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Photo by Justin Hokanson/Auburn Live
Photo by Justin Hokanson/Auburn Live

What can be expected of Hugh Freeze in year one?

AUBURN, ALA. - Gus Malzhan led Auburn to its eighth SEC Championship and an appearance in the National Championship game in his first season as head football coach after the team went winless in the SEC the year prior. Gene Chizik led the Tigers to an 8-5 record in his first season, the Tigers finished 5-7 the year before. Pat Dye's first team at Auburn went 5-6. The point is, first-year head coaches at Auburn have had just about every outcome imaginable. What does that mean for Auburn's 31st head coach Hugh Freeze?

"Hugh Freeze was at the top of our list in the beginning, and we never wavered from that," Auburn athletics director John Cohen said. "The combination of on-field success, student-athlete development, recruiting at a high level along with coach Freeze's personal inventory of his life. His transparency and his family support were of the utmost importance to us in this process."

The first priority for Freeze will need to be hitting the Transfer Portal hard. Auburn is likely losing many key players, such as running-back Tank Bigsby, edge rusher Derrick Hall, linebacker Owen Pappoe and more. If he can have success with the portal, his first year at Auburn is much more likely to be a success. 

“In year one, the portal will be a big priority," Freeze said. "Again, this is without talking to recruiting yet to find out kind of where we are with the high school recruits. I do believe in building it with high school kids and filling it in with the portal. Can we do that in year one? I'm not sure yet, so I would anticipate it being heavier towards the portal.”

The next big thing for Freeze will be hitting the recruiting trail and hitting it hard. Auburn's 2023 recruiting class is currently ranked 32nd in the country according to 24/7 Sports. The Tigers have nine four-star and three three-star recruits committed. 

The No. 1 and No. 5 ranked players in the state of Alabama, James Smith and Qua Russaw, are both five-star defensive linemen from Carver High School in Montgomery. Smith and Russaw have said they intend on playing together at the college level. If Freeze could land these two, it would set him up well to start building for the future as well as finding success in 2023.

Another recruit that would be a difference maker for Freeze would be five-star quarterback Christopher Vizzina out of Briarwood Christian High School in Birmingham. Vizzina is the No. 2 ranked player in the state of Alabama. The clock is ticking, however, as Vizzina has been committed to playing for the Clemson Tigers since April of this year. Additionally, Vizzina is enrolling early at Clemson. That means Freeze has very little time to try to get Vizzina to flip. A quarterback is often the biggest difference maker, so if Freeze managed to get Vizzina to the plains, the Auburn offense would have a lot to build around in 2023.

“I can’t wait. I’m begging Rich (McGlynn) and those guys to finish up our schedule so I can go recruit," Freeze said. "My first day out can be this weekend. I haven’t even talked to our group to see where we are with high school, but I know it’s one of the better years in the local area and we have to go make some headway in a hurry. I think I’m really good at recruiting in the living room."

The next crucial aspect of Freeze having a successful first season at Auburn is putting together a top-tier coaching staff. Freeze already has one position filled, as Cadillac Williams is being promoted to assistant head coach and will still coach the running backs.

"I went to bed feeling really, really good last night that Cadillac is going to be our associate head coach and running backs coach," Freeze said. "I told him 'look, you got to still do all the running up and down the sidelines because I can't do that. I need you to handle that part of it.' And I'm just thrilled that he's going to be with us and teach me so much."

Filling the remainder of the coaching staff with high-quality coaches could make one of the biggest differences in how year one goes for Freeze. 

“I have a list of every position and a lot of great candidates," Freeze said. "There are some here, there are some where I just came from, and they're all around the country. I'm constantly getting texts."

If Freeze can hit the portal hard, generate some flips and pick up some commitments in the class of 2023, and put together a strong coaching staff, 2023 could be one of the best seasons that Auburn has had in a while. The expectations for Freeze in his first year will strongly depend on those three things.

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