn University athletic director John Cohen said in a statement introducing his newly hired head football coach, “we ended where we started, with Hugh Freeze.”
The only truthful words in that sentence are the ones about the result being exactly what Auburn wanted all along. The first part is bullshit.
That’s Chelsea Andrews, one of 12 women who filed a lawsuit accusing Liberty University of “enabling on-campus rapes.” This summer, she also criticized Liberty’s employment of Ian McCaw, who’d been in charge of the Baylor athletic department during its sexual assault epidemic. And then a powerful man with a shitty history chose to challenge a sexual assault survivor in defense of another powerful man with a shitty history:
The rest of Freeze’s DMs reveal him whimpering at Andrews about her statements making Liberty look bad.
In two ways, this was extremely Freeze behavior. For years, he’d already been infamous on college football Twitter for name-searching himself and whining about criticism from people who make a tenth of his salary. And as a country-club Christian, attempting to silence critique by vaguely referencing religion is his entire personality.
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Freeze’s history of scandals includes some NCAA stuff and some philanderous stuff. But it’s his unquestioning, stiff-necked, cruel, and arrogant treatment of Andrews that stands out for me as an actual scandal worth Auburn’s investigatory time, along with this from years prior, on Freeze’s stint as The High School Coach From The Blind Side Movie:
Katie Dalmasso, 32, said she was an eighth grader at Briarcrest in 1999 when Freeze made her change shirts inside his office after he said her Grateful Dead T-shirt violated school dress code.
“Coach Freeze pulled me in his office and told me that my shirt represented drugs,’’ Dalmasso said. “I said, ‘I’ll go change in the bathroom,’ and when I said that he said, ‘No, you’re going to change in here so I get the (Grateful Dead) shirt and you can’t have it back.’
“He didn’t do anything sexual. But I stood in the corner and faced the wall when I did it and I changed out of my shirt. No privacy.’’
Another former Briarcrest student said Freeze was “hyper attentive’’ to the length of her skirts and that he loomed in the parking lot after she would go to her car to change clothes. She also said she was troubled by the time she and some football players faced discipline for arriving late from lunch, when she asked to be paddled — a form of discipline reserved for the male students — instead of receiving detention. She said she was stunned when Freeze obliged rather than getting a female teacher.
“(Freeze) did some bizarre warm-up taunt before actually making contact,’’ said the woman, who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because she said she fears reprisal. “I was humiliated that he didn't have a female in the room.
“I don't know if the acts were intentionally sexual or if he was really that oblivious to the inherently sexual nature of his approach to discipline.’’
A third woman who attended Briarcrest said she created a closed Facebook page last week to offer a safe place to discuss Freeze after some former Briarcrest students received threats for criticizing the coach and making allegations about him online.
The woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she fears reprisal, said she found Freeze’s method of discipline “shocking.’’
Honestly, Freeze accepting a job at the LGBTQphobic and sexist Liberty should count as an additional scandal, but that place has just about successfully sportswashed itself, thanks to the complicity of other athletic departments.
Right now, I feel bad for a lot of Auburn fans, many of whom expressed embarrassment about their school considering Freeze, let alone hiring him. However, Cohen said, “Of all the candidates we considered, Hugh was the best fit. Fit has several meanings, but the most important factors were student-athlete development, football strategy, recruiting and SEC experience.”
Ok, let’s do this. Skip to the next section if you don’t care about Football Talk.
Freeze’s accomplishments include a Sugar Bowl victory, a Peach Bowl participation trophy, and two wins over Nick Saban, the guy most coaches can’t beat once. That’s pretty good. But let’s examine Auburn’s stated hiring criteria.
1. Student-athlete development: Always assume this refers to the athlete part. Here, it’s extra true, because Freeze sure as shit isn’t a Molder Of Men.
There’s no perfect way to determine whether a coach is an especially great developer of players, so let’s try the usual approximation: How often have Freeze’s teams exceeded the expectations established by their raw talent? Here are three data points:
In 2015, 247Sports’ Team Talent Composite estimated Ole Miss’ roster as the 19th most loaded in college football, based on each player’s former ratings. That team then finished the season #10 in the AP Poll and sent five players to the next NFL Draft, including three first-rounders. Not incredible, but very good. And hey, Freeze recruited those first-rounders! That’s great, right? Hang on.
That same metric judged Freeze’s 2016 team even more talented, 15th best in the country. That team then went 5-7 as Freeze was fired for the rare mid-scandal scandal: repeatedly using his university-issued phone to arrange escort services while the NCAA was investigating his program for hella recruiting violations. Oh right, that’s how Freeze acquired those first-rounders.
At Liberty, Freeze went 34-15 despite inheriting one of FBS’ least talented rosters. Considering the general ease of Liberty’s schedules, sure, that’s pretty good. His teams also produced a couple draft picks, a decent achievement for a lower-tier independent.
Let’s give Freeze’s performance in this area a shrug.
