NEWS Free football after Hugh Frieze: Pluses, minutes and candidates for the Flames job

The Athletic

Liberty’s Hugh Freeze era is over. Fritz accepted the head coaching job at Auburn on Monday, marking his return to the SEC.

The move came after Lane Kiffin opted to stay at Ole Miss, which ended a three-game losing streak despite Liberty’s 49-14 loss to New Mexico State. In the end, Frieze’s four-year 34-15 tenure and his past success at Ole Miss were enough to get the Auburn job. Liberty is 8-4 this year and the Flames have won at least eight games in all four seasons with the Freeze. This is a show that knows how to win. Its last losing season was in 2005, and it won eight conference titles at the FCS level from 2007-2016.

For Liberty, this is an important transitional moment. Next season, the Flames will enter the FBS Conference for the first time, and all that matters right now is a coaching change.

So how well does Liberty work? What names can be mixed in? Here are the factors to keep in mind.

This job has all resources

Before heading to Auburn, Fritz signed a contract extension that averaged just under $5 million a year. This will be the highest salary in the future Group of 5 so far. Liberty has enough money to pay big bills for the coach and his staff, and it also has some buyout cash.

The facilities are also top notch. Schools invest heavily in sports facilities for many sports. The soccer program opened a $29 million indoor practice field in 2017, and the soccer operations building was renovated in 2020 and expanded to more than 65,000 square feet.

This is probably the most resource-rich program in the G5 at the moment.

Liberty is moving to Conference USA

The Flames upgraded from FCS to FBS in 2018 without the usual required meeting invites. The American Conference, Sun Belt and others are all interested, though the Flames are reportedly offering tens of millions of dollars for a single location. Due to its resources, Liberty was eventually granted a waiver to become an independent FBS. There were two reasons for not being invited: the outspoken politics of a school led by Jerry Falwell Jr., and those resources, which allowed the school to spend significantly more than everyone else.

Things have changed. Falwell was ousted and the American Conference is desperate for membership after a massive school loss last year. Now Liberty will join C-USA next season.

The timing couldn’t have been better for both parties. For Liberty, conference invitations are required when the College Football Playoff expands to 12 teams. G5 is guaranteed at least a spot in the expanded CFP, and with UCF, Houston and Cincinnati in the Big 12, that bid could be wide open. Liberty has finished in the AP top 25 in two of the past three seasons. Those around the Liberty believe that an undefeated season could get the Flames into the playoffs. For everyone in G5, there is finally a path.

The school’s religious focus and politics are unique

Liberty is a polarizing school. The evangelical school has a strict honor code, and while the outspoken political Falwell is gone, the school still tries to play a role in political change. Some black athletes have also left the school in recent years.

The school wants its coaches to be upfront about Christianity being the mission of the university. Of course, many college coaches are open about their religion, but it’s something to consider. In that sense, the job is very similar to Brigham Young University. It’s not for everyone.

“We’ve got to have someone who is very fit for the task,” athletic director Ian McCaw told reporters Tuesday. “Want to develop champions for Christ and would be a great fit for our university. We are also looking for a strong leader, CEO and culture builder for our program. We need a very tactically skilled and strong recruiter . So those were the main criteria for our search.”

Under Hugh Freeze, the Liberty team went 34-15 in four seasons. (Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY)

So what names can be mixed in?

Because of its resources, expect Liberty to swing among some active head coaches.Coastal Carolina Head Coach Jamie Chadwell Despite his great success at Coastal, he has been unable to land a Power 5 position, which opens up the possibility of other Group of 5 jobs that pay much better, such as USF. (Unlike USF, Liberty recently won.) Chadwell is 31-5 in the Coastal over the past three years and has won everywhere he’s been. He was the lowest-paid head coach in the FBS before the breakout 2020 season, when his salary doubled to more than $1 million. Freedom can bring him more. But would it be an improvement to leave the Sun Belt for the American Conference? Liberty could also push other Sun Belt names like Georgia Southern’s head coach Clay Helton with coach james madison Curt Signetti.

indiana head coach tom allen It’s been a rough two years since their breakout season in 2020. After finishing in the top 15 that year, the Indians have gone 2-10 and 4-8 over the past two seasons, including a 2-16 record in the Big Ten. Is the break beneficial to both parties? His buyout is huge, $20 million if Indiana even wants to fire him after the 2023 season. But the buyout after Allen’s departure on Dec. 1 dropped to $4 million, which is manageable. His salary is around $5 million, which we know Liberty can cover, just like Freeze. Allen and Fritz also returned to more than ten years ago together. Of course, leaving a Big Ten job for a job at the American Conference is largely unprecedented, but multiple industry sources mentioning Allen’s name might be something to keep an eye on.

clemson offensive coordinator brandon street Served as an assistant with the Liberty from 2006 to 2011, including three years as offensive coordinator before returning to Clemson. He is Trevor Lawrence’s position coach and has a strong recruiting background. Streeter was promoted to offensive coordinator this season, and while the offense has struggled at times, Clemson is still up from 82nd in 2021 to 27th in scoring.

arkansas offensive coordinator Kendall Blairs They developed a relationship with McCaw when Briles coached Baylor under his father from 2008 to 2016. In the wake of the sexual assault scandal at Baylor University and the school, the young Briles never left FBS football and spent the past six years as offensive coordinator at FAU, Houston, Florida State and now Arkansas . He improved the Razorbacks’ offense from outside the top 100 nationally to a top 50, with the program bouncing back despite a disappointing 6-6 season. As for his father, art briers Not expected to be on the shortlist or in Liberty’s mix.

SMU Defense Coordinator scott simmons From 2019 to 2021, he was Fritz’s defensive coordinator for the Liberty. The scoring defense ranked 117th the year before he got there and was a top-25 team by the time he left. He was named to Dave Campbell’s Texas football 40 under 40 this summer, but this year SMU ranks 123rd in the country in defensive scoring.

How about a former Auburn coach after losing a coach to Auburn?North Carolina Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik Won the 2010 National Championship with Cam Newton. Chizik spent three years at NC State, taking two periods of regular breaks from coaching. North Carolina’s defense has struggled this year, but he’ll bring head coaching experience.

florida state university tight end coach Chris Thomson He went 51-21 as head coach of Abilene Christian over seven seasons from 2005 to 2011, when it was a Division II school. Since then, the Texas native has coached at Texas Tech University, Arizona State University, TCU and FSU.

Can Nick Rolovich is an option? Liberty has no problem hiring people with controversial backgrounds at Freeze. Rolovich was fired in Washington state because of the state’s vaccine mandate. The coach will not be vaccinated against COVID-19, and his request for a religious exemption related to his Catholic background was denied. Rolovich went 28-27 as a coach, including 18-11 in his final two years, with a division title thanks to explosive and creative offense. He was 5-6 at Washington State before he was fired. Rolovich is also suing Washington state and officials over his dismissal, which kept him out of most schools.

As for internal options, Liberty joint offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kent Austin Develop Malik Willis into a third-round pick. Austin has been with Liberty since 2019 and previously served as the head coach of the CFL’s Hamilton Tigercats from 2013 to 2017.joint defensive coordinator Josh Aldridge Appointed as interim head coach following Frieze’s departure. He joined the faculty in 2019 and was nominated for a Breuer Prize in 2021. After Simmons left for SMU, Aldridge was promoted to co-coordinator, and the two had previously worked together at South Georgia.

(Above: James Guillory/USA TODAY)

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