The resignation of Ole Miss Head Football Coach Hugh Freeze over a “pattern of misconduct,” sent tremors throughout SEC football circles and the South. How can public figures like Freeze, former South Carolina Governor and now Congressman Mark Sanford and former Tennessee State Senator Paul Stanley, all of whom processed to be “Christian men,” throw their success away for exposed character sins?
I wish there were an easy answer. Freeze had made a name for himself over the last five years at Ole Miss, leading the team to a Sugar Bowl victory in 2015 with a 39-25 win/loss record. Sanford, a former congressman known as a conservative firebrand, was being mentioned as a potential presidential candidate before his affair with an Argentine mistress was uncovered in the spring of 2009 while serving his second term as governor. Around the same time, Stanley, an “up and coming” Republican legislator, was being mentioned as a possible congressional candidate before his affair with an intern was revealed after an extortion attempt.
Chances are you’re more familiar Freeze and Sanford than you are with Stanley. I’m more familiar with the latter case because I am Paul Stanley. I understand what Freeze is going through and today has not been a good one in his household.
Unfortunately, men in high profile positions have engaged in extramarital affairs since the beginning of time. Why you ask, after countless examples, have we not learned the risk of such behaviors? Do we think we can make the same mistakes and not risk such public exposure? I’m not going to address that issue here, mainly because I don’t have the answer. What I do know from experience is as bad as things are for the Freeze family today and in the weeks to follow, they can and will get better if he lets them.
Coach Freeze was under a tremendous amount of pressure – not only to win football games – but from other coaches, boosters and the NCAA, who has been breathing down the programs neck over admitted and charged violations. Before you blow a gasket thinking I’m excusing his actions, just relax. Pressure is no excuse, but in many circumstances, it helped create the environment that ultimately led to poor decisions and even poorer actions.
Freeze is getting toasted in the press and the stories will get worse in the days ahead as reporters seek to uncover who he called, how many times and the names of the escorts. I wouldn’t be surprised if some capitalized on their “fifteen minutes of fame.” To use a football analogy, the “piling on” is just beginning and the weight of the circumstance will become excruciating. I’m also curious if Freeze was calling on behalf of himself of his players? I believe he called on his behalf, because calling for players would create its own set of problems.
While much of the criticism Freeze receives will be justified, the worse part comes when new and long-time detractors accuse him of being a phony, a fraud, given the public Christian stance the coach took on almost a daily basis. I dealt with the same issue and believe me, it takes a toll on you.
Brad Logan, writing for Gridiron Now, wrote an article today expressing his disappointment in the coach, going as far to write he felt like he was “sold a bill of goods.” Logan encouraged the coach’s Christian stance, even retweeting and promoting speaking engagements at churches and men’s conferences. I recall attending one with my son in Memphis a couple of years ago. While disappointed, Logan expressed his support for Freeze during this ordeal. It’s a good recipe to follow anytime a friend of colleague falls on their morals.
My advice to Coach Freeze is simple:
First and foremost as a Christian, he should confess his sins to God and ask forgiveness. If he is genuine in this confession, he will be forgiven and his slate wiped clean. What a great promise it is. But forgiveness from others may take time and in some cases, may never come.
Next, he should sit down with his wife and close family members and explain what he did and why he did it. He may not even know the latter part.
Given his public stature, I would advise him to find a journalist he admires and trust and arrange an interview. He’ll need to explain his actions and humbly ask his friends, players, fellow coaches and fans for forgiveness. There will be hard questions and he will need to answer them as best he can. It won’t be easy.
While the benefits from doing this will be large, so will the backlash and additional criticism he will face in yet another round of negative press.
Freeze had grown accustomed to be bombarded with request and comments during a stop at the grocery store or restaurant. Now he will be aware of every stare, every glance and wonder what they are thinking about him.
When I met Mark Sanford in 2012, we had a three-hour dinner in Charleston, SC and spent a fair amount of time recounting how we handled this pressure and the toll it took on our families and us. At the same time we discussed the many kind comments and words of encouragement received from both friends and total strangers. I hope Coach Freeze will focus more on the positive than the criticism. It’s easier said than done, but like any good football drill, positive repetition will produce a positive result.
The coming months will be challenging for the Freeze family. His wife and children will also feel the embarrassment of his actions. As Christians are taught, sin has consequences and the shrapnel of the explosion too often wounds those closest to us.
When fall practice begins he won’t be there. He won’t run lead his team through the tunnel and onto the field. There won’t be any post-game interviews or press conferences. No cheers from adoring fans, autograph or speaking request. He’ll spend many quiet afternoons taking walks, blowing leaves off his drive way and helping his children with their homework. I hope he uses this time to reconnect with them.
I pray his wife and family will stand by his side. Relationships that survive these circumstances often become stronger. Mark Sanford and I lost our marriages and our homes were split apart. We found ourselves starting from scratch with fewer resources than we were accustomed. Nevertheless, we survived and moved on. Sanford ran for and won his former congressional seat and is back doing what he loves. I became a journalist and editor and now spend my part of my time completing a memoir and building my website, OneSouthernMan.
There is a future for Hugh Freeze. It will take some time and positive action on his part. It will not be easy. But in the end, if he returns to the core beliefs he stood on in front of others, another day will come. I wish he and his family the best.