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What Coach Freeze Said Two Days After the Iron Bowl

Coach Freeze usually meets with the media the Monday after games, but not when there isn’t a game that upcoming weekend. However, he called a press conference this Monday because he seemingly wanted to go over the Iron Bowl one more time now that he’s had a few days to think about it. He also seemed to want to get some things off his chest, and given how many words are below, he may have just wanted to talk it out and let us listen. Whatever it is, he said some good things we needed to hear.

Opening Statement…
Thank you, everyone, for coming. I know that this wasn’t originally scheduled, but I felt like it would be good for us all to visit one more time before we hit the recruiting trail and just revisit Saturday night, which, in my opinion, was the best college football atmosphere I’ve ever experienced. I just wanted to say to our fans and supporters and students and band and cheerleaders, everybody that provided that type of atmosphere for our young men to play in and for us to coach in – thank you. It was incredible. Off the charts good. I think it’s the best home atmosphere in the country. I know a lot of good recruits got to see that, so that was incredible. So, thank you to all the Auburn Tiger family. It will forever be a regret that we didn’t get to celebrate together after it. I would have immensely enjoyed that. That would have really, really been nice.

Having said that, I think our kids played with the type of passion, energy and physicality that you have to to play with top teams in the country. As hurt as we are, as hurt as our kids are, the sting is not getting any better right now from losing the Iron Bowl when you had a real shot and should have won the game based on how it played out. But that is something that has certainly laid a foundation. We’ve played three top-10 teams within a touchdown; (we were) in three of those games with a first-year roster. Now the consistency that we need to seek to find is to get that every single game. But I’m very proud of the effort from our kids. The game plan was good and obviously wish that it would have just ended a bit differently, and we’d all be feeling a lot better.

There is still a lot of hurt. I texted with some kids this morning. This game means so much, and we let it slip away. A lot to build on. Obviously, I think all the recruits saw what can be, and it can be pretty fast. So now we’ve got to take the positives from that and go and recruit to this great university. We’ve got a lot of great commitments that we can hopefully hold on to. We have to recruit our current roster, I’m sure. That’s the new world we’re in. That’ll start today.

We’ve got to get all the NFL information and try to give our kids the best information to make the wisest decision. And at the same time, go recruit high school kids, portal kids, whatever it takes to enhance our roster so that we’re better able to have depth and compete with more consistency next year. So, I’m excited, but absolutely still heartbroken over Saturday evening as are our kids. More determined than ever and more confident than ever that this place can be an elite college football program.

On what he thought Sunday morning when he woke up…
Well, I never went to sleep. So I didn’t wake up. This profession, we sign up for it and it’s difficult, and I try to keep things in great perspective about the big picture of why we coach. I have to preach that to myself after losses like the last few because my window of coaching, in the spectrum of life, is pretty small. What I do with that window matters long after the program is over. I know fans and media and coaches and all of us live and die with every game.

But, if you look at the big spectrum, I know that we’re pouring into the people in this program the right things. You try and get some comfort with that , but it’s hard. There is no two ways about it. You run through every single play that could have made a difference. Do you do anything different? You’re going to relive all of that. I didn’t sleep at all. It means so much to so many people and when you care, you want to deliver when you have an opportunity in a game of that magnitude. When you don’t, you’re not going to sleep very much. I watched the film several times.

But again, as disappointing and hurtful as it is, if you’re made of the right stuff, it makes you determined to get in those situations again and to go get some players that want to do it with you. To say that you wake up on Sunday morning and it’s all over in your mind and in your spirit, that’s not real. It’s still not over truthfully, but I’m a fighter and so are these kids and so is this staff. Time makes things a little better, and you’re encouraged that you found a way to compete with one of the elite programs in the country in year one.

On the team responding to the tough start to Saturday’s game…
It showed our resolve. I wanted the ball. I thought we had a good plan offensively, but the first possession didn’t go really well. That happens against good teams. They’re going to stop you. Alabama’s pretty good on defense. For them to jump out on us … but our kids never quit, not one ounce. So that was good to see them fight back.

