If not for Hill Denson, Hugh Freeze might be coaching baseball at a high school or college making a lot less than the reported $2 million a year he’s making at the head football coach of Liberty University.
“The way I figure it, Hugh owes me several million dollars,” Denson said.
It was the fall of 1990 and Freeze, Mark Carson and Bill Selby were rooming together at Southern Miss. All three had played baseball at Northwest Mississippi Community College. Carson came to Southern Miss in the fall of ‘ 89, Freeze and Selby followed in 1990. Selby went on to be an All-American and Carson one of the team’s top pitchers. Freeze didn’t make it too far.
“I really don’t remember Hugh, but I went back and looked at my notes and he was on the list for the first day,” said Denson, then the Southern Miss baseball coach. “Hugh was an outfielder and he was as slow as a turtle according to my notes. I cut him. If I hadn’t cut him, he might have been a baseball coach now making $30,000 or so a year instead of millions.”
Instead, Freeze worked his way up to becoming one of the most high profile and highest paid coaches in college football at Ole Miss, leading the Rebels to national prominence. Freeze, one of the few coaches in the country to beat Alabama’s Nick Saban in back-to-back seasons,resigned in 2017 with Ole Miss facing NCAA recruiting and academic violations.
Freeze has resurfaced at Liberty and has led the Flames to new heights in his second season. Liberty defeated Atlantic Coast Conference member Syracuse 38-21 last week, Liberty’s first win over a Power 5 Conference football team in school history. The Flames are now 5-0, one one of the few undefeated teams in the country and Freeze has a 13-5 record in his two seasons, 8-5 and a bowl win in his first season last year. Now, Freeze and Liberty plays host this Saturday to his alma mater, Southern Miss, where he graduated from in 1992 with a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and a minor in coaching and administration.The teams play each other at noon on ESPN3 in Lynchburg, Va.
Freeze has fond memories of Southern Miss.
“That’s where I met my wife (Jill),” Freeze said. Hugh and Jill met in math class at Southern Miss and were married in July, 1992, and have three daughters, Ragan, Jordan and Madison.
Said Freeze: “I have many dear friends from my time in Hattiesburg.”
Carson might be the closest. Carson and Freeze grew up near each other in Independence, a community in Tate County, Miss., several miles south of the Tennessee border.
“Hugh’s family had a dairy farm and mine had a cattle farm,” Carson said. “Our families went on a lot of camping trips together. We were always on tractors and hauling hay.”
Freeze’s dad, Danny, was Carson’s high school baseball coach at Independence High.
Said Carson: “He was a like a second dad to me.”
Carson knew Jill before Hugh did.
“Jill was a great athlete, she played softball and soccer at Southern Miss,” Carson said. “We were both math majors so we were both missing a lot of classes because of our sports so we became friends and spent time together catching up on our math.”
Carson was dating his current wife Sheila at the time and when Hugh got to campus he was in some of the same math classes with Jill and Carson.
“I was sitting by Jill and Hugh was sitting by me one day in class,” Carson said. “The next class Hugh was sitting by Jill.”
Hugh and Jill started dating and eventually married in the summer of 1992. Carson married Sheila and Hugh was Carson’s best man.
After Carson finished playing pro baseball, he took a job as an assistant football and baseball coach at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis. When a coaching job opened up, Carson suggested they hire Freeze and Briarcrest followed Carson’s suggestion.
“We coached together for about five years,” Carson said. “We also lived close together and Sheila and I and Hugh and Jill would get together to play tennis, go out to eat and hang out together.”
Carson is now in his 16th season as the head baseball coach at Northwest Mississippi Community College. He said he still texts or talks to Freeze occasionally and has kept up with his during his career as a college football coach.
This is the first time Freeze has faced his alma mater since he got into college coaching. He knows the Golden Eagles’ reputation, dating back to his days as a student in the early 1990s.
“Jeff Bower was the coach there when I was there and they had the motto ‘Anyone, anytime, anywhere,’ and they meant it,” Freeze said. “They beat the Florida States and Nebraska and many other big name programs and took pride in playing whoever, whenever. They wanted to play them. Bower took them to 15 straight bowl games. What I can’t get out of my mind is the type of athletes they have there. They scare me to death.”
One of those Freeze knows every well. Southern Miss starting quarterback Jack Abraham played high school ball at Oxford High when Freeze was at Ole Miss.
“Jack went to many camps we had at Ole Miss,” Freeze said. “I’m very familiar with Jack and his ability. He is very accurate and is a field general. He distributes the ball and knows where to put the ball.”
Abraham, a senior, led the nation with completion percentage as a sophomore and is one of the most accurate passers in school history.
“Jack played a lot of 7-on-7 camps at Ole Miss,” said Michael Abraham, Jack’s father. “I think they lost one game in three years while he was in high school. Jack went to camp at Ole Miss before his ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th years. Coach Freeze was good to us and was also encouraging. Jack didn’t fit into their plans at quarterback and that’s ok. Everything worked out for the best.”
Freeze remembers well another quarterback when he was at Southern Miss, NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre.
“I got to know Brett when we were there and we still remain in contact,” Freeze said. “He will probably text me this week. He’s a trash talker. I will stay humble until after the game and hopefully I will be able to jab back at him.”