In the days since reports of Auburn hiring Hugh Freeze began to surface, past violations of the football coach’s past under his watch at Ole Miss have come to the fore, from NCAA violations to his use of social media. The general backlash was part of the backlash against Freeze’s hiring on social media and the email inboxes of athletic director John Cohen, school president Chris Roberts, and other Auburn trustees.
Fans have expressed their concerns about Freeze’s candidacy on multiple fronts. Some reacted to responses to tweets from a student who sued Freeze’s previous employer, Liberty, for his inaction over allegations of sexual assault before Freeze arrived. Other fans have been plagued by additional scandals that have followed Freeze in the past.
The events stretch back to the late 1990s, told by three women who were students at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis. America Today in 2017 Freezing caused them discomfort from inappropriate behavior. That year, the coach was forced to resign from Mississippi after an internal investigation found an “anxious pattern” of calls to escort services on a school-issued cell phone. While the program was under investigation for NCAA violations, Freeze and others at the school sought to turn the situation to the military and the media as an issue primarily involving other sports or his predecessor, Houston Nutt. When the lengthy NCAA claim notice came out, it turned out to be wrong: Violations brought in a two-year postseason ban and massive hiring restrictions.
Freeze was asked in response to his hiring at a promotional press conference on Tuesday, when Cohen was unavailable for questions and gave only a short prepared statement introducing Freeze.
“I really don’t know the magnitude of the reaction because believe it or not, I haven’t been on any social media for the past three or four weeks,” Freeze said. “I have an account but someone else manages it so I really don’t know.”
But last weekend, when news broke that Auburn had hired Freeze, a tweet from a former Liberty University student highlighted Freeze’s use of Twitter.
Chelsea Andrews, one of 22 students who filed a lawsuit against Liberty for her inaction over sexual assault allegations in 2021, took to Twitter both as the case was pending and after it was settled in May. One of Andrews and the complainants’ claims was that the institutional policies of the private school created a culture that perpetuated sexual violence, which had a chilling effect on women who reported it.
In the screenshots shown sports illustratedWhile coaching at Liberty, Freeze texted Andrews three times—twice while the case was pending and another after the case was settled. Each message came shortly after either tweeting directly to the coach or mentioning him by name without tagging him.
Andrews said he told his lawyer at the time and was advised not to reply to messages. He also decided to stop tagging Freeze in tweets.
“It felt scary back then,” Andrews says. “Why is he doing this? Leave me alone. You can’t scare me with the experience I know.”
According to sources close to the Auburn coaching research, Freeze has agreed to relinquish control of her social media accounts. When specifically asked about this at Tuesday’s press conference, Freeze replied, “This is not true. How can you do it in this day and age? Still, there may be wisdom in that.”
When asked to clarify his comments about who was accessing his social media later on Tuesday, Freeze told SI: “At Auburn I need to focus on more important things than social media. Like most coaches, I welcome any extra help from us. [support staff] The team will work with me to create this amazing program. Plus, I’m not very good at graphing.”
SI also requested a response on Freeze’s direct messages to Andrews. An Auburn spokesperson denied SI’s requests, but pointed to a comment the coach made to ESPN late Tuesday: “I learned from this situation that I need to fully understand other people’s circumstances before communicating or commenting on someone’s situation. It was an unintentional misstep with no ill intentions, and I apologize.”
Most college head coaches use Twitter through public accounts or private “user handles” to follow the news, what people are saying about themselves, players, and recruits. It’s also customary for schools’ in-house social media departments to access a coach’s accounts to tweet recruiting graphics or hashtags when a player commits. In the past, Freeze was known to use Twitter heavily to send messages in his dealings with fans, ill-wishers or reporters.
“It was an office joke,” says a former Freeze employee. “We all knew he did this. We used to joke about it every time he was on his phone, probably searching for names on his Twitter. It’s not a secret in the college football world. That’s what he does.
As with most coaches initially hired, Freeze does not have a fully signed contract, but instead has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that allows them to work on behalf of the university without a full contract. Once this full contract is signed, railings can be put around various actions, including the use of social media, to protect the university.
Such provisions are not uncommon. Coach Mark Stoops’ original contract with Kentucky allows for termination for “acts of misconduct, including but not limited to a conviction for a felony,” in addition to violations of university policies or NCAA statutes. Eli Drinkwitz’s agreement in Missouri states that “…not make statements to the media or any public forum that are manifestly contrary to public customs and morals, or take any action that could predictably bring Coach or the university into public disdain, disdain, or ridicule.” or seriously offends public morals or morals as a result of such conduct or action.”
While it may seem overprotective for a football coach to have to agree to a clause mandating social media use, Freeze will be one of the highest-paid public servants in the state of Alabama (with a salary of over $6.5 million) and possibly Auburn University’s highest-profile front-line ambassador. .
This story used news from Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde and Ross Dellenger.
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