On comforting D.J. James following the game…
I wish I had the words for him. I tried hard. I sat with him at his locker for a while, he and Koy (Moore). I texted with him yesterday. It’s just tough. This world can be brutal. I get it on coaches, they’re going to be brutal on me and every decision I make, good or bad. And everybody’s got the answer, what they would do. I get that for coaches. You hate to see it when young men who are playing the game get attacked. That’s just… I hate that. I think those people need to get a life and a perspective.

No one hurt more than Koy and D.J. And truthfully, in the scheme we were in on that play, I know D.J. will get all the criticism, but truthfully there should have been somebody else standing there with him to help him. So it’s not just him, even though he’s feeling the weight of it. His words at his locker were, ‘Coach, I let you down. I let you down.’ And he felt that because of not only that play, but the one right before the half when we were up 14-10, he didn’t get the call and gave them a long TD pass there. So he felt the weight of the world on him.

I just told him, ‘We’ll get through it. We love you, we’ll get through it together.’ Somehow, in time, if handled right, it makes them stronger.

On conversations had about the key moments of the game…
The punt, I don’t know what discussion you can have. Keionte (Scott) dings his shoulder on third down, goes to the training room, so you put your backup in, which Koy (Moore) has been solid all year doing that. I didn’t know that in the moment, but you have to play backups sometimes. The last thing you want to do in that moment is just let them pin us back on the five-yard line with their three timeouts.

Koy has been solid all year at catching punts, and something happened with his footing it looked like. It’s one of those awful plays that I think we win the game if we catch that punt, but Koy has been dependable as can be so there’s really no discussion there. If Keionte is out, you put your next guy in there, and we trust Koy to do his job. He’s done it well all year and unfortunately just had a bad break there.

We had a lot of discussion on that (fourth and 31) because they had a timeout and we saw what they were in. They were in empty, so your choices are ‘Do we rush him?’, and if we do, then we haven’t really got him on the ground very much, and he can scramble around and they’ll have a bunch of one-on-ones back there. So you could do that and one of their guys goes up and makes a play, or you can drop everybody and five-under, three-deep and play vision on the ball and knock the ball down because it has to go in the endzone.

That’s the choice we made. I could show you still shots, I took pictures of every still shot from the 10-yard line in, and we are in perfect position. We have three-over-two, so either we didn’t coach it well enough or we didn’t execute it well enough. It’s probably a combination of both. It’s something we work every Thursday on. Those were our two options, and that’s the one we went with. We felt like, with their empty set, we could stay three-over-two and four-over-three and play with vision on the ball and knock the ball down, and we didn’t play with vision on the ball.

On how proud he is of Liberty for the season they had…
Anytime you go undefeated in college football, regardless of what people say or don’t say about your schedule, something is really, really, really going good and in the right frame in that building. Coach (Jamey) Chadwell and his staff, I don’t know him tremendously well, but you have to give them credit for getting those kids ready every single week. As that season went on I’m sure the pressure to succeed kind of builds in that building. Credit to their staff and their kids for responding every single time. Now they get to play for their first ever conference championship.

Obviously, what we did there was fun and good, and I think we helped start building that program in FBS play, but the credit goes to those guys there right now that have found a way take all of those pieces that were there. I’m really happy for all of the kids that I know. Really (Coach Chadwell) combined those kids with some others and made them a team. Congratulations to them and to AD Ian McCaw and that entire administration and fan base. They’re getting to host a conference championship Saturday and then who knows? They may get into one of those New Year’s Six games, which is always something we talked about. I’m not sure where all of that stands right now. They’d have my vote if I had a say in it, but congratulations to them.

On recruiting moving forward after Saturday…
The recruits, I think see it. I mean the battles are never over when you’re talking about battling for the top guys in the country but for them to have that as an experience, that’s certainly a positive for us. I don’t know that they’ve been to a game that was quite like that. I think it was a step in the right direction for us to hopefully get to the finish line with some of those guys. Again, a lot of credit goes to our fanbase.

