Auburn has been in discussion with Liberty‘s Hugh Freeze for weeks about him becoming the school’s next football coach, sources told ESPN’s Pete Thamel.
Sources said the Tigers are not expected to make a formal offer until after Saturday’s Iron Bowl game against Alabama, but the sides have informally discussed a contract for more than a week.
Auburn’s pursuit of Freeze has come into focus after Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said earlier this week that he intended to stay with the Rebels even if the Tigers offered him their head-coaching position. Kiffin then told ESPN’s Chris Low on Saturday that he had agreed to a contract extension with Ole Miss.
New Auburn athletic director John Cohen, who was hired Oct. 31, had narrowed the search to Kiffin and Freeze and heavily vetted both coaches, sources told Low.
Freeze would return to the SEC after spending five seasons at Ole Miss from 2012 to 2016. Freeze went 39-25 for the Rebels before he resigned in July 2017 after being found to have used a university-provided cell phone to call a number associated with an escort service.
Ole Miss was also placed on NCAA probation in 2017 for violations that occurred in part under Freeze, and the sanctions included a two-year bowl ban.
Freeze, while cited by the NCAA’s committee on infractions for failure to monitor his assistant coaches and the school’s boosters, did not receive a show-cause penalty and “promoted an atmosphere of compliance,” according to the NCAA report.
The 53-year-old Freeze rose back to prominence with the Flames. After Turner Gill went 6-6 in Liberty’s first full-time FBS season in 2018, Freeze raised the bar, going 8-5, 10-1 and 8-5 in his first three seasons. That run included a Cure Bowl victory over No. 9 Coastal Carolina in 2020.
The Flames are 8-3 this season, including a win over Arkansas on Nov. 5.
Sources told ESPN that Freeze’s history of winning and the study of his analytics and quarterback development made him attractive. Auburn officials also considered Freeze an elite fit in the community, with an outgoing nature that fits the program’s college-town vibe.
Freeze had signed a new eight-year contract with Liberty in October. His salary, which sources told Thamel was just under $5 million per year, put him among the highest-paid coaches in the Group of 5.
Auburn fired Bryan Harsin on Oct. 31 after a four-game losing streak dropped the Tigers to 3-5 on the season. Harsin was 9-12 overall in less than two seasons at Auburn, which experienced repeated struggles on offense and had difficulty sustaining success on the recruiting trail. Auburn owed Harsin a $15.5 million buyout, with 50% of that due within 30 days of termination.
Entering Saturday, the Tigers have gone 2-1 under interim coach Cadillac Williams, a former star running back at the school.
Freeze would become Auburn’s third head coach in the past four years. Gus Malzahn, currently at UCF, was fired at the end of the 2020 season before Harsin lasted parts of two seasons.
The Tigers last won an SEC championship in 2013, Malzahn’s first season as coach, when they also played in the BCS national championship game, losing to Florida State.
Auburn, Hugh Freeze have discussed coaching job, sources say