Liberty makes Hugh Freeze among highest-paid non-Power 5 coaches

Hugh Freeze, who guided Liberty to its first bowl game this season, has been rewarded with a multiyear contract extension, the school announced Tuesday. Sources told ESPN the deal is for five years and will pay Freeze an average of $2 million per year, making him one of the 10 highest-paid non-Power 5 head coaches in the country.

This was Freeze's first season at Liberty, which was in its first year of FBS eligibility after being a provisional program in 2018. The Flames (7-5) will face Georgia Southern on Dec. 21 in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl in Orlando.

Freeze, whose new deal also includes a lucrative incentive package based on win totals, expressed his gratitude to the Liberty fans, players and administration for hanging in there with him after crippling back problems kept him away from practice during the preseason. He coached the first few games from a hospital bed and then a dental examination chair in the press box.

"[Wife] Jill and I are blessed to be around so many good people at Liberty who were there for us and supported us when I wasn't healthy," said Freeze, who underwent surgery in August after a potentially life-threatening strand of staph infection entered his bloodstream and complicated severe pain he was already experiencing from a herniated disc in his back.

"I'm proud of these players and what they've accomplished this season, to get to a bowl game for the first time. They've worked hard to get to this point, and we feel like this is just the start."

Liberty is the fifth team in history to receive a bowl invitation during its first full season at the FBS level. The others are Appalachian State and Georgia Southern in 2015, Marshall in 1997 and Nevada in 1992.

Freeze, 50, was out of coaching for two years after resigning at Ole Miss before the 2017 season when school officials found what they called a pattern of improper calls on Freeze's university-issued cellphone. Freeze won nine games in 2014 and 10 games in 2015 at Ole Miss and beat Alabama both seasons. The Rebels won the Sugar Bowl to cap the 2015 season, but Ole Miss was hit with NCAA sanctions that occurred on his watch.

"The administration here believed in me and gave me another chance, and I'll always be indebted to them for that," Freeze said. "The best is ahead of us here at Liberty."

Liberty, an independent program, has scheduled aggressively. The Flames played two ACC opponents (Syracuse and Virginia) and one Big Ten team (Rutgers) this season. In 2020, they will face three ACC teams: Virginia Tech, Syracuse and North Carolina State.