On how he’ll handle players not playing in the bowl game…
This is new to me. Didn’t have a single kid at Ole Miss. I didn’t get to coach in the Arkansas State one because I had left. Didn’t have a single kid do that and obviously, at Liberty, I didn’t either, but I left last year before the last one. That is a difficult deal for me. I’ve always believed you finish. You finish with your team. We signed up for this. However, I will say every situation is a little different. I’m gonna have to really put a lot of thought and prayer and seek wisdom for if that becomes the case here.

There’s obviously some kids that will probably move on from here, so our people need to know that. That’s the new world we live in. Do you take to the bowl game those guys that are choosing to do that, or do you not? You certainly need to have some numbers. You want to do well, and you want to prepare well, so you have to have some numbers to do that. Some (coaches ) are probably pretty cut and dry. This is my first experience with it, believe it or not. I’ve never had to deal with it before. I’ll be learning through the process myself.

On looking into the transfer portal and building roster…
I don’t think there’s any possible way that any coach can sit here and tell you how he’s going to come up with his 85. I’d love to sit here and tell you we’re going to build it with high school kids and y’all are going to give me time to build it that way. I would love to say that, but then, this week, if I have 10 guys walk in and transfer, and I haven’t been recruiting enough high school kids to replace those, it’s impossible for me to say that. So, I have no idea how exactly the makeup of the 85 will look and what we have to replace. Do we have to replace just 22 or do we have to replace 32? None of us know.

I think that’s become the biggest challenge for us coaches. How do you manage the 85? It will take you all the way through spring and summer to really figure that out because of the way the portal windows are set up. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that this portal window we’re getting ready to have is as long as it is. It makes no sense. We have to go all of the way through Christmas worrying about people tampering with players on your team. Either they know they’re going in or they’re not, so give them from Dec. 1 to Dec. 10, and make your decision, and let’s move on. This idea that we have all this long portal window — it wasn’t made by anyone that’s having to live it. I assure you.

On being a year in at Auburn…
I am absolutely, positively, totally convinced this place can be an elite program. Now, being an elite program in this conference, there are some others too. Does that mean you’re going to win every single game? Probably not. I don’t know of many teams who are going to do that anymore, truthfully, but we should be in every game. This place, the support it has, the energy, the fanbase, the culture, the family feel, the administration alignment, the facilities, everything is here for us to build — and I say build because these things don’t happen overnight — to build a championship team. It’s here and we can do it.

I do think it’s important that we recruit young men who understand that they’re going to be blessed by being at Auburn. We have the resources to bless them, but entitlement doesn’t come with that. They need to fit the culture and the standard that should be for everybody regardless of how blessed they feel they are. We should continue to try to earn those every single day because people are investing in us. I’m totally convinced and my family loves living here. We love the encouragement you get from the common fan who loves this place. It’s been a blessing. Wish we would’ve delivered more wins, but I’ll always feel that way.

On conversations with student-athletes currently on the roster…
The only way I know to be is totally transparent and tell them the truth. The truth for some is ‘your chances to play here are probably slim.’ The truth for others is ‘man, there is an element of patience that needs to be involved in your decision. You’re going to be really good if you can just be patient and not listen to the voices that want immediate gratification.’ Certainly, you’ve got the money aspect that’s involved in all of this now. I think you should choose the place, the culture and the environment that’s going to develop you for the long term, for the long haul. I think everything is better when you’re in that environment for yourself. But some need to have patience and other discussions are just going to be truthful with how we see you fitting into this roster.

On assessing the culture and foundation…
If you take away Week 11, I think we have made great strides in our culture. Even with that week, we have started learning about true accountability, what it’s like for me as an individual to meet the standard every single day that it takes. I do not think that you can win big games if you don’t have a large percentage of your team that are buying into that accountability to each other. I think the one thing that I’m still searching for more wisdom on, and we’ve gotten better is this element of – when you and I played, there was this element in our locker room and outside the locker room of community and communication.

