Connect with us

Sports

Auburn hires Liberty’s Hugh Freeze, who’s coming back to SEC

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/college-football-sports-auburn-tigers-2856590d9f26316ceadc9cf1ad11f0f2

Auburn is bringing Hugh Freeze back to the Southeastern Conference as head coach of the Tigers, more than five years after his resignation from SEC West rival Mississippi amid both personal and NCAA scandals.

Auburn athletic director John Cohen announced on Monday the hiring of Freeze, who spent the last four seasons as coach at Liberty.

“After a thoughtful, thorough and well-vetted search, we ended where we started, with Hugh Freeze,” Cohen said in a statement. “Of all the candidates we considered, Hugh was the best fit. Fit has several meanings, but the most important factors were student-athlete development, football strategy, recruiting and SEC experience.”

Cohen was hired Oct. 31, the same day Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin after he went 9-12 in less than two seasons at a proud program that has fallen on hard times.

Freeze is officially 76-47 in 13 seasons as a head coach at Lambuth, Arkansas State, Mississippi and Liberty, but he comes with baggage that required extensive vetting by Auburn.

Auburn credits him with a 103-47 record on the field, but he had 27 wins at Ole Miss vacated for NCAA violations.

Freeze called Auburn “one of the preeminent programs in college football.” His daughter, Jordan, attended Auburn and lives in the area.

“I can’t wait to work with our student-athletes and the Auburn family to bring championships back to the Plains,” Freeze said in a statement.

The 53-year-old Oxford, Mississippi, native led the Rebels to a 39-25 record and four bowl games, and even beat Auburn’s big rival, Alabama, in back-to-back seasons.

He resigned in the summer of 2017 after school officials uncovered a “pattern of personal misconduct” starting with a call to a number used by an escort service from a university-issued cellphone.

That was after the NCAA had started an investigation into rules violations committed by the football program under Freeze.

The NCAA found 21 violations of academic, booster and recruiting misconduct, most of which happened under Freeze’s watch. The rule-breaking landed Ole Miss on probation, including a two-year postseason ban and recruiting restrictions.

The NCAA’s ruling said Freeze promoted an atmosphere of rules compliance but failed to monitor his staff. Freeze received what would have been a light penalty: a suspension for two conference games if he had coached in 2018.

Instead, the personal misconduct matter was uncovered and he was forced to resign in July 2017.

He was out of college coaching for two years before landing in 2019 at Liberty, where he has gone 34-15, including 8-4 this year. The Flames ended the season with three straight losses, including a 49-14 blowout against New Mexico State.

Freeze acknowledged his interest in the Auburn job after that game Saturday.

The process of Auburn hiring Freeze was slowed over the weekend after a former Liberty student who had an interaction with the coach through social media over the summer emailed Auburn officials about the direct message he sent her.

The AP received a copy of the letter the woman sent to Cohen, the athletic director, and President Chris Roberts on Saturday urging the school not to hire Freeze.

The woman was plaintiff in a lawsuit against Liberty. She alleged she was sexually assaulted at the school and a settlement was reached in the case.

“I’d like to remind the Auburn administration that Liberty University is currently under federal investigation by the Department of Education for sexual assault coverups,” she wrote in the email.

“I have spoken with those running the investigation many times. As a victimized alumna, who has been messaged by Hugh Freeze, I am concerned for the alumni community at Auburn, the current students who will engage with the football program, and the ethos of Auburn if this consideration is true.”

Her sexual assault case and the DOE investigations predated Freeze’s time at Liberty.

Freeze sent a brief direct message to the woman in July, defending Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw, whom the woman had posted negative comments about.

Auburn looked into the matter and found that Freeze was unaware of the lawsuit.

On the field, Freeze has track record of producing winning teams and exciting offenses.

He helped turn onetime Auburn backup Malik Willis into a star quarterback at Liberty. Willis was a third-round draft pick for the Tennessee Titans in April.

Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford posted a message to Freeze on Twitter: “Welcome to the Plains, let’s get to work we’ve got unfinished business to handle.”

Freeze returns to the SEC West to try to revive an Auburn program that has had plenty of success, but also struggled to maintain it over the last two decades.

Auburn won a national title in 2010 under Gene Chizik and played for another three years later in Gus Malzahn’s first season. But the Tigers haven’t made the SEC championship game since 2017 and haven’t won a league title since 2013.

Running backs coach Carnell Williams, a former Auburn All-American and NFL first-round pick, served as interim coach for the final four games of this season. Auburn went 2-2 and lost 49-27 in the regular season finale to Alabama to finish 5-7.

