Liberty coach Hugh Freeze has signed a contract extension through the 2028 season, the school announced Wednesday. Freeze, who is 25-10 in three seasons with the Flames, will make more than $4 million per year on average, according to ESPN. The extension for the former Ole Miss coach comes amid a busy coaching coaching carousel that has seen Freeze's name brought up as a potential candidate for the opening at Virginia Tech, among others.

"We are grateful for Coach Freeze's outstanding leadership of our football program and positive impact on our student-athletes," Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw said. "Liberty football continues to thrive and we are excited that Coach Freeze will lead our transition into Conference USA."

Freeze, 52, has helped Liberty become nationally relevant in just its fourth season as an FBS program. The Flames finished the 2020 season 10-1 and ranked No. 17 after a thrilling Cure Bowl victory over a Coastal Carolina team that was undefeated and ranked No. 9 at the time. Liberty is 7-4 this season with losses to Syracuse, Louisiana-Monroe, Ole Miss and Louisiana. The Flames close the regular season Saturday against Army.

Liberty also announced an extension for Freeze last November amid the program's undefeated start and first-ever ranking in the AP Top 25. The program did the same for Freeze in 2019 as he guided the program to a bowl appearance in his first season. With the program leaving the independent ranks behind and heading to Conference USA beginning in 2023, it now has its coach and conference affiliation settled.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from the news on Freeze signing an extension with the Flames.

Candidate off the market

Though Freeze's tenure at Ole Miss ended in a storm of controversy and embarrassment, he's done a great job on the field at Liberty and has worked to redevelop his image to a point where it's easy to see a Power Five athletic director believing Freeze deserves another shot on the big stage.

After all, Freeze led Ole Miss to a 39-25 record from 2012-16 after inheriting a team that had won just two games in 2011. No matter how sideways things got with the NCAA or his personal life, the job he did with the Rebels on the field still makes his resume pop. His tenure at Liberty has only confirmed that the he's still got it.

But the extension for Freeze suggests he's not going anywhere during this year's cycle. That is a significant development because there is a relative lack of proven Power Five head coaches who might be looking to make a jump, and there are still more jobs, particularly in the ACC, that could open which would have been potential fits for Freeze.

Liberty is serious about football

If Liberty stays on the trajectory established under Freeze, expect it to be a force in Conference USA from its first day in the league during the 2023 season. The Flames are 4-0 against teams from the league this season, and realignment isn't going to make the conference any stronger. 

Charlotte, FAU, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA, Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss are all leaving the conference after the 2022 season. That means Liberty will be competing in a league that includes Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, FIU, Louisiana Tech, UTEP and fellow new members New Mexico State, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston.

There is no reason why Liberty shouldn't consistently be at or near the top of the pecking order in that conference so long as Freeze is the coach. With the Flames paying their coach serious money, they should expect serious results as they prepare to transition into an FBS conference for the first time in program history.

Freeze really is a fit?

Freeze is a good cultural fit at Liberty, which is a bastion of conservative culture that has unashamedly embraced Freeze and vice versa. He's made it clear in past media interviews that he and his family are happy at the private university.

But Freeze has also been near the sport's pinnacle, having defeated Alabama in 2014 and 2015. It was fair to wonder how long he would really be content at a lower rung of the sport. Given that he's in the fold at Liberty for at least a fourth season, it seems clear now that he's found something he genuinely appreciates.

Instead of jumping at the first escape route offered to him, Freeze is staying put and building what could become a Group of Five power. His development of quarterback Malik Willis, who is a potential first-round draft pick in 2022, speaks to what is possible for Freeze at Liberty. Though the Flames have dipped a bit this season from their historic 2020 campaign, the program will have more opportunities to turn heads next season with games against Wake Forest, BYU, Arkansas and Virginia Tech. 

Don't be surprised if Freeze wins one or more of those contests and if his name comes up again on the ever-spinning coaching carousel. But he's proven harder to pry away than most would have expected.