The forced resignation of University of Mississippi “Ole Miss” football coach Hugh Freeze – an outspoken follower of Jesus – amid what the university described as “moral turpitude” has left believers disappointed and expressing hope for repentance.
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“I truly believe that [Freeze] is a good man,” said Mississippi pastor Clarence Cooper, a friend of Freeze’s for two decades. “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, a regular speaker at churches and conferences whose Twitter account is filled with Christian references, resigned July 20 after the university discovered a “pattern of personal misconduct inconsistent with the standards we expect from the leader of our football team,” Chancellor Jeff Vitter said according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
According to media reports, Freeze’s phone records indicate he placed a one-minute call to a female escort service from his university-issued cell phone.
Ole Miss did not reference any specific call, but athletic director Ross Bjork said a detailed examination of Freeze’s phone records revealed “a concerning pattern” that would have triggered termination for “moral turpitude” had he not resigned. Media reports have not disclosed the specific conduct for which Freeze was forced to resign.
Freeze’s exit is unrelated to an National Collegiate Athletic Association investigation of Ole Miss for alleged rules violations, Sports Illustrated reported.
Cooper, pastor of Brandon (Miss.) Baptist Church, told Baptist Press (BP) Freeze seems to have demonstrated initial fruit of repentance.
Freeze is seeking “to get his life back together again, get his mind clear and get things right between him and the Lord,” Cooper said.
A former Mississippi Baptist Convention president, Cooper said Freeze is not “a fake” when it comes to his Christianity.
“The closer a man is to God, the greater the temptations and the pressures are,” Cooper said.
Pinelake Church, the multisite Southern Baptist congregation Freeze and his family attend, said it will help the Freezes through this difficult season of life.
“The Freeze family is a part of our Pinelake Church family,” the church told BP in a statement. “We want to honor their privacy during this time. As a church, we are called to love and shepherd people from a biblical perspective, no matter their position. Our prayers are with the Freeze family.”
Kenny Digby, executive director of Mississippi Baptists’ Christian Action Commission, told BP Freeze committed a sin with significant consequences and needs spiritual restoration.
“There is a party line out there that’s just as wrong as it can be that there are no ‘big’ and ‘little’ sins,” Digby said. “That’s just not true … When it comes to sanctification, different sins carry different consequences.”
Sins like Freeze’s “have greater consequences than other sins,” Digby said. “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.
Digby added that “when we are public with our faith, which we should be, we need to understand there is a higher scrutiny.”
Freeze’s resignation has triggered both sympathetic and hostile reactions on social media.
Mo Baker, director of the Ole Miss Baptist Student Union (BSU), told BP 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,” Baker said. “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.”
Freeze has spoken twice at the BSU, Baker said, noting the former coach has seemed in the past to live out his faith in an exemplary way.
The Ole Miss Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) told BP in a statement it is “praying for Hugh Freeze, his family and his former players during this difficult time. Coach Freeze has been a friend to FCA for many years, and the ministry respects his contributions to the game of football as well as his commitment to sharing his faith with the many he has impacted during his career.”
Steve Mooneyham, director of missions for the Gulf Coast Baptist Association in Gulfport, Miss., said Freeze’s misconduct has made for a “sad time” in Mississippi.
A “mature” reaction to Freeze’s sin is to “recognize the disappointment but … also recognize the admonition of [Galatians] 6:1 to be honest about things [and] to move toward restoration,” said Mooneyham, an 18-year season ticket holder for Ole Miss football.
“To forgive is not to minimize the depth and the greatness of the sin,” Mooneyham said. “… I want [deep guilt] to drive [Freeze] to the cross, because it’s at the cross that we find a great love by a heavenly Father who loves us despite our faults, who gave His Son to save us from our faults and to redeem us.”
In five seasons with Ole Miss, Freeze was 39-25, including a 2016 Sugar Bowl victory. He was featured in BP in 2013 when he baptized a family friend at North Oxford Baptist Church, where he was a member at the time.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)