Freeze said Williams did an “incredible job” as interim coach. “The impact he made is immeasurable and cannot be overstated,” Freeze said.

___

AP Sports Writers John Zenor and Hank Kurz Jr. contributed to this report.

___

AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap_top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://tinyurl.com/mrxhe6f2

Source: https://apnews.com/article/college-football-sports-auburn-tigers-2856590d9f26316ceadc9cf1ad11f0f2

Continue Reading

Sports

Tokyo Olympic official, 3 others held in bid-rigging probe

TOKYO (AP) — A senior official with the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee and three company executives were arrested Wednesday in an ongoing bid-rigging scandal related to the Games.

Yasuo Mori, the Olympic official, was arrested along with Koji Henmi, who headed the sports division at Japanese advertising giant Dentsu. Two other business executives were also arrested on charges of violating anti-monopoly laws, the Tokyo District Prosecutors said in a statement.

Prosecutors have also been investigating a separate bribery scandal centered around former Dentsu executive Haruyuki Takahashi, who was a member of the organizing committee.

The bid-rigging probe in general involves the choice of venues for Olympic test events as well as for the actual Games. It is a joint operation of the Japan Fair Trade Commission, which looks at violations of anti-monopoly laws.

Prosecutors said the officials secretly agreed on the bids in 2018.

Some of the contracts had only one bidder, according to Japanese media reports. Prosecutors say the bid-rigging scandal arrests have just begun and could embroil more companies.

Upon conviction of violation of anti-monopoly laws, individuals can be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

The sprawling corruption allegations surrounding Tokyo have caused the bid by the northern Japanese city of Sapporo for the 2030 Winter Games to be placed “on hold.” Sapporo was considered the favorite before the scandal.

Salt Lake City is the only other known bidder that might consider taking 2030. Salt Lake officials have said they favor a bid for 2034.

The Tokyo Games were postponed for a year and held in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The official price tag is $13 billion, though a government audit suggests it might be twice that much.

Takahashi and officials at several other companies were earlier arrested in the bribery scandal. Plans for those trials are beginning. Takahashi was released on bail after being held for several months.

Among the companies embroiled in the scandal involving Takahashi are Aoki Holdings, a clothing company that dressed Japan’s Olympic team; Sun Arrow, which produced the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic mascots named Miraitowa and Someity; and Kadokawa Group, the publisher of the Games program and guidebooks.

___

Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

—-

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Continue Reading

Sports

Jessica Pegula reveals her mother Kim Pegula’s health crisis

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Pro tennis player Jessica Pegula has revealed that her mother, Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres co-owner and president Kim Pegula, went into cardiac arrest in June and is still recovering while dealing with significant language and memory issues.

In an essay that The Players’ Tribune published Tuesday, Jessica Pegula detailed for the first time the medical crisis that abruptly removed her mother from the public eye and suggested that her mother may not resume the same level of involvement in the family’s sports franchises.

Kim Pegula, she wrote, went into cardiac arrest while sleeping and received lifesaving CPR from another daughter until paramedics arrived and restored her heartbeat. The family previously said only that Kim Pegula was receiving medical care for “some unexpected health issues” that arose shortly after she celebrated her 53rd birthday.

“My mom is working hard in her recovery, she is improving, but where she ends up is still unknown,” Jessica Pegula, 28, wrote.

She said she decided to write about her mother’s ordeal after Bills player Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field during a Jan. 2 game in Cincinnati in what Pegula described as “some bizarre, messed-up, full circle moment.”

“My stomach sunk because it felt like the exact same thing all over again. I was sitting on the bench for a tennis event in Sydney, Australia. I wanted to throw up,” wrote Jessica Pegula, who is No. 4 in the WTA’s singles rankings. “I was supposed to go on for mixed doubles in 15 minutes and I remember telling one of my teammates, `I am a little freaked out right now, this is too close to home, and I feel like I am going to have a panic attack.’”

As Hamlin began his recovery, Jessica Pegula joined in an outpouring of support from fans and the NFL and wore a white screen-printed patch with Hamlin’s uniform number while playing at the Australian Open. “It didn’t feel like it was just for him, it felt like it was for my mom as well,” she said.

Jessica Pegula had been home in Florida months earlier when she got a call from her sister, Kelly, around midnight on their mother’s birthday and learned that their mother was being rushed to the hospital.

“My mom was asleep when my dad woke up to her going into cardiac arrest and she was unresponsive for quite a while,” she wrote. Kelly Pegula, who was staying with their parents, performed CPR — just three months after telling her family that she planned to become certified in the procedure for a job.

