Hugh Freeze positioned to find rapid success in Auburn amid the modern college football landscape

Hugh Freeze didn’t return to college football’s biggest stage Monday so much as big college football came to Hugh Freeze.

After a five-year absence from the Power Five, the best coach to personally coach a game from a hospital bed is back at the SEC in a familiar, highly available landing pad known for doing whatever it takes to win. This one happens to be called Auburn.

It could have been any number of schools that brought Freeze back in this age of NIL rights and transfer portal.

Most of what led to violations of NCAA rules during Freeze’s time at Ole Miss can now be easily circumvented, either through regulations the NCAA put in place or through practices they don’t want to prosecute.

Freeze’s Ole Miss program was was placed on probation in 2017 and received a two-year bowl ban included. At the time, the NCAA said Ole Miss “encouraged an unrestricted culture of booster involvement.”

Well, that will get you a national championship these days.

While that’s not to take away from the fact that NCAA rules existed and Freeze blatantly broke them — creating a major scandal in the process — it does show just how much college football has changed since it didn’t was more at the SEC.

The Auburn takeover begins with the Tigers’ NIL war chest. Auburn collective On to Victory reportedly raised $13 million to compensate players in its first few months of operation. That makes them one of the strongest in the country. It’s all legal until the NCAA or Congress say it isn’t.

Do not hold your breath that none of them will make such a decision. The NCAA deregulates and takes a backseat as an enforcer Congress has far bigger fish to cook.

As such, Freeze becomes an asset in talent acquisition. We know he can train. Just watch him use a money howitzer to recruit and transfer. This is one of the reasons why Freeze makes perfect sense since the Tigers’ Plan B didn’t work after Plan A (Lane Kiffin).

With players This Short of unionizing or engaging in collective bargaining, the first conference to cut off some of its massive media rights revenue to the workforce will own the recruiting landscape. Try to bet the SEC is first. Don’t be surprised if Freeze isn’t among the first to creatively arm player acquisition.

College football coaches everywhere whine about how hard it is to get their jobs done these days. Freeze was ready to crawl over broken glass to Auburn. This was a comeback that might never have happened if collegiate athletics hadn’t moved right into Freeze’s wheelhouse.

In other words, modern college football is tailored for him.

About 3 1/2 months before the NCAA gavel fell on the Ole Miss program for violations under Freeze’s supervision, the coach resigned from his position after it was discovered he had done it inappropriate calls on a school-issued mobile device to a phone number “associated with a female escort service.”

While this was “entirely unrelated to the NCAA matter,” as an Ole Miss attorney said at the time, standing at Freeze made it from difficult to impossible when these missteps were combined with circumventing NCAA rules.

More than five years later, it is left to the consumer to decide where to draw the line.

For a while, college administrators drew that line on Hugh Freeze. On Monday, Auburn deleted it.

What has changed is not Freeze as a trainer. Not after serving a sort of de facto deportation at Liberty, where he went a respectable 34-15 in four seasons and sent quarterback Malik Willis to the NFL. When the time came, Freeze would always find another Power Five job.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has apparently cleared Freeze’s return to his conference. This is after Sankey reportedly “encouraged” Alabama not to hire Freeze for a coordinator position a few years ago.

Freeze previously said he has rectified his personal misdeeds. He still needs some coaching for his self-destructive habit of starting online spats about perceived slights – at least one of which has been made public — but that’s for Auburn’s human resources department to handle.

Perhaps Freeze as a Plan B isn’t as desirable as the clear Plan A, but Kiffin flatly dismissed Auburn. It was time to move on, and there was no obvious Plan C. The last thing Auburn needed was more dysfunction that a lengthy coaching search would have caused.

The Tigers have a proven winner and recruiter. The only other active coach to have beaten Nick Saban at least twice (Gus Malzahn) also made it at Auburn. Malzahn returns next year with UCF in the Big 12 to the Power Five.

Freeze will now become part of a coaching armada trying to take over post-Saban when the great Alabama coach eventually retires. Maybe they can outlast him, starting at the SEC West with Kiffin, Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher and LSU’s Brian Kelly. At 53, Freeze becomes the second youngest of these Saban challengers in the West, behind Kiffin (47).

The rules are new and brimming with potential. Some schools in the NIL era were forced to make a choice: put money into facilities or players. Auburn has the resources to do both. It is painfully aware that it will remain so Miscellaneous Program in the state scrapes hard 24/7/365 against the giant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

On Monday, Auburn and Freeze made headlines for at least a day.

That is a beginning.

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