As his football rehabilitation tour continues, Hugh Freeze spoke at the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday night.
As he has at other speaking engagements, Freeze recounted his football coaching career all the way up to his tumultuous departure from Ole Miss last summer and his subsequent pursuit of redemption.
Freeze’s tenure as Rebels head coach came to an end when it was discovered that he made phone calls to escort services from his university-issued cellphone. His program was also under NCAA investigation and was later hit with heavy sanctions.
“July 21 of last year, I professionally hit rock bottom. I paid a heck of a price for it. It’s not been much fun,” Freeze said per the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “I didn’t honor [my wife] Jill. I was wrong. If I didn’t do anything wrong, then that doesn’t happen. I’ve been spending the last year and a half wondering how do I get back the pure motives for what you do and why you do it?”
Unemployed Freeze points to the ‘climate in America’
After Freeze’s speech, he answered questions from reporters in attendance. Once asked if Freeze feels he has been blackballed by SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. Freeze was connected to several assistant coaching positions in the SEC earlier this year, including at Alabama. According to Al.com, however, the SEC, specifically Sankey, put a stop to it.
In his answer, Freeze wondered if the “climate in America” played a role in him not getting a job.
“That’s an interesting question. This past year there were several schools who showed great interest in me. For whatever reason, they all ended the same way. I think that’s probably a question that’s better asked for people that had discussions in regards to my employment. It’s probably unfair for me to speculate on that,” Freeze said.
“I think the climate in America the last year probably affects a lot of administrator’s decision making. If they don’t take the time to really hear what our story is, they probably can come quick to make some type of judgement. Maybe that happened. Maybe it didn’t.”
Multiple outlets reported that Freeze met with Saban in January. The Al.com report said Saban was set to bring Freeze in as a co-offensive coordinator and position coach, but Sankey “encouraged otherwise.” The conference apparently was not in favor of the optics of Freeze getting another job so soon after his resignation and the impending NCAA sanctions, including a two-year bowl ban, against the Ole Miss football program.
What Freeze meant with his “climate in America” comment isn’t totally clear.
Freeze was ‘kind of angry’ about not getting hired
Alabama was just one program that showed interest in Freeze. After all of those opportunities fell through, he admitted he was upset.
“I’m honored that some coaches in this league know me for who I am and felt like, ‘we need to go after this guy.’ I hate it didn’t work out and at the time I was kind of angry or wondering, ‘what the heck is going on?’ Freeze said. “But looking back, there’s been some neat things that have happened this last year and had I jumped right back into it I wouldn’t have gotten to experience those. I try to find the glass half full.”
Freeze still hopes to be back on the sideline sooner rather than later.
“I hope I don’t have to do that much longer. So does Jill. She tells me every day, ‘It’s time for you to go back to work,'” Freeze said.
The SEC has an ‘unethical conduct’ bylaw
Freeze has established himself has a really good offensive coach, so it’s understandable why SEC programs would pursue him. But the SEC could point to a “hiring practices” bylaw if it did indeed tell member institutions not to hire Freeze.
SEC bylaw 22.214.171.124 says if a school is considering hiring an individual “who has engaged in unethical conduct” or has participated in activity that resulted in Level I or Level II NCAA violations, the school president is “expected to consult directly with the Commissioner” before any hire can be finalized.
Member institutions shall exercise best efforts to hire individuals committed to rules compliance. In connection with this requirement, member institutions shall thoroughly evaluate an individual’s record of rules compliance prior to offering employment for any coaching position or noncoaching position with sport-specific responsibilities. While each member institution makes its own hiring decisions, member institutions shall, at a minimum, request specific information from each candidate concerning his/her rules compliance record and communicate with NCAA enforcement and the Conference office regarding the same prior to offering employment to any candidate.
In addition, when a member institution considers hiring an individual who has engaged in unethical conduct as defined under NCAA Bylaws or who has participated in activity that resulted, or may result, in a Level I, Level II or major infraction, the President or Chancellor of that member institution is expected to consult directly with the Commissioner prior to offering employment to the individual.
Freeze was Ole Miss’ coach when NCAA violations occurred, so the SEC had the authority to stop him from being hired.
Nick Saban understood both sides of the equation.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Hugh Freeze as a coach,” Saban said via Al.com. “I think he did a fabulous job when he was at Ole Miss. He has been a friend that I’ve shared ideas with and spent time with and know his family. So we have a tremendous amount of respect for him. We also have a lot of respect for the SEC and what they think is, in some cases, best for the league relative to circumstances that people created for themselves.”
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