“I remember her telling us what she was doing in our family group chat,” Jessica Pegula wrote, “and my mom even responded, `Nice Kells! Now if we have a heart attack you can revive us.’”

Today, Kim Pegula “can read, write, and understand pretty well, but she has trouble finding the words to respond,” Jessica Pegula wrote. “It is hard to deal with and it takes a lot of patience to communicate with her, but I thank God every day that we can still communicate with her at all. The doctors continue to be blown away by her recovery, considering where she started, and her determination is the driving force of that.”

As the first woman to serve as president of an NHL and NFL team at the same time, Kim Pegula “lived it and loved it, and it was felt by everyone she met,” Jessica Pegula wrote. “Now we come to the realization that all of that is most likely gone. That she won’t be able to be that person anymore.”

Continue Reading

Sports

Mat Ishbia to AP: Suns ‘will be one of best places to work’

Mat Ishbia said his first major project as owner of the Phoenix Suns will be to listen to employees and figure out what problems they’ve faced.

After that, he’ll start fixing.

The tenure of embattled Robert Sarver as owner of the NBA’s Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury officially ended Tuesday, when Ishbia — the chairman, president and chief executive of United Wholesale Mortgage, plus a member of Michigan State’s NCAA championship team in 2000 — took over. He will be governor, while his brother, Justin Ishbia, will be alternate governor.

Justin Ishbia will be the team’s second-largest shareholder, behind his brother. They acquired more than 50% of the franchise, which includes all of what was Sarver’s stake as well as some holdings of minority partners, and the sale valued the Suns and Mercury at $4 billion.

“I’m going to spend a lot of time listening and learning, then make the adjustments to make this not only one of the best organizations in the NBA but also one of the best places to work,” Mat Ishbia told The Associated Press. “That’s a huge part of my success here in Michigan and it will be a big part of our success now in Phoenix. I don’t have enough information to know what exactly it’s been like, but I will dig in and roll up my sleeves and figure it out over the next three, four, five months-plus.”

The 43-year-old Ishbia was announced as the owner-in-waiting of the Suns on Dec. 20, and the last hurdle before the purchase became official was cleared Monday night when it was revealed that the NBA’s board of governors approved him as the next owner.

The transaction was completed Tuesday. Ishbia will hold a news conference in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Sarver was suspended for one year by the NBA in mid-September after an investigation found he engaged in workplace misconduct that included racist speech and hostile behavior toward employees. About a week after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the suspension and $10 million fine — the most allowed by league rule – Sarver said he would start the process of finding a buyer.

Ishbia’s name had been linked to other potential sales of pro sports teams in the past, including the NFL’s Washington Commanders. And the self-described basketball nut jumped quickly to acquire the Suns and Mercury.

“This is what I wanted the whole time,” Ishbia said. “My name got linked to a lot of things. That doesn’t mean it was actually necessarily right. The Phoenix Suns, in my opinion, is one of the elite franchises in one of the elite cities in America. To have a chance to be one of the owners of the Suns and Phoenix Mercury is a dream come true.”

Ishbia’s company, UWM, employs about 7,000 people. It had over $226.5 billion in mortgage originations in 2021, which the company says is a record for wholesale volume.

“We’re all about culture,” Ishbia said. “We’re all about people. We’re all about the word ‘team.’ It’s almost like a match made in heaven — the city, the location, the NBA, my love of basketball. And I can come in, take some of the really good things they’re doing but maybe make some changes from a culture perspective.”

There is one immediate order of business: The NBA trade deadline is Thursday.

The Suns — who went to the NBA Finals in 2021, losing a 2-0 lead and falling to Milwaukee in six games, had the best regular-season record in the league last season — are in a muddled Western Conference playoff race this season.

Ishbia said he and team president of basketball operations James Jones, who is also the general manager, have talked and will keep talking while Jones gauges the market to see what moves, if any, are right for the Suns.

“We’ve got to make sure we put ourselves in a great position,” Ishbia said. “I think we have an amazing team and I think we’re in a great position right now. Will I be involved? Yes. Are we highly active? Yes. But at the same time, I think we have a championship-contending team without doing anything over the next two days.”

Ishbia played for Tom Izzo at Michigan State, and he got into the 2000 title game against Florida at the end. He knew he was out of bounds when he picked up a loose ball in the final moments, but no referee blew the whistle. Sensing opportunity, Ishbia tried a reverse layup at the buzzer; it missed, but he celebrated anyway.

He senses another opportunity now.

“For me, this is a lifelong dream,” he said.

___

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Continue Reading

Trending