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Former SEC 'bad boys' Hugh Freeze, Lane Kiffin discuss their pasts, upcoming showdown

Hugh Freeze was doing big things at Ole Miss. Now Lane Kiffin is finding comparable success. And two coaches who once were reviled in the SEC face off this weekend
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Neither coach particularly sits atop the Southeastern Conference's Christmas-card list, though one is continuing his image-rehabilitation crusade within college football's most rugged league.

The other is inevitably and understandably linked to the league's coaching openings and interests – invariably because he's the only coach with consecutive regular-season wins against Alabama coach and college football titan, Nick Saban.

Still, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin and former Rebels coach Hugh Freeze, currently working his latest round of miracles at private, Christian institution Liberty University, arguably command the SEC's brightest spotlight this weekend.

Kiffin's Rebels, spending most of the season soaring to heights not seen in Oxford, Mississippi, since Freeze's electric run there from 2012-16, host Liberty Saturday night.

Though it's their first meeting as opposing head coaches, Kiffin recalls showdowns with Freeze during Kiffin's time as Alabama's offensive coordinator from 2014-16.

“I was just always amazed by how well they played on gameday,” Kiffin said of Freeze's Rebels. “Just kind of the fresh theory, knowing their practice plans versus ours at Alabama, the difference in the ways the programs were run. His players, he had them fresh and ready to go on gameday.

“For them to lose only two regular season games and for them to only lose three regular season games since I've been here at Ole Miss, he just does a great job at getting them ready to go on gameday."

Freeze, after being ousted at Ole Miss following off-the-field issues, continues to author a remarkable comeback-story at Liberty.

Likewise, Freeze doesn't turn away from his history with the Rebels.

“That will be probably the strangest thing, being in the visitors' locker room and on the visitors' sideline,” said Freeze, a program builder who's logged seasons of 10-plus wins at each of his four collegiate stops. “Truthfully, I told our kids (Monday) morning in the class I teach, I'm just really excited to go back and see people.

“I had a great … I just choose to remember I had great memories there, appreciate the people. I was born there, raised there and I'll probably be buried there. It's still home. My family still lives there. I've got so many friends there. … Certainly it's going to be different, but I'm so thankful to have, there's no other group I'd rather walk in there with and walk out with than this (Liberty) group of coaches, staff, administrators, and my family. It will be different.”

Aside from their pasts as lightning rods in the SEC, Freeze and Kiffin share a far more pertinent football trait: both are considered among the preeminent offensive minds in the game.

Their teams' respective 2021 stats reinforce those reputations; Ole Miss ranks 12th nationally in scoring at 39.1 points-per-game while the Flames are just four spots below them, 16th at 37.4 ppg.

Both teams also have transformational quarterbacks in the Rebels' Matt Corral and Liberty's Malik Willis – a former Auburn University signee also making his return to the SEC.

And one of Freeze's former Ole Miss assistant coaches was none other than Chris Kiffin – Lane's younger brother.

“I know him a little bit,” Kiffin said of Freeze. “I have a great respect for him because I was on the other side (at Alabama) when he beat us twice, and he's done a great job at wherever he's been.

“He has a very unique offense that is always giving people problems.”

Freeze also weighed in on Kiffin from the Mutual Admiration Club.

“I admire and respect Lane as a ball coach, he's one of the best offensive minds in our time,” Freeze said. “What he's done there is proven what I always believed to be true and felt like we showed. They're on track to get a 9- or 10-win season, maybe more. That's not going to surprise me at all. He's put together a great staff.”

From Kiffin's time as Saban's play-caller and understudy, Freeze also recalled his earlier impressions of Kiffin that sparked that respect.

“My relationship with him is good,” Freeze said. “He was always so kind when we were able to beat them at Alabama, along with Kirby (Smart) and Nick (Saban). I remember he was very generous, and he stayed hours after a game to speak to me. …

“I'm happy for the people there, happy they're winning. They've got a great athletics director in Keith Carter, this was an important hire for him. Lane and I always have had good relationships. His brother coached with me for years. I love his dad, Monte; he's always been a heck of a guy to be around, too. I've got a lot of respect for Lane.”