April 8, 2010

Freeze among assistants to switch jobs - twice

Hugh Freeze hadn't been at his new job long enough to change his voice mail from his last stop.

The message on the cell phone of Arkansas State's new offensive coordinator still asked callers to leave a message with "Hugh Freeze of San Jose State football" before adding "Go Spartans."

Thus is the life for some football coaches, especially assistants, who can become nomads in search of employment in December and January.

Some of that lifestyle is their own doing. Freeze was one of a handful of assistants to take a job in December only to leave for another job after National Signing Day in February. The situation - essentially having three coaches for the same spot in a matter of months - can be a headache for football programs. This offseason alone, assistants leaping from job to job over the course of two months affected programs as varied as Florida, Stanford and Arkansas State.

Florida hired Miami Dolphins linebackers coach George Edwards to replace defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, then had to replace Edwards a month later when he left to lead the Buffalo Bills' defense. The Gators replaced him with Arizona Cardinals secondary coach Teryl Austin.

At Stanford, Jim Harbaugh hired Ron Turner to be his quarterback and receivers coach in early February, but Turner returned to the NFL to be the Indianapolis Colts' receivers coach at the end of the month.

But Turner's tenure was an eternity compared to Willie Martinez, who accepted a position at Stanford but changed his mind days later when Oklahoma came calling. Martinez, the former Georgia defensive coordinator, now is the Sooners' secondary coach.

Job-jumping doesn't look good for these assistants from a public-relations standpoint, but some opportunities can be too good to pass up.

For Freeze, family issues became the motivating factor to make a difficult move professionally and financially.

In Arkansas, Freeze's brother-in-law recently was sent to prison, leaving his sister and her children on their own. Freeze's father, Danny, who also lives in Arkansas, had a stroke two and a half years ago, making it difficult for the coach's parents to get around, much less help his sister.

Freeze said his family did its best to shield him from the troubles back home, but their struggles could not be ignored by the time Freeze started at San Jose State in January.

"It probably wasn't the best professional decision [to leave]," Freeze said. "But it was the best family decision."

Freeze may be best known as the coach at Memphis' Briarcrest Christian, the high school of "The Blind Side" subject Michael Oher. Freeze's first college job came at Ole Miss as an assistant under Ed Orgeron. When Orgeron was fired, Freeze took the job as head coach at Lambuth College, an NAIA school in Jackson, Tenn. After going 20-5 in two seasons, Freeze was hired by new San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre in December.

In his two months on the job, Freeze began the process of moving his wife and three daughters to San Jose. He also worked with MacIntyre to recruit the Spartans' freshman class.

By late February, though, Freeze had learned of his sister's troubles. He received an offer to coach the offense at Arkansas State a week later and informed MacIntyre of his decision to leave the next day.

When Freeze took the Arkansas State job, the moving truck was in San Jose at the home the Freezes had rented.

"I feel like I let them down," Freeze said. "I don't think [MacIntyre] liked it, but when I told him my reasons, I think he understood."

The irony: Freeze might not have had the opportunity to go to Arkansas State if not for another assistant who didn't stay long enough to coach a practice.

Clay Helton was fired with the rest of Tommy West's staff at Memphis but landed as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas State in late December; Freeze interviewed at the same time before taking the job at San Jose State.

Helton recruited for Arkansas State and started working with the Red Wolves' staff to put together a playbook and establish base terminology. But before any of the offense could be installed, first-year USC coach Lane Kiffin offered Helton a job as the Trojans' quarterback coach. Thus, Helton went from out of a job to coordinator at Arkansas State to quarterback coach at USC in a three-month period.

"He was up front about it and very positive about his experience here," Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts said. "But he felt that was an opportunity he couldn't pass by. That's a great opportunity for him.

"I'm happy for him. Obviously, I wasn't happy with the situation."

Helton didn't take the Arkansas State job and start looking for another opportunity; Kiffin was still at Tennessee when Helton was hired in Jonesboro. But that didn't make the conversation with Roberts any easier, even if both parties knew a job at USC is better than a job at Arkansas State.

"It does tug at your heart that another opportunity came along and one where there was no way to pass it up," Helton said.

At Florida, Edwards couldn't pass up a return to the NFL, where he coached for 12 seasons. Edwards played a minimal role in recruiting at Florida in his month on the job before returning to the pro ranks Feb. 4, the day after National Signing Day.

Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who coordinated the coordinator search for coach Urban Meyer, said he handled the change the same way he would if one of his players was lost to an injury.

"You just move forward and hire the next guy," Addazio said. "That's just the way it is. You can't stand still for anybody."

Freeze knows all about that.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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