Cadillac Williams got the biggest round of applause of the afternoon, but this day belonged to Hugh Freeze, Auburn’s 31st head football coach. Williams, who brought enthusiasm back to the program and finished up the 2022 season by winning 2 of the final 4 games in which he was interim head coach, will stay on the staff after being promoted to associate head coach (and running backs coach).

New AD John Cohen lavished Auburn’s next football program leader with high praise, insisting that Freeze was the top candidate from the outset. He probably was around the top, but at the very top, probably not.

But in any case, Auburn could have done a lot worse. On the field, anyway. Freeze wins football games, and that’s the bottom line. At least in today’s game of high stakes. He won at Ole Miss, leading the Rebels to as high as a No. 3 ranking in back-to-back seasons (2014-15). He beat Alabama in back-to-back seasons, something Auburn hasn’t done to Nick Saban’s teams.

More amazing, he took a Liberty program, still in its FBS infancy, and in 4 years qualified for 4 bowl games. He won all 3 bowl games he coached with the program and went 10-1 in 2020, Liberty’s 3rd year of existence as an FBS football program.

He was introduced to the media on Tuesday as Auburn’s head football coach and it was obvious that the journey back to the SEC was emotional for him. Through tears, he praised wife, Jill, of 30 years, for her undying support. A coach has to have that. For that matter, any man needs to have that, especially given some of Freeze’s well-document issues.

Through any transgressions and the long journey back to coaching at the Power 5 level, she remained with him. For that he’s grateful and he made sure to make it known publicly.

Freeze spent an interesting amount of time talking about his time at Liberty, making note that having everyone pull together was a big key to the program’s success there. That’s what it will take to bring the Auburn program back to a championship level. It’s happened before at Auburn and Freeze must feel confident it can happen again.

His aw-shucks demeanor and Christian testimonial plays well in the Deep South. He makes you want to believe him. He makes you want to have faith in him. It’s easy to see why his teams play for him. Nobody said he’s perfect, and he certainly doesn’t claim to be, but with Freeze leading the way and Williams by his side, the future certainly looks bright, or at least feels that way, for the Auburn football program.

He said all the right things at the press conference. His first “game plan” at Auburn was a success. Aside from sounding at times like speaking from the pulpit rather than a podium, Freeze captured the audience and passed the audition, if there was one to be had.

First impressions are important and he made a good one — especially coming on the heels of a social media storm that dominated the weekend after news leaked that Freeze was the choice.

Freeze opened up with personal feelings and views. Knowing that Auburn prides itself on family, Freeze made it a focal point of his speech, spending the majority of his time talking about his wife and daughters, one of whom attended Auburn University.

If you believe in second chances and pulling for the underdog, then Freeze is your guy. Six years on the comeback trail, this guy has fought his way back. Nobody can say he’s not a fighter. Nobody can say he’s not a winner of football games.

His detractors are still many and his strength will be tested. But history has shown that Freeze turns programs around like nobody else in college football, save for possibly the GOAT to the west, who holds a 3-2 lifetime edge on Auburn’s new head coach.

Ironically or not, he’ll be Freeze’s biggest obstacle in bringing Auburn back to championship level. They’ll meet yearly. And it should be awesome.