LYNCHBURG, Va. — Liberty coach Hugh Freeze made his coaching debut for the Flames in a hospital bed set up in the coaches’ box during his team’s 24-0 loss to No. 22 Syracuse on Saturday night. The bed was being used to support his healing back.
“It was a little different,” the former Ole Miss coach said in a video link with reporters from the box, noting that he had difficulty seeing the game clock. He called the team’s first- and second-down plays during arguably the biggest game in Liberty history. Syracuse was the first Power Five school ever to play in Williams Stadium, and the first ranked team to visit.
Freeze said he was encouraged by some things and disappointed in others, but he’s hoping to get better news this week. About his back.
“I think tomorrow and Monday I’ll know pretty much. Felt really good today, and the doctors wanted me to really stay totally off my feet today and tomorrow, and then we’ll kind of have a conversation Monday morning,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt right now.”
Syracuse coach Dino Babers said he spoke with Freeze during the week and encouraged him to take care of himself and his family because football will still be there when he’s well.
“I know his team is going to play their hearts out,” he said. “I mean that man is up there watching his team in a bed.”
When the game ended, at the moment when the coaches would meet at midfield, Babers gestured toward where Freeze was laying.
“I knew where he was and I just wanted him to know I love him and am thinking about him and God bless him and keep working hard,” he said.
Freeze missed nearly two weeks of practice because of a herniated disk in his back. He had surgery six days after first missing practice, and doctors discovered he also had a serious staph infection.
Freeze arrived at the stadium in a wheelchair a little more than an hour before kickoff. The school set up cameras and audio equipment in the coaches’ box that allow him to watch from several camera angles and communicate with coaches and players.
Lynchburg’s IT department set up similar equipment for Freeze in a local hotel room where he has been staying because he is unable to climb the steps at his family’s townhouse.
Freeze did manage to find something of a bright side when it was over.
“It’s probably a first nationwide, and it will be a trivia question someday,” he said. “It was a pretty remarkable idea and I’m thankful for it.”