Author's Note: This is the fifth in a five-part series detailing coaches who deserve Coach of the Year Award consideration for the jobs they have done this season in turning around once-dismal programs. Part I can be found here. Part 2 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here. Part 4 can be found here.
The Arkansas State Red Wolves share the state of Arkansas with the Arkansas Razorbacks, a powerful program in the SEC. The fact that both schools are located in Arkansas is pretty much the only similarity between the two programs. The Razorbacks have a long history of football success, while the Red Wolves have never finished above .500.
Both of the past two seasons, A State has finished with a 4-8 record and was very much a cupcake that other teams scheduled in order to get an easy win. Coach Steve Roberts' nine-year tenure as A State's head coach ended after last season, as he was fired and replaced by offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze.
Looks like that was a pretty good move for the Red Wolves, as the team is currently 8-2 and in sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt Conference. Considering the Red Wolves usually are not anywhere close to winning the Sun Belt, Coach Freeze's first year is going pretty well, to put it mildly.
Last season, the nation was introduced to Coach Mike Haywood, then the head coach at Miami (OH), who took the RedHawks from double-digit losses the previous season to double-digit wins and a MAC title last season. He was hailed as a coaching phenom and quickly become a hot commodity amongst much bigger programs searching for a new head coach.
Hugh Freeze has arguably done an even more impressive job this season than Haywood did last season. After all, the RedHawks have had football success much more recently than A State, who hasn't had much success at the FBS level...ever.
To put it bluntly, prior to this season the Red Wolves simply had no idea how to win at the FBS level. And they hadn't been all that good at the whole winning thing even when they played at the I-AA level, where they hadn't had anything resembling success since the mid 80's.
Not only has Coach Freeze taught the Arkansas State football team how to win, he has also made exceptional players out of unheralded recruits. QB Ryan Aplin was a lightly-recruited two-star prospect coming out of high school. The Red Wolves' starting quarterback now has a pretty good shot at winning Sun Belt MVP this season, as he leads the team in both passing and rushing and has 21 combined touchdowns.
Barring a major collapse, Arkansas State will win the Sun Belt title this year. For a program that has never had a winning season, that's a pretty big deal. Coach Freeze will likely win the Sun Belt Coach of the Year award this season.
Honestly, for teaching a program how to be successful that literally had never been so before, Coach Hugh Freeze also deserves the Paul "Bear" Bryant national Coach of the Year award.