Update: April 18 – 10:45 a.m.
Alabama coach Nick Saban addressed the report that the SEC stopped him from hiring former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze. He did not deny it was the case.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Hugh Freeze as a coach,” Saban said via Al.com. “I think he did a fabulous job when he was at Ole Miss. He has been a friend that I’ve shared ideas with and spent time with and know his family, as Miss Terry does know his family. So we have a tremendous amount of respect for him. We also have a lot of respect for the SEC and what they think is, in some cases, best for the league relative to circumstances that people created for themselves.
“But I have a lot of respect for Hugh, and I think he’ll be back in our profession, and we wish him and his family the very best, and if we can do anything to help him, we’ll be happy to do that.”
Original story: April 16 – 5:30 p.m.
Before Alabama promoted Mike Locksley to offensive coordinator and brought in Josh Gattis from Penn State, Nick Saban reportedly hoped to hire Hugh Freeze.
A story published Monday by Al.com detailed Saban’s plans to bring in Freeze, the ex-Ole Miss head coach, as “a co-offensive coordinator and position coach.” However, with the volatile nature of Freeze’s resignation from Ole Miss, the SEC put a stop to it. Alabama apparently wasn’t the only SEC school that hoped to bring on Freeze as an assistant either.
Alabama was one of at least five SEC schools that had contact with Freeze about on-field jobs this offseason. Saban wanted to hire Freeze as a co-offensive coordinator and position coach, sources told AL.com.
However, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey encouraged Alabama not to hire a man as well known for the personal shortcomings that led to his Ole Miss resignation as he is for his success as a coach.
Multiple outlets reported news of a meeting between Freeze and Saban back in January, but a spot on Saban’s staff for Freeze never came to fruition. Evidently, the conference wasn’t a fan of the optics of Freeze returning to coaching so quickly after his embarrassing July resignation after a call from his university-issued cell phone to an escort service was discovered. That call, one of several, came to the surface as Freeze and the Rebels were under the NCAA microscope — one that eventually resulted in a two-year bowl ban, among other sanctions.
While things went awry off the field, Ole Miss had some big moments on the field under Freeze, including two wins over Alabama. From strictly a football standpoint, it’s easy to see why Freeze drew interest as an assistant, but the SEC was able to lean on a newly-established “hiring practices” bylaw to nix a potential deal.
SEC bylaw 220.127.116.11 states that if a school is considering hiring an individual “who has engaged in unethical conduct” or has participated in activity that resulted in Level I or Level II NCAA violations, the school president is “expected to consult directly with the Commissioner” before any hire can be finalized.
Member institutions shall exercise best efforts to hire individuals committed to rules compliance. In connection with this requirement, member institutions shall thoroughly evaluate an individual’s record of rules compliance prior to offering employment for any coaching position or noncoaching position with sport-specific responsibilities. While each member institution makes its own hiring decisions, member institutions shall, at a minimum, request specific information from each candidate concerning his/her rules compliance record and communicate with NCAA enforcement and the Conference office regarding the same prior to offering employment to any candidate.
In addition, when a member institution considers hiring an individual who has engaged in unethical conduct as defined under NCAA Bylaws or who has participated in activity that resulted, or may result, in a Level I, Level II or major infraction, the President or Chancellor of that member institution is expected to consult directly with the Commissioner prior to offering employment to the individual.
Because Freeze was Ole Miss’ head coach when many NCAA violations occurred, Sankey was ultimately able to stop Saban from making the hire.
Freeze, who issued a lengthy apology to the “Ole Miss family” for making what he said were “selfish decisions,” had a 39-25 record in five seasons as the Rebels head coach. After his resignation, Matt Luke served as interim coach in 2017 and led the team to a 6-6 record, including a win over rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
After the season, Luke had the interim tag lifted and will lead the program as head coach moving forward. However, it will be at least one more year until he coaches his alma mater in a bowl game. The team had a self-imposed bowl ban in 2017. The NCAA, when it announced sanctions against the school in December, tacked on an additional year to the bowl ban.
Several prominent players, including quarterback Shea Patterson, opted to transfer after the sanctions hit.
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