Cats, dogs, mind-melds and the month-long race to build a brand-new Auburn offense
“I think everybody kinda checked their egos at the door. We came together. Let's make the best offense for Auburn football.”
OC Philip Montgomery (Twitter)
Last week, for the first time since they both started working together in December, Hugh Freeze and Philip Montgomery sat down and completely focused on football.
After weeks and weeks of an intense recruiting focus — one that turned around the Tigers’ 2023 class, built a highly-rated transfer haul and has already paid early dividends in the 2024 class — the new Auburn head coach and offensive coordinator started talking about how they wanted to build their scheme.
And it didn’t take long for them to realize that they were doing it in two separate languages.
“Philip and I are trying to marry two systems,” Freeze said. “They’re very similar. We believe in the same things. But there’s a lot of different ways to get to them and a lot of different things to call them. Somebody’s got to learn a new world.
“And I, truthfully, have called the offense that we’ve run pretty much the same verbiage since I was a high school coach. So you’re taking 30 years of me calling this ‘cat,’ and he wants to call it ‘dog.’”
While the two coaches aren’t going to have to drive down Wire Road for some remedial lessons at the veterinary school, they’re about to spend the next three weeks learning more about each other ahead of an earlier-than-usual start to spring practices.
This is brand-new territory for both Freeze and Montgomery. Not only are they coaching together for the first time and are in Auburn for the first time, they’ve never had this exact setup before in their coaching careers.
Freeze is two years older than Montgomery, and he had a two-year head start in the coaching profession. But both cut their teeth as high school coaches — Montgomery in Texas, Freeze in Tennessee — before making the jump to the college level.
Freeze was a position coach for two seasons before becoming a head coach at the NAIA level, then briefly spending time as Arkansas State’s offensive coordinator-turned-head coach. Montgomery spent 12 seasons as an assistant coach before getting his first shot as a head coach, an eight-year run at Tulsa that ended this past November.
“When Coach Freeze called me and we got the opportunity to sit down and visit, just from a philosophy standpoint, we're aligned extremely well with each other,” Montgomery said. “We obviously knew each other prior to this, and I have had great respect for what he's done in his past. The conversations went extremely well.
“As I sat down and talked to my wife and family, we felt like this was the right time and the right opportunity to get right into it. Couldn't ask for a better spot than Auburn.”
Since 2008, both Freeze and Montgomery have been the guys for their respective teams on offense. Freeze called plays during all of his previous stops as a head coach, rolling with co-offensive coordinators. And Montgomery was his own offensive coordinator throughout his time at Tulsa.
Now they’re having to share that role together. Montgomery is back to being an assistant instead of the head man, but Freeze has given up most of the play-calling duties to the former Broyles Award winner. (More on that in a little bit.)