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USATSI

With Lane Kiffin choosing to remain as the Ole Miss coach, Auburn has shifted the focus of its coaching search to Liberty's Hugh Freeze, sources close to the situation tell CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd. Conversations between the parties began weeks ago and continued after Auburn's 49-27 loss to No. 7 Alabama in the Iron Bowl on Saturday.

Freeze, 53, has amassed a 34-15 record in three seasons at Liberty. The former Ole Miss coach, who led the Rebels to a 10-3 season and second-place SEC West finish in 2015, is now the front-runner to replace Bryan Harsin on the Plains. 

"I'm not one to tell them [the players] something that's not true," said Freeze after Liberty's 49-14 loss to New Mexico State. "Is the job everyone is talking about one that I would have an interest in talking with? Sure. That doesn't mean they have offered me a job."

The attraction to Freeze stems from his success at Ole Miss from 2012-16. He was 39-25 (including vacated wins) during his tenure and beat both Alabama and Nick Saban in back-to-back seasons (2014-15). Freeze led the Rebels to a 10-win season, a berth in the Sugar Bowl and a No. 9 final ranking in 2015, a campaign that did not include any of those 27 vacated wins. 

Freeze was dismissed by Ole Miss prior to the 2017 season after it was discovered that he made inappropriate calls from his school-issued cell phone. Coupled with an NCAA investigation that uncovered a lack of institutional control, his success with the Rebels became stained. Ole Miss was penalized with a two-year bowl ban and a two-game conference suspension if he was hired by an SEC school prior to Nov. 30, 2018.

With the window for that suspension closed and numerous changes coming to the college football landscape that will likely benefit Freeze in recruiting at the Power Five level (NIL rights, transfer portal), his return to a major program became only matter of time.

Freeze spent two years away from the game before being hired by Liberty in 2019. He has never finished with fewer than eight wins while leading the Flames, who made the jump from FCS to an independent school in the FBS prior to the 2018 season. He has led Liberty to three straight bowl games, including a 10-1 record and a No. 17 overall ranking in 2020. Freeze also developed quarterback Malik Wills, who coincidentally transferred from Auburn, into a third-round draft pick in the 2022 NFL Draft