This new world of we talk to each other through text, and we date through SnapChat and all of that world, I think you miss this element of true community. When you have true community, it’s easy to hold each other accountable because you and I have a relationship and I can say to you, ‘come on, now. That’s not the way we do that.’ I’m still wanting that to grow. It has gotten better, but I do want us to truly be a community that has a relationship with one another that when you get through practice, why don’t we go hang out instead of going and put our headsets on and just play a video game with somebody else online somewhere in the world. What about ‘let’s put our phones away and let’s have a conversation.’

Maybe I’m living in a fairytale world. I don’t know. I want to develop that here. The culture has gotten better. The standard has gotten better. The accountability has gotten better. I’m hopeful that I can continue to build the community aspect of what a team really is.

On what he’s most proud of in this first year…
Probably I’m proudest of the Auburn Family that supported us. It’s hard for me to sit here and say one thing. I’m proud of our kids and the fight that we showed. I mean you lose four-straight games, and that thing could’ve gone a lot of different ways and I thought they stayed engaged which shows our staff did a decent job of keeping them engaged. We certainly played some of our better football in last Saturday’s game. So, all of that is encouraging, but it’s hard for me to sit here and say that I am proud of delivering six wins, when I feel like it could’ve been more.

Man, the Auburn Family and fans have just blown me away which makes us want to deliver a product that we can be so happy with. I know we were limited, and you could see there was different athleticism on the field in some games but yet our kids found a way to compete so I’m very proud of that. Sure wish we could’ve had a few more in the win column.

On the last drive of the first half against Alabama…
He (Alex McPherson) probably would’ve been good from about 53 or so, 54 maybe. I can’t remember that scenario with 11 seconds. Did we still have a timeout left? I think we dropped a ball on that possession which would have put us close to field position. I can’t remember what happened with 6 seconds. I know it was 6 seconds on the Hail Mary. I can’t remember what we did there.

He (Payton Thorne) had to throw it away? So, you know, we do that a lot. We’ve been pretty balanced on those types of decisions, and I guess felt like we had some open things. I thought we had some good route concepts that would give them problems, we just had to call them at the right time. We could have tried that, I’m sure.

On his message to fans for 2024…
Thank you, number one. Thank you, thank you, thank you and get your season tickets for next year. We are going to make you proud and you are going to enjoy watching us build this program, so stay in the fight with us and we thank you so much.

On switching over to bowl practice…
I’m not the one who grinds them during bowl week. I am really not. I want them to enjoy the journey and the process. I’ll try to get our young kids a lot of work and get them in the game, particularly those DBs. We need to get those young DBs a lot of reps in those games. We think they have a chance to be really good players. Tyler Scott, Kayin Lee, Terrance Love, Sylvester Smith, JC Hart, that group of kids. We all think they have a chance, and they are going to have to play next year so we need to see them.

I am going to sit down today, it is one of the things on my list, and make a hypothetical practice schedule based on the bowls that I think we could end up going to, so I’ll have that ready. We will try to get five to six here and then usually three more at the practice site. So, usually around eight practices is what we will try to get in and get a lot of good individual work and obviously a game plan together, but excited to get some of the young kids some work.

Final comments…
I will say one more thing. Everybody will point to the last plays and D.J. (James) and Koy (Moore) and everything, but there are other plays in that game too that make a difference. So, it’s not just on those two for those kids. Obviously, they’re magnified because of the time to which it was in. But we could’ve put it away with another TD down on the five-yard line, too. I thought Payton (Thorne) threw a heck of a ball there and it hit our guy right in the facemask and we have to make that play.

So, it’s not just those two young men and those two plays or coaching decisions on those two plays. We had other chances too in that game and so anyway just wanted to say that. Thank you guys for this year. I appreciate you covering our program, and I guess we’ll visit again toward the bowl game.

Transcript via Auburn Athletics.

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