From a Cadillac to an Escort

Snap Judgments and the Auburn Coaching Carousel

Matt Pearson / 12.1.22

If you are an Auburn University football fan, you picked up on the social media jab right away. “From a Cadillac to an Escort” nearly became an overnight meme with its play on words. Its intent was to hurt. To punish. To rub past transgressions in the face of the transgressor. On Halloween, Auburn fired its then football coach Bryan Harsin. Overnight, Auburn football legend Carnell “Cadillac” Williams went from “Running Backs Coach” to “Interim Head Coach.” Almost immediately a resurrection of sorts happened on the plains of Auburn. A football team and fanbase that was dead under Harsin came to life with the enthusiasm of Cadillac. Though the Tigers went 2-2 in the final four games under Williams, for the Auburn fan — it felt like a National Championship season. Don’t ask me to explain it. It just did.

Less than 48 hours after Auburn lost to its in-state archrival and powerhouse Alabama (ending Auburn’s season), Hugh Freeze was named Auburn’s next head coach. For any non-football fans out there, the name Hugh Freeze may not mean that much to you. What you need to know for our purposes here is that in 2017 Hugh Freeze was released from his responsibilities as the head football coach at Ole Miss. Officially, he resigned. And it wasn’t because he was a bad football coach. At the end of the day, Freeze resigned under duress due to several discovered phone calls made on his university phone to an escort service in Florida. See the play on words? From a “Cadillac” to an “Escort”? Whoever posted this did not merely intend to suggest that Freeze was a step down from Carnell Williams. Oh no. It was a more vicious slap than that.

As the news broke and this Auburn fan scrolled social media, read articles, and listened to podcasts — I was struck by how we humans are so prone to punish the punished. It’s as if we believe we have no sin. At least no sin as bad as that. When actions like this happen (such as a coach/leader being given another chance), I am forced to stare down what I really believe about grace. Forgiveness. Mercy. Much of what I read on the internet Monday night/Tuesday morning reminded me that it is more difficult to tell someone they are forgiven of their sins than to tell them to take up their mat and walk (see Luke 5:23).

I know this is about a football coach. And I know those blistering Coach Freeze on the internet are from secular sources. And I have no idea whether Hugh Freeze has repented or not. And I know that high profile people, by choice, live in a proverbial fish bowl. It comes with the territory. I get it. I do. But it does make me stop and pause: even if Freeze hasn’t “changed his ways,” does that mean he’s beyond forgiveness? Beyond grace? What if he said he was sorry, but does it again two years from now? Has he then crossed the “point of no return”? Gosh, I hope not.

I guess, at the end of the day, I felt like the new coach was brought before the court of Auburn Football Religion with everyone holding up rocks ready to pounce. It made me embarrassed as an Auburn fan. It made me sad for Freeze and his family. Ultimately, however, it forces me evaluate what I really believe about grace. Towards myself. Towards others. Towards football coaches. Toward humans. What kind of God do I worship, really? One who can actually forgive a married man who calls an escort service? I am quick to scream, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!” when I feel judged. But what if it is about someone who sins differently than I? Did Jesus really say that to a sexual sinner? Really?

He did. You can look it up. As strange as it sounds; as shocking as it appears; as scandalous as it feels — forgiveness is for any and all sins and for any and all sinners. For those who drive a Cadillac. And for those coasting to grace in an Escort.

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8 responses to “From a Cadillac to an Escort”

  1. Warren Kelly says:

    Several months before he was hired at Liberty, Freeze spoke at Liberty’s Convocation and made a point of talking about his repentance. is the video for that convocation (warning – Jerry Jr. is there too) is an LU video about it.

  2. Matt Pearson says:

    I had heard, but was unsure, this was true. Thanks for sharing, Warren!

  3. Chris White says:

    There was more going on with Freeze than the escort calls, and there is respectable journalism covering this (sexually abusive and unethical conduct at Liberty, and at previous high school coaching jobs)…not that it’s not ALL forgivable, but still. Couldn’t his path to redemption not include a return to SEC-level coaching? I think this is what so many find troubling. Not that Grace isn’t sufficient for restoration, but that for so many high profile people, restoration only means a return to the same kinds of platforms…situations that are — for any of us — morally perilous. For me, honestly, it’s not forgiveness that’s hard, re: Feeeze. It’s the pathway of restoration, which ran through a kind of Evangelical clearinghouse at Liberty U and back to a similar perch…at what is arguably the most overtly Evangelical athletic department in the country: Auburn. I can’t help but feel like we’ve been played.

  4. Matt Pearson says:

    Thanks for sharing, Chris. I am not sure if we have been “played” or not. For me, this has been about introspection. What goes through MY mind as I consider Freeze’s transgressions? I have been burdened by what is going on in m y own heart.

  5. margot shaw says:

    A. Why didn’t they just hire Cadillac?
    B. I once saw a post that I love: “Don’t judge me because I sin differently from you.”

  6. Matt Pearson says:

    A. Great question.
    B. Fantastic quote.

  7. Pierre says:

    (Chris made this point above, but it’s worth reiterating and expanding on.)
    I think David French addresses this question elegantly in his December 4 newsletter, focusing not just on Hugh Freeze but on other high-profile figures who claim to have “repented” and then seek immediate restoration to their high-level, big-salary, public positions. He even addresses the convocation speech that Warren posted above: French finds it rich that Freeze would compare himself to the prodigal son, noting that the prodigal son doesn’t ask to be restored to his former status & glory, as Freeze has clamored to do. French’s key quote:

    “Any person can live a life of great meaning and honor far removed from the spotlight. And not one of us is capable of peering into a man’s heart to know when he’s changed. But let me suggest a clear warning sign that repentance isn’t real—when a powerful person doesn’t just ask for forgiveness but also seeks restoration to the life they lived before.”

    That, I think, is why so many are rightly skeptical of Freeze’s proclamation of repentance. Not to mention that Liberty University – one of our nation’s most noxious institutional representations of so-called “Christianity”, in my opinion – hired him before most of this supposed repentance took place. I know it’s easy for me to sit here and judge him, and I know I’m no better off as a sinner than he is, and certainly I don’t think he’s ever beyond God’s forgiveness. But French has a point. What gives Freeze the right to continue to draw a huge salary from Alabama taxpayers? Why not pursue the path represented by John Profumo, who French holds up as a model of repentance and service?

  8. Susan says:

    Has anyone stopped to think that maybe God put Hugh Freeze at Auburn for Hugh, not necessarily for Auburn? I think that’s a real possibility. If he has repented (which I have no reason to believe he hasn’t) what better place to be to “work out his salvation” than under the watchful eyes of people like Cadillac or Bruce Pearl who are committed to following the Lord. To God, sin is sin whether it’s telling a “little white lie”, murder, coveting, judging, sexual sins – it doesn’t matter. We all are sinners and if he is truly repentant, then why can’t God put him in a place where He can use him to put love, mercy and forgiveness on display. If his life has not turned around as he says it has, we’ll all know soon enough. Until then, I have to believe that God is sovereign and that he meant it when he said, “Judge not that ye be not judged”

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