KNOXVILLE — Hugh Freeze turned on his cellphone last week after one of his many flights landed and saw a text message from Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw. “Hey coach,” Freeze said the text read. “Give me a call when you can.”
Freeze said he thought for a moment that Liberty’s football team was considering one of Freeze’s friends or acquaintances for one of its position coaches. Everything changed when Freeze returned McCaw’s call.
McCaw wanted Freeze to be Liberty’s next head coach.
The phone call threw a wrench into Freeze’s plan, which may have been to become the new offensive coordinator at Tennessee or another team.
“I was on this whirlwind tour to other colleges looking at becoming an offensive coordinator at different places, and I had three-straight days of travel, travel, travel,” Freeze said Friday at the his Liberty introductory press conference. “I’m thinking I know what I’m going to do next, and I turn my phone back on from my flight and there’s a text … I thought, ‘Hmm. That’s interesting.’”
Freeze, the former Ole Miss head coach who was forced out of the SEC school following one scandal that involved prostitutes and another that involved NCAA recruiting violations, is one of many coaches who have been floated as possibilities take over for Tyson Helton, who became the head coach at Western Kentucky on Nov. 28.
From the outside, it seems like Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s 12-day search has had many twists and turns. Here are the latest developments:
Freeze is not the only coach with baggage who reportedly has been or still is in the running.
GoVols247 has reported that University of Houston offensive coordinator Kendal Briles had emerged as a leading candidate and was expected to be interviewed by Pruitt on Friday.
Briles is the son of Art Briles, and was an assistant coach on his father’s staff at Baylor when it was embroiled in one of college football’s worse sexual assault scandals. The scandal led to Art Briles being fired, university president Ken Starr being demoted and eventually fired, the resignation of McCaw from his Baylor AD post, and the firing of two others connected to the football program.
Despite Kendal Briles’ potential connection to the situation, Houston hired him before the 2018 season. The Cougars were a raging success on the field. Under Briles’ direction, Houston ranked sixth in the nation in total offense at 528.6 yards per game and fourth in scoring offense with 46.4 points per game.
Following the regular season, Kendal Briles signed a three-year deal worth $2.1 million. The Houston Chronicle reported that a stipulation of Briles’ new deal is that he would owe 50 percent of his remaining base salary ($550,000 per year) for moving to a Power Five program where he is tasked with calling plays.
A potential snag in Tennessee hiring Briles is that he will prefer to bring with him his offensive line coach and run game coordinator Randy Clements. That would mean Pruitt would have to find another spot for current offensive line coach Will Friend, who was his college roommate and has become one of his best friends.
If that snag or anything else gets in the way of Pruitt hiring Briles, Pruitt could choose two other candidates he interviewed over the weekend — Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and Central Florida quarterbacks coach Jeff Lebby.
Another coach who may be considered is Alabama quarterbacks coach Dan Enos. Enos could have other options, too. Most notably, he could be in line for a promotion to Alabama’s offensive coordinator, which was vacated when Mike Locksley took the job as Maryland’s head coach on Dec. 4.