Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. ensured football coach Hugh Freeze will guide the program for at least the next five seasons by giving him one of the more lucrative contracts among the Football Bowl Subdivision’s Group of 5 progr ams.
Falwell announced Tuesday afternoon Freeze and Liberty agreed to a multi-year contract extension that will keep the 50-year-old coach in Lynchburg through the 2024 season, and the new deal is among the “upper levels of the Group of 5 coach salaries,” according to Falwell.
Financial details of the contract extension were not released, but Falwell said the terms are “much more competitive with the Group of 5 coaches.”
The extension signed Tuesday replaces the final four years of the original five-year contract Freeze signed Dec. 7, 2018, when he replaced Turner Gill as the program’s ninth head coach.
The Flames are 7-5 in Freeze’s first season and are heading to a bowl game for the first time in program history. They are scheduled to play Georgia Southern at Exploria Stadium in Orlando at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 21. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.
“We wanted to show him that we recognized the incredible job he was doing with recruitment and with coaching the team this year,” Falwell said. “We approached him just to let him know we were proactive.”
The Group of 5 consists of the American Athletic, Sun Belt, Conference USA, Mid-American and Mountain West conferences.
Liberty, which is completing its first full-fledged season at the FBS level as an independent unaffiliated with a conference, is considered on the level of the Group of 5 programs.
The Power 5 consists of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Ten Conference, the Southeastern Conference, the Big 12 Conference and the Pac-12 Conference.
According to the USA Today coaches salary database, seven Group of 5 coaches made more than $2 million in base salary this past season. Six of those coaches were in the AAC.
South Florida’s Charlie Strong was the highest paid among the group for the 2019 season with a $5 million salary.
Houston’s Dana Holgorsen made $3.7 million and Memphis’ Mike Norvell made $2.66 million.
Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell and Central Florida’s Josh Heupel each made at least $2.3 million.
Strong was fired earlier this month and Norvell recently accepted the same position at Florida State.
Liberty is one of four FBS programs in Virginia. Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente made $4 million, Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall made $3.7 million and Old Dominion’s Bobby Wilder made $661,851.
“The biggest thing we can do is devote the resources that are necessary to keep the best coaches to recruit the best players to build the best facilities and abide by all the NCAA rules,” Falwell said. “That’s about all you can do.”
Falwell said he was proactive in contract negotiations to ensure Freeze remained in Lynchburg.
Dennis Coleman, a senior counsel with Boston-based firm Ropes & Gray LLC, handled the negotiations on Liberty’s behalf with Freeze’s agent, Jimmy Sexton.
Falwell said Coleman handles all the university’s major coaching contracts.
“[They] came up with an arrangement both sides thought were more than fair and were competitive,” Falwell said.
Freeze owns a career record of 56-42 in nine seasons coaching at Liberty, Mississippi (2012 through 2016), Arkansas State (2011) and NAIA Lambuth (2008 and ‘09).
His first season at Liberty began with him coaching the Aug. 31 opener against Syracuse from a hospital bed in the Williams Stadium coaches’ booth after he underwent back surgery for a staph infection earlier in the month.
He utilized a medical chair the following week in the Flames’ road game against Louisiana, and has been on the sidelines ever since.
The Flames won five straight games and became bowl eligible for the first time with a 49-28 win over New Mexico State on Nov. 30.
“Coach Freeze has brought tremendous energy and excitement to our football program,” athletic director Ian McCaw said in a text message.
“The team is on the rise and poised for even greater success under his leadership.”
Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.