Lane Kiffin says he's staying at Ole Miss as Auburn reportedly focuses on Hugh Freeze

Is Hugh Freeze about to return to the SEC?

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin told ESPN on Saturday that he’s staying at Ole Miss and Auburn has reportedly shifted its coaching search focus to Freeze. Kiffin had been mentioned as a candidate to move east, but is apparently not going anywhere. Ole Miss' regular season is over after it lost to Mississippi State on Thursday night to finish 8-4.

According tomultiple reports, Freeze is now the target at Auburn. The former Ole Miss coach has been at Liberty for the past four seasons and his teams have won at least eight games in each of those years.

Liberty plays New Mexico State on Saturday while Auburn plays Alabama in the annual Iron Bowl rivalry.

Freeze’s return to the SEC would come after his last season with Ole Miss came in 2016. The Rebels went 5-7 after a 10-win season in 2015, though Freeze’s resignation weeks before the 2017 season wasn’t because Ole Miss was under .500 the previous season.

Freeze resigned in July of 2017 amidst NCAA accusations of recruiting violations and impermissible benefits for players. Former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt had sued the school for defamation and said that Freeze had attempted to blame the recruiting violations on his predecessor when he was talking to recruits. As part of the discovery for the suit, Nutt’s lawyers also found that Freeze had made calls to an escort service from his Ole Miss phone.

The NCAA gave Ole Miss a two-year bowl ban in 2019 as well as four years of scholarship sanctions.

Freeze was out of coaching for just two seasons before he was hired at Liberty by former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw — the man who ran the Baylor athletic department when myriad women accused Baylor players of sexual assault. Matt Luke was Freeze’s successor at Ole Miss and was the team’s coach for three seasons before Kiffin was hired ahead of the 2020 season.

On Saturday morning, Kiffin continued to troll a reporter who said Kiffin would be heading to Auburn earlier in the week.

The potential hire of Freeze would be the first major move by new Auburn athletic director John Cohen. He came to Auburn from Mississippi State, where he had an in-state look at the way Freeze’s tenure ended. Before becoming Mississippi State’s athletic director in 2016, Cohen was Mississippi State’s baseball coach.

If Freeze is hired at Auburn, the Tigers will have two prominent coaches with significant histories of NCAA violations. Current Auburn coach Bruce Pearl was fired at Tennessee in 2011 because of NCAA violations and was subsequently given a three-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA. He was hired at Auburn with months remaining in that penalty.