Willie Fritz: beyond the Xs and Os

Colin Ritsick

When Willie Fritz accepted the head coaching position at Georgia Southern University, Eagle Nation knew the pedigree of coach they were getting.

A 40-15 record over the past four years at Sam Houston State University while leading the Bearkats to two FCS Championship games and being named 2012 NCAA FCS Coach of the Year speaks volumes to a fan base that expects to win, and win now.

What they may not have known is the quality of character behind the man that will lead Eagle football into its first year at the FBS level.

“The good thing about Coach Fritz is that he’ll push you and he wants you to succeed,” Andrew Weaver, senior All-American SHSU defensive end, said.

Weaver said that since he has been at SHSU, everyone on the team liked and respected Fritz, and wanted to win for him.

Dick Foster, who knew Fritz from his time at Blinn College, echoed that statement by saying “his student-athletes enjoy playing for him.”

Much of what allows Fritz to connect with his players so effectively is his playing past and the fact that he’s been a winner his whole career.

“He was an athlete himself so he knows what we’re going through and what our bodies go through,” Weaver said.

Fritz was a defensive back and four-year starter at Pittsburgh State University where he won two conference championships. He would go on to coach Blinn College to back-to-back NJCAA National Championships in 1995-1996 and he comes to GSU after winning two Southland Conference titles at SHSU.

Current Eagle football players, who had a team meeting with their new coach last week, likened Fritz to former head coach Jeff Monken in some aspects. They said that Fritz commanded the room like Monken and that he spoke with a confidence like Monken.

But their first impression was that Fritz was unlike his predecessor in that he didn’t seem to carry the ‘my way or the highway’ coaching style with him.

And Weaver can back that up.

“He was there for us. He’s a man of his word and he’ll work with you. He’s like a father figure to us,” Weaver said. “He’ll tell you, ‘If you don’t have any energy when you come to practice, come then stand next to me.’ He’s a big encourager.”

This is how Fritz gets all that he can out of his players – by being their coach first, but a friend and mentor second.

“His office is always open. Whatever it is, you can always come and talk to him,” Weaver said.

But like all successful coaches, his players know that he is there to coach the team and win games above anything else.

“To be honest, Coach Fritz doesn’t take a lot of bull. Either you’re in or you’re out. He’ll tell you straightforward – if you’re not producing or not being the player he wants you to be then he’ll tell you,” Weaver said.

“If you need some encouragement, he’ll boost you up. But he’s not going to beat around the bush with you,” Weaver said.

Losing Monken, who brought a winning mentality back to Statesboro after so many mediocre seasons, was a big blow for GSU. The knee-jerk instinct from alumni and fans was to hire from the inside – to make sure that the next coach was familiar with how things were done here and the traditions that are so valued.

However, that wasn’t the case.

Fritz has no ties to GSU. He has never ridden in a yellow bus down Fair Road on Gameday. He hasn’t seen Freedom the Eagle circle the Prettiest Little Stadium in America. He hasn’t stood on the sidelines while “Georgia…Southern!” roars in the stands. Heck, he may not have known Erk Russell’s name until recently.