It was six months ago this week that Hugh Freeze resigned as the head coach at Ole Miss, forced out after it came to light that he made calls to a Tampa escort service on his university-issued phone. Freeze has understandably laid low since then. But on Wednesday he came out of hiding, making his first public appearance since his Ole Miss exit alongside his wife, Jill, at a convocation session at Liberty University.
Liberty is, of course, the nation's largest evangelical university, led by its politically-active president Jerry Falwell, Jr. And it should be no secret as to Wednesday's topic: forgiveness. "Today is the first day I can tell my faith family, please forgive me," Freeze said. But it wasn't so much that any one person who happened to be in Liberty's 10,000-seat Vines Center needed forgiveness for a specific series of acts, but that everyone in attendance did. For instance, Jill Freeze told the audience of thousands that she forgave Hugh "immediately" when he confessed in 2016.
Hugh said that he struggled as to why a private matter -- the reason for his Ole Miss ouster was not stated explicitly, but instead served as the unspoken centerpiece of the conversation -- had to go public. During a 20-minute talk, Freeze said he had confessed the "private sin" to his wife and to two friends, and by last summer had put it behind him. But the phone calls came to light through the digging of a Mississippi State super fan as part of his expose into NCAA recruiting violations committed by Freeze's program. And with that, despite four bowl trips in five seasons and delivering Ole Miss's first Sugar Bowl win in more than 35 years, Freeze was out of a job. "My world got rocked in 2017," he said.
Why, then, did God allow Freeze's private sin to go public? "So that I could really experience true brokenness and then use it for His glory," Freeze said. "I just believe that brokenness is agreeing with God daily that anything that's outside of following Him breaks His heart, and that brokenness leads to obedience."
Falwell then grabbed the microphone and launched into an aside directed at his Twitter commenters, at one point reading a drafted tweet his wife wouldn't let him send about the sins and crimes committed by Democratic presidents as a defense of President Trump.
"Jesus was on the side of the sinner, and the repentant sinner. He just said, 'Go and sin no more.' So many Christians, their attitude is, 'My sin is better than your sin. I'm better than you. You did this and this and this.' But in their hearts they're just as bad," Falwell said. He then walked off the stage, but not before giving Freeze a love tap on the shoulder.
"All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," Liberty senior vice president for spiritual development David Nasser said in a closing prayer. "That he without sin gets to cast the first stone."
Freeze wants to be a head coach again, but before that can happen he, a coach who built his brand as a pastor with a clipboard, must first clean up his public image. And he made sure that the first step toward public rehabilitation was taken at a place where not one stone would be cast.
"My eyes are clear, my heart is full, my feet are pointed forward," Freeze said, "and I am looking forward with thanksgiving to what God has for me and my family next."
Freeze's talk begins around the 31:00 mark.