Hugh Freeze asks for prayer, looking to get life back together: Mississippi pastor
Hugh Freeze is seeking to get his “life back together again, get his mind clear and get things right between him and the Lord,” according to a Mississippi Baptist pastor and longtime Freeze friend.
Clarence Cooper, pastor of Brandon Baptist Church, said he received a text message from Freeze asking for prayers for him and his family.
“I truly believe that [Freeze] is a good man,” said Cooper, a friend of Freeze’s for two decades, according to the Baptist Press. “And he has been overtaken with a fault. In his text to me was, ‘I love you. Please pray for me. Please stand by me and pray for my family.'”
Freeze resigned under pressure last week for undisclosed issues of “moral turpitude” and was associated through public records with calling an escort service. Freeze and his family are members of the Pinelake Church, the multisite Baptist church with a location in Oxford.
Members of Baptist churches and organizations spoke with the Baptist Press about Freeze’s high profile resignation that made national news and has raised tensions across social media. Freeze was well known for putting his Christian faith aggressively before the public through social media.
Kenny Digby, executive director of Mississippi Baptists’ Christian Action Commission, told that Baptist Press that Freeze’s public faith puts him under great scrutiny.
Sins like Freeze’s “have greater consequences than other sins,” Digby told the Baptist Press. “Does that mean we’re not going to forgive? No. Does that mean we’re going to be judgmental and we’re not willing to restore? No. We need to be willing to forgive and restore” a sinning believer to fellowship with God and other believers.
The director of the Ole Miss Baptist Student Union (BSU) at Ole Miss told the Baptist Press that believers should take care not to either excuse Freeze’s actions or be judgmental.
“The tendency is to give a kneejerk reaction of either exceptionally leaning toward free grace or being extreme in our judgment and condemnation,” BSU director Mo Baker said, according to the report. “The Christian community needs to be very cautious, first of all, because we don’t have all the information. And second, whatever he was guilty of … there needs to be evidence of repentance in order for grace to be fully given.”
The downfall of Freeze at Ole Miss is partially attributed to the man he replaced as coach at Ole Miss.
It was a recently filed civil lawsuit from Houston Nutt — who coached Ole Miss from 2008 to ’11 — against the university that unearthed the phone records that eventually revealed Freeze’s school-issued cell phone had dialed an escort service on at least one occasion in 2016.
Freeze resigned Thursday after university officials found that the coach engaged in a “pattern of personal misconduct” that was unacceptable. The 47-year-old — who was making more than $5 million per year — will receive no buyout, according to Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork.
Thomas Mars, the attorney for Houston Nutt, isn’t through with Freeze, either. He is now pursuing records related to a “burner” phone that Freeze reportedly had that appears multiple times in his records,” according to the latest report.
Freeze’s phone records might never have been researched in the first place if Nutt hadn’t sued the university earlier this month. The lawsuit claims a breach of his severance agreement because of false statements he says school officials made to try to pin the blame for the NCAA investigation on Nutt.
There are 21 allegations in the NCAA’s case against Ole Miss. Four of them occurred in relation to Nutt’s tenure while 17 happened under Freeze.
Ole Miss strongly defended Freeze in its latest response to the NCAA’s allegations, saying the coach emphasized NCAA rules compliance during his tenure. Now the school will go forward in its case without him.
In researching the civil suit, Nutt’s lawyers made a Freedom of Information filing asking for Freeze’s phone records covering several days in January 2016. The aim — which is detailed in the suit — was to try to show that Ole Miss officials conspired to spread misinformation to media and form a “smear campaign” against Nutt.
It found much more.
In those records, which were obtained by The Associated Press and several other media outlets, was a one-minute call to a Detroit-based number. An internet search shows the number linked to a site that offers various escort services. Subsequent research by Ole Miss officials into Freeze’s phone records found more misconduct.
One of Nutt’s attorneys, Walter Morrison, said late Thursday that Freeze’s attempt to pin the blame for the NCAA investigation on Nutt backfired in a huge way.
“It’s sad the university did not deal with this in the manner of which they should have,” Morrison said. “And if they had dealt with Houston Nutt appropriately, to begin with, he would not have been besmirched, he would have been treated appropriately and fairly, consistent with the severance agreement that all of us signed.
“And interestingly enough, Hugh Freeze would probably still have his job.”
Bjork said Freeze would have been fired if he hadn’t offered his resignation. He added that Freeze’s resignation occurred strictly because of his personal conduct and not because of the current NCAA investigation.
“In our analysis, we discovered a pattern of conduct that is not consistent with our expectations as the leader of our football program,” Bjork said. “As of (Wednesday), there appeared to be a concerning pattern.”
Co-offensive coordinator Matt Luke has been named the interim coach for the coming season. Freeze finished with a 39-25 record, including a 19-21 mark in the Southeastern Conference, over five seasons.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.