Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze warned you, but were you listening?
"You can't help (but feel it) when you win some games and you're getting quality recruits," Freeze said on Monday. "I mean, that's cause for you to say you have momentum, but you have the job and the choice to continue that. Because we stump our toe this week, it's easy to say the momentum would be shifted the other way, and everyone that's praising you right now would not be praising you."
"Momentum is an everyday thing," Freeze added later.
Stump their toe? Auburn did just that on Saturday, and as Freeze warned, the vibe around the program completely shifted. 60 minutes—that's all it took for a three-game winning streak and all positive momentum to be revered.
No one cares that Auburn demolished Arkansas just under two weeks ago. No one cares; they broke a losing streak at Vanderbilt a few weeks ago. In the world of college football, it is a "what have you done for me lately" type of business.
After many were applauding Hugh Freeze for the job he had done this season in beginning his rebuild at Auburn, many of the same people are now questioning him. How could you lose to New Mexico State?
The momentum completely flipped.
There is no arguing. Saturday's loss is one of the worst in modern history for Auburn football. Sure, there have been close calls in the past against a group of five opponents, but Auburn survived those scares. That was not the case against New Mexico State. They did not just win the game; they dominated.
The logical question many have after this embarrassing loss is: will it define Hugh Freeze's tenure at Auburn? The answer is no, but his response to the loss very well could.
No one loss or win defines any coach's time at a certain program. Plenty of top-tier head coaches had head-scratching losses early in their tenures. Kirby Smart lost to Vanderbilt in his first season at Georgia. Mike Norvell at Florida State lost to Jacksonville State in his first season. Of course, as much as Auburn fans hate hearing it, Nick Saban lost to Louisiana Monroe in his first season.
On the flip side, many unsuccessful coaches had inexplicable losses early on and were not able to turn their program around. The fact of the matter is that there is much more that determines whether or not a coach will prove successful or not than any one game, no matter how good or bad that one game was.
How will Hugh Freeze respond to this loss?
Will he take the path of Mike Norvell, Kirby Smart, and Nick Saban? All three of those coaches recruited, signed, and developed top talent to help restore their program to prominence. The season after Alabama lost to Louisiana Monroe, Nick Saban signed the number one recruiting class in the country.
Kirby Smart signed the sixth-ranked class in the country after his first season. Mike Norvell signed a top 25 recuriting class and a top five transfer portal class after his first season at FSU.
It would be naive to compare Hugh Freeze to Nick Saban or Kirby Smart, who are the two best coaches in college football. The point is that there is still opportunity for success and improvement for the program despite an embarrassing on-field result. It is not to say Hugh Freeze will be as successful as Smart or Saban because they also had a bad loss in their first season.
On the flip side, Freeze could take the path of so many other coaches. Does he allow the loss to New Mexico State to thwart the positive momentum of the program? Does it cause recruiting to falter? Does it create less buy-in from the current player? If so, then Freeze's path could end up unsuccessful.
Freeze's job is to make sure none of those things occur. He has to continue to sell his vision for the future of Auburn football to recruits. He has to convince current players to continue to work hard and develop because he can get them where they want to go. He also must continue to sell Auburn boosters, administration, and fans on his vision. He must keep everyone bought in.
It is hard to avoid being swayed by every down, play, and game of a football season. Auburn fans are passionate and long for success once again on the football field. There is no excuse for ever losing a game to a team like New Mexico State. Hugh Freeze knows that.
“It’s very disappointing. Our university deserves a better effort than that and that’s my job to make sure they give that and we did not today,” Freeze said postgame.
However, it is also premature to ever make final judgments on one play, game, or season. Hugh Freeze may turn out to be a success at Auburn, or he may not. Losing to New Mexico State will not be the reason for either. How he responds to this loss, well, that could be.
So, are you listening now?