In the past few days, since reports of Hugh Freeze being hired by Auburn began to surface, the football coach’s past transgressions have come to the fore again, NCAA violations under his watch at Ole Miss to his use of social media. The overall backlash was part of the rejection of Freeze’s hiring on social media and in the email inboxes of athletic director John Cohen, school president Chris Roberts and other school board members. administration of Auburn.
Fans expressed their dismay at Freeze’s candidacy on several fronts. Some reacted to Freeze’s responses to tweets posted by a student who sued Liberty, Freeze’s former employer, for his inaction regarding sexual assault allegations before Freeze arrived. Other fans have been bothered by additional scandals that have followed Freeze in the past.
The incidents date back to the late 1990s, when three women who were students at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis recounted USA today in 2017 that Freeze made them uncomfortable with inappropriate behavior. That year, the coach was forced to resign from Mississippi after an internal investigation revealed “a disturbing pattern” of calls to escort services on his school-issued cell phone. When the program was being investigated for NCAA violations, Freeze and others at the school attempted to paint the situation on rookies and the media as an issue primarily involving other sports or its predecessor. , Houston Nutt. When the NCAA’s lengthy Notice of Allegations came out, it was proven wrong: The violations resulted in a two-year postseason ban and significant recruiting restrictions.
Freeze was asked about the response to his hiring at an introductory press conference on Tuesday, when Cohen was not made available for questions and only gave a short prepared statement introducing Freeze.
“I really don’t know the extent of the backlash because, believe it or not, I just hadn’t been on social media for the last three or four weeks,” Freeze said. “I have an account, but someone else managed it, so I really don’t know.”
Last weekend, however, when reports of Freeze’s hiring by Auburn grew, a tweet from a former Liberty University student thrust Freeze’s use of Twitter into the spotlight.
Chelsea Andrews, one of 22 college students who sued Liberty in 2021 for her inaction regarding the sexual assault allegations, spoke out on Twitter both while the lawsuit was ongoing and after it was settled in May. One of the arguments of Andrews and the plaintiffs was that the private school’s institutional policies created a culture that perpetuated sexual violence, which had a chilling effect on women who reported it.
In the screenshots shown at Sports Illustrated, Freeze DMed Andrews three times while coaching at Liberty — twice while the lawsuit was active and another after it was settled. Each post came shortly after she either tweeted the coach directly or mentioned him by name without tagging him.
Andrews says she told her lawyer about it at the time and was advised not to respond to the messages. She also decided to stop tagging Freeze in tweets.
“It was, at the time, intimidating,” Andrews says. “Why is he doing this? Leave me alone. You can’t intimidate me with the experience I know.
According to sources close to Auburn Coaching Research, Freeze has agreed to relinquish control of his social media accounts. Asked specifically about this at Tuesday’s press conference, Freeze said, “That’s not accurate. How could you nowadays? There may be some wisdom in that, though.
When asked later Tuesday to clarify his comments regarding who has access to his social media, Freeze said in a statement to SI, “I have to focus on much bigger things at Auburn than social media. Like most coaches, I appreciate the extra help from our [support staff] team, to work alongside me, to build this great program. Also, I’m not good at making graphics.
SI also requested a response regarding Freeze’s direct messages to Andrews. An Auburn spokesperson denied SI’s claims, only to point out a comment the coach gave ESPN on Tuesday night: “I learned from this situation that I had to fully understand other people’s situations first. before communicating or commenting on someone’s situation. It was an inadvertent misstep with no ill intent, and I’m sorry.
The majority of college head coaches use Twitter, through public accounts or private “burner handles,” to follow the news, what people are saying about them, as well as players and rookies. It is also customary for schools’ internal social media services to have access to a coach’s accounts to tweet recruiting graphics or hashtags when a player signs up. In the past, Freeze has been known to heavily use Twitter to send messages, whether in his dealings with fans, critics or journalists.
“It was the office joke,” said a former Freeze staffer. “We all knew he did that. We always joked about every time he was on his phone, he was probably on his Twitter, looking up names. It’s no secret in the world college football. That’s what he does.”
As is the case when most coaches are initially hired, Freeze does not have a full signed contract, but rather a memorandum of understanding (MOU), a document that allows him to work on behalf of the university without full contract. When this full contract is signed, it could include guardrails around various actions, including the use of social media, to protect the university.
Such clauses are not uncommon. Coach Mark Stoops’ original contract with Kentucky allows for termination with cause for “acts of misconduct, including but not limited to felony conviction,” in addition to violation of university policies or NCAA regulations. Eli Drinkwitz’s agreement in Missouri says he cannot “…make statements to the media or in any public forum that are clearly contrary to public convention and morals, or do any act that could foreseeably lead to Coach or the University in public contempt, contempt or ridicule, or who seriously undermines public morals or good morals by reason of such conduct or act”.
While it might seem overprotective for a football coach to have to agree to a clause that stipulates the use of social media, Freeze will be one of the highest-paid public employees in the state of Alabama (his salary is over $6.5 million) and probably Auburn University. leading leading ambassador.
Reporting by Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde and Ross Dellenger was used in this story.
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