Sidelines with John Clay

Hugh Freeze reportedly high on list for Western Kentucky football opening

Then-Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze was interviewed as his Rebels team arrived at the Superdome for the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans in 2016.
Then-Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze was interviewed as his Rebels team arrived at the Superdome for the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans in 2016. Sun Herald File

The coaching carousel has hit Bowling Green where Western Kentucky Coach Mike Sanford was relieved of his duties Sunday after just two seasons with the Hilltoppers.

And a familiar name has surfaced as a possible successor. Hugh Freeze, the former Ole Miss coach who resigned in 2017 for violating the morals clause of his contract, is reportedly on the list of candidates WKU will consider.

Freeze went 39-25 overall, including 19-21 in the SEC in five seasons at Ole Miss. His teams went to four consecutive bowl games, including the Sugar Bowl in 2015 when the Rebels went 10-3. Before arriving in Oxford, he went 10-2 in one season as the head coach at Arkansas State.

But Freeze’s time in Oxford was mired by accusations of NCAA recruiting violations. The school was eventually placed on probation. Before that, however, former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt had filed a lawsuit against the school for defamation. In the course of discovery for the suit, Nutt’s attorneys found Freeze had allegedly placed calls to a female escort service. After an internal investigation, Freeze was asked to resign.

Before this season, Alabama Coach Nick Saban was in the process of hiring Freeze to be co-offensive coordinator with the Crimson Tide. The SEC office stepped in, however, and nixed the hiring, citing the violations that occurred at Ole Miss under Freeze’s watch.

“(SEC Commissioner) Greg Sankey’s stance left Saban disappointed,” reported “Saban has strong respect for Freeze, who bested him twice as Ole Miss’ head coach — one of only three SEC coaches to beat Saban multiple times during his time in Tuscaloosa.”

Freeze accepted a position as offensive coordinator with the Arizona Hotshots of the new Association of American Football League, which is scheduled to start play in the spring of 2019.

Western has gone the reclamation route before. It hired Bobby Petrino as its head coach in 2013, two years after Petrino had been fired at Arkansas for lying to athletic director Jeff Long concerning the hiring of Petrino’s mistress to a football staff position.

Petrino went 8-4 in one season at WKU before leaving for his second stint at Louisville. He went 77-35 at U of L before being fired 10 games into the 2018 season. Petrino’s name has also been mentioned as a possible candidate to return to WKU for the Hilltoppers’ newest opening.

Joining Freeze and Petrino on the candidates list are former Tennessee coach Butch Jones, Purdue quarterbacks coach Brian Brohm, Purdue offensive coordinator JaMarcus Shephard, current Tennessee offensive coordinator Ty Helton and Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni.

Helton was offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky under Jeff Brohm in 2014-15. He coached under his brother Clay Helton at USC in 2016 and 2017. Brian Brohm, Jeff’s brother, was WKU’s quarterbacks coach in 2016 before following Jeff to Purdue. Azzanni was Willie Taggart’s offensive coordinator at WKU in 2011-12.

Jeff Brohm went 30-10 as Western’s head coach from 2014-16. He has gone 13-12 in two seasons at Purdue and is believed to be the leading candidate to replace Petrino at Louisville, Brohm’s alma mater. After Purdue beat Indiana 28-21 on Saturday, Brohm indicated he is happy at Purdue.

The 36-year-old Sanford went 9-16 in his two seasons as the WKU coach. Western finished 3-9 this season after losing nine of its first 10 games. He came to Bowling Green after serving two years as offensive coordinator at Notre Dame. His buyout at WKU is $1.2 million.

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