Auburn has found its replacement for Bryan Harsin. It’s a name with SEC connections and a trainer that has caused Kirby Smart plenty of trouble in the past.
According to several reports, Hugh Freeze is set to take over at Auburn. Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated is the first to report the news.
Freeze previously coached at Ole Miss from 2012-16, going 39-25. He also went 34-15 as the head coach at Liberty, where he spent the last four seasons. One of those wins at Ole Miss came against Smart in 2016 when the Rebels defeated Georgia 45-14 in Oxford, Mississippi.
Freeze has long been known as one of the best offensive heads in the sport. He won big beating Alabama in 2014 and 2015 when Smart was the defense coordinator for the Crimson Tide.
Of course, Freeze has also been followed by trouble. He committed numerous recruiting violations during his time at Ole Miss, and the school was eventually penalized by the NCAA for the many violations that took place under Freeze’s supervision. Also, Freeze lost his job at Ole Miss not because of the recruiting violations, but because of a series of calls to a female escort service that came after an investigation by the school.
Auburn initially pushed to hire Lane Kiffin from Ole Miss, but Kiffin opted to remain at Oxford, Miss. after winning 8-4 the previous season. Auburn was on the hunt for a new head coach after firing Harsin in October after serving less than two years. He was replaced as interim coach by Cadalliac Williams, who went 2-2 at Auburn. The Tigers finished the season 5-7 after Saturday’s loss to Alabama.
Related: APPEARANCE: Lane Kiffin does everything to deny he’s leaving Ole Miss for Auburn and shoots the reporter
Expect this setting to liven up Auburn. The attitude is certainly questionable given Freeze’s baggage, but he has proven he can win at the SEC with fewer resources than he will have at Auburn. While Auburn has struggled under Harsin and Gus Malzahn in recent years, the Tigers have also proven capable of beating Alabama and contending for SEC and national championships.
Since becoming head coach at Georgia, Smart has won 6-1 against Auburn, with the only loss coming in 2017. The Bulldogs got their revenge on Auburn in the SEC championship game that season.
Freeze was an able recruiter at Ole Miss and likely will be again at Auburn. That would mark a change in recent trends for the Tigers, as Auburn has not signed a top-15 league since the 2020 cycle. Auburn currently holds the No. 32 class in the rankings just over three weeks after signing the early contract.
Prior to the recent drop in recruiting, Auburn proved capable of competing for recruits with Georgia. Players like Broderick Jones, Smael Mondon and George Pickens all considered Auburn in their recruitments before finally settling on Georgia. If Auburn invests in recruiting as it did before the end of the Malzahn era, Georgia could once again compete with its western rivals for recruits. Especially if Auburn proves aggressive in the NIL market, as promoters like Miami and Florida have done under new coaches.
An interesting question to pursue will be whether Freeze is able to poach Georgia assistants to join his staff in Auburn. Georgia running backs coach Dell McGee and offensive line coach Stacy Searels are both Auburn graduates and have strong SEC connections. While Freeze has named his own games in the past, he could potentially offer the title of offensive coordinator to lure potential assistants.
As for the future of the rivalry, that’s somewhat up in the air as the SEC debates scheduling models. A nine-game conference schedule with three protected rivals would result in Auburn remaining a yearly opponent. However, an eight-game format would only see one protected rival, namely Florida. That would move the Deep South’s oldest rivalry to a biennial competition.
The SEC has not yet decided on a future scheduling model, as the league will welcome Texas and Oklahoma to the league ahead of the 2025 season. The league is expected to ditch the divisions and make a final decision on a scheduling format this offseason.
Georgia defeated Auburn 42-10 in Athens earlier this season. The Bulldogs will get their first crack at Freeze and the Tigers on September 30, 2023, as Georgia is currently scheduled to visit Auburn at that time.
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