2. Football strategy: Freeze has the same general philosophy as fellow former high school coach Gus Malzahn, who beat Saban three times and won a national title as an offensive coordinator. Malzahn did those things at Auburn, BTW. Yep, Auburn’s disgracing itself to hire the lesser version of the guy they paid $21.5 million to leave.
3. Recruiting: Among the teams in the soon-to-be 16-team SEC, Auburn has historically averaged the seventh-best recruiting class. How’s Freeze going to consistently out-recruit Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma, or Texas, now that everyone’s allowed to use his simply-pay-the-recruits trick and every rival coach will ask players’ parents, “If Auburn isn’t even willing to trust Freeze with his own Twitter account, how can you trust him with your child? Did you know his NCAA trouble included lying to transfer players about how much trouble he was in?”
4. SEC experience: Tons of people have SEC coaching experience, including the locally beloved Cadillac Williams, a former Auburn running back who stepped in as interim coach this season and produced a respectable 2-2 finish.
So if Freeze is a slimy scumbag and not that spectacular of a coach, why’d Auburn hire him? Because he’s famous enough to impress whichever Auburn booster is paying the bulk of his salary. Next question.
Now let’s talk about what made me mad enough to post about sports on a newsletter where I try to avoid posting about sports.
“I’d love for you to tell me when people will get over it,” [Freeze] says, his dirty blond locks peeking through a visor and feet propped on his desk.
“I think 80% of them are realistic and say, ‘Dude, he’s made a mistake and paid a price. Good Lord... let him be,’” Freeze continues. “There’s another 20% that never will be over it. I’ve kind of come to grips with that.”
[…] “I don’t want to sound callous but it’s, like, ‘Here are the people important to me and the rest of y’all can…”
[…] “To my knowledge, I’ve tried, with anybody I could, I made sure they knew that if I hurt them I was sorry, but it’s time to move on,” he says. “How many times can we write about it? How many times can we talk about it? I said I was wrong. I’ve paid a price. My family paid a heck of a price. When can we move on?”
That quote’s from 2020, when Freeze had already landed his post-Ole Miss rehab gig at Liberty and was days away from signing a new contract that’d pay him $3 million per year for five more years. He was, in fact, charging a heck of a price.
I don’t care that Freeze paid players. Paying players is the only awesome thing he’s ever done. I don’t care what he did with escorts, and hopefully any transactions were lucrative. These things join the ranks of Freeze’s more concerning scandals because he’d kept lying about them even after gaining the Liberty job, which further exposes the hollow hypocrisy of his pious branding. His assumption that everyone should “get over” his awful behavior reveals he’s surrounded himself with like-minded adults who share a specific misunderstanding of redemption, especially since he then worsened his reputation by trying to intimidate Chelsea Andrews.
Way too many Christians view forgiveness as something to be granted by a third-party arbiter, whom they happen to access via an encrypted connection not available to the human victim. It doesn’t cross their minds that they should face repercussions, make amends, alter behavior, or at very least thump their poorly read Bibles less frequently. They instead rub some church on it, wipe a tear while smiling at other Christians who share the appropriate demographics, and declare the matter resolved. They are then shocked to discover there are people outside their back-slapping huddle who don’t recognize the validity of the Get Out Of Consequences Free Card the offender has imagined into existence.
No one is entitled to anyone else’s trust. And those of us who grew up learning to survive holy-rolling bullshitters are under zero obligation to ever see Freeze as anything but one of them.
Jesus encouraged forgiveness, to be clear. But he also demanded a system in which victims confront wrongdoers, with reconciliation far from automatically guaranteed:
“If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If you are listened to, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If that person refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a tax collector.”
The rest of the Bible includes many reconciliation systems, from the Torah’s cleansing rituals through Revelation’s planet earth remade to God’s standards. Each has requirements, whether that means financial reparations, Ancient Israel’s detailed land covenant with God, or Jesus declaring forgiveness is for forgivers.
I talk a lot about how people raised in high-control religions deserve to let go of guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Millions of our young brains were boiled in indoctrination systems that forced us to regard our every thought and every action as a disappointment or worse. It takes decades to get over, and I’ll let you know when I’m done.
But I’d like to amend my view. Some Christians should learn to feel way fucking more shame. How did so many of us get stuck with an adolescent religion all about unconditional regret, while so many (rich) (white) (straight) (cis) (male) Christians evidently get to enjoy the blissful opposite?
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“Rub some church on it”. Absolutely spot on phrase there.
"It doesn’t cross their minds that they should face repercussions, make amends, alter behavior, or at very least thump their poorly read1 Bibles less frequently. They instead rub some church on it, wipe a tear while smiling at other Christians who share the appropriate demographics, and declare the matter resolved. They are then shocked to discover there are people outside their back-slapping huddle who don’t recognize the validity of the Get Out Of Consequences Free Card the offender has imagined into existence."
Man, terrific work Jason. Glad you have the perfect-for-this-topic brain combo of dumb college football choices and recovering christian-fasco indoctrination. Great read.