Liberty's Freeze will coach vs. Cajuns from medical chair

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
Liberty head football coach Hugh Freeze arrives for the game against Syracuse.

UPDATE: Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde reported this morning that "a Liberty spokesman (said) bedridden football coach Hugh Freeze does plan to make the trip to Louisiana for the Flames' game Saturday, and that the school has purchased what it calls a "medical chair" for him to use in the press box." The original Daily Advertiser story ...

UL is willing to do whatever it’s able to help the head coach of its next opponent do his job.

The Ragin’ Cajuns play host to independent Liberty on Saturday night.

The Flames’ first-year head coach, former Arkansas State and Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, is recovering from August back surgery complicated by a staph infection.

Freeze coached Liberty’s season-opener, a 24-0 loss at Syracuse at last Saturday, from a hospital bed that was moved into the stadium’s press box coaching booth there.

Cajuns coach Billy Napier was asked Monday if UL has been asked to make any similar accommodations for Freeze.

“I think our administration is handling all that,” he said, “but certainly we want to do everything we can do to help Coach Freeze.

“It’s a unique scenario for him. If any of us were in that situation and had an obligation to a group of people, we would want to do everything we could do for them.

“I know I would, and I certainly respect him navigating this as he overcomes what is a tough deal,” added Napier, whose Cajuns are coming off a 38-28 season-opening loss to Mississippi State in New Orleans. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Coach Freeze.”

At his Monday presser, Freeze indicated he was not sure about his coaching plans for Saturday.

Much depends on subsequent conversations with his doctor, and how the week goes.

“The most frustrating thing for me right now is I haven’t been on the practice field with these kids in 15, 16 days,” he said. “And I think it shows.

“I’m ready to be back on the practice field. So this week my goal is to do whatever the doctors say so that I can be back on the practice field.

“Whatever that means comes Thursday or Friday with Lafayette,” he added, “that is what it is.”

Freeze was head coach at fellow Sun Belt Conference-member Arkansas State in 2011.

Known before that for having coached NFL offensive lineman Michael Oher, around whom the movie "Blindside" was centered, at a Memphis-area high school, he parlayed the Arkansas State job into the head coaching position at Ole Miss, where Oher played in college, after just one season.

Until being hired by Liberty after last season, Freeze was out of coaching since being fired by Ole Miss amid a personal scandal in 2016.

Now, as the first season on new job was just about to get underway, the back situation has proven to be a setback.

“I’ve got a great staff,” Freeze said. “They obviously have handled it very well.”

It remains to be seen for how long that must continue.

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“I don’t know what the doctor is gonna say,” Freeze said.

“I will say this, there’s no question in my mind that my back is better. I had a setback last week where they had to take me back in and do some more MRIs.

“For some reason, I had extreme amount of fluid that had gathered on the nerves where they did the operation and it was just causing me a lot of discomfort. I do not have that right now.

“Sitting does not feel great today, on Monday,” he added. “Walking with the walker this morning was a lot better than it was last week.”

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But it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to work the sideline at Cajun Field, or — a perhaps more likely scenario — watch from a press box that is not exactly ideally suited to hold a hospital bed.

That’s if he’s even able to travel again.

ESPN.com reported Tuesday that Liberty has a private plan ready to transport Freeze, his wife and a nurse to Lafayette if needed, but also that he may not able to go if an additional procedure if needed to drain fluid from his back later this week.

“Going to an away game, I’m going to have to be able to sit up, at least, and that’s the best case, for four-plus hours, probably, to call a game,” Freeze said Monday. “So I think the next few days are going to be critical for deciding that.”

If Freeze does make the trip, he will visit a venue with which he is familiar and coach against someone — Napier — he knows as well.

“We’ve got a difficult task down at the University of Louisiana,” Freeze said. “Billy Napier, I’ve known him for years.

“I have great respect for him as a man. He’s a great person of faith, and also a heck of a football coach, and he’s doing a great job there in Year 2.”

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Arkansas State beat UL 30-21 in Jonesboro when Freeze coached the Red Wolves in ’11, but UL won 31-24 at Cajun Field when Freeze was Arkansas State’s offensive coordinator in 2010.

His then-No. 14 Ole Miss team also beat UL 56-15 at Oxford in 2014.

“Difficult place to play,” Freeze said of Cajun Field.

“If you haven’t been there, they show up. They show up for the game in numbers and droves, and they’ve had a good time all day before they get to kickoff. So it’s a hostile place to play. I’ve been down there once, and it was hostile.”

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