Two days before the image of Hugh Freeze coaching from a hospital bed went viral, the Liberty coach didn’t think he’d be able to make it to the stadium at all on game day.
Freeze had undergone surgery to treat a potentially life-threatening staph infection just two weeks earlier, and the last thing he wanted to do was hurt himself further and extend his recovery time.
But by Friday morning, he was feeling better and ready to give it a shot.
“When I got up, I told [my wife Jill], ‘This is different. I’m not immediately having those same back spasms every time I move.’ I wanted to give it a go,” Freeze said.
So the morning of the game, Freeze conducted all of his staff meetings lying in the hospital bed. The Flames had two official visitors on campus for the game, and Freeze did his closing meeting with them from his bed.
But then school officials had to figure out just how to get him into Liberty’s Arthur L. Williams Stadium. After wheeling him into the stadium, they crammed a hospital bed into what was originally a radio/TV booth in the press box. They then cut a hole into the wall so Freeze could see his coaches in the regular coaches’ booth adjacent to him.
“Obviously, we could talk and I was looking dead at them through the hole, but it wasn’t the same,” Freeze said. “I was wearing my normal headset where I could flip back and forth between the offense and defense. But not being able to talk to the officials and look my quarterbacks in the eyes, it was just really, really different and really, really odd.
“It was surreal and almost didn’t feel like a real game. I couldn’t lean up, and if I tilted that bed any higher, I could tell it was going to make my back cramp. So I went as high as I could with it, which wasn’t very high, and when the game started moving to my right, going to about the 30-yard line, I had to look at the monitor.”
And yes, Freeze has heard the jokes and seen the pictures, and knows how strange the whole thing looked — he even said he felt like he was in an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”
“I’m sure some people out there probably think I was doing it for attention, but I can promise you it’s not that. It wasn’t any fun, but it was important to me to be there for my players, my coaches and all of the people at Liberty who have done so much for me.”
Freeze, 49, has struggled with lower-back issues for years and may have to undergo another procedure later this week to have some fluid drained from his back. Liberty has arranged for a private plane to fly Freeze along with his wife and a nurse to the Louisiana game this Saturday in Lafayette, Louisiana, but Freeze said doctors have already told him he will be unable to make the trip if this additional procedure is necessary.
“The good thing is that I know I’m getting better. I can feel it. I don’t have the same spasms, the same shocking pain,” said Freeze, who had missed 16 straight days of practice as of Sunday. “Three days ago, if I just tried to get up, it was crippling. Now, as long as I take it slow, it’s better. But I have a great team of doctors. They’re not going to let me do too much, and neither is Jill.”
Freeze has seen college football evolve greatly in his time as a coach, but said even he’s amazed when he sees clips of himself sitting up there in a hospital bed and coaching his team.
“It’s probably something none of us could have imagined a few years ago, just the technology that exists now,” Freeze said. “I can’t even begin to tell you how above and beyond everyone at Liberty has gone, from the surgeons, to the video people and being able to watch practice live from a hotel room, to engineering cutting holes in a wall where it’s structurally sound, to getting a hospital bed in that little booth.
“But, man, I’m just ready to get back out there — and out of this hospital bed.”