With just over three decades in the coaching business, Willie Fritz is just about as well-traveled as any head coach on the sub-FBS level. A career that started as a graduate assistant at Pittsburg State (Kan.) in 1982 led through the assistant ranks to his first head coaching job at Blinn Junior College in Texas. In taking over a program that was 5-24-1 in the three seasons prior to his arrival, Fritz led Blinn to a 39-5-1 record with two national championships and found himself as an inductee in the NJCAA Hall of Fame.
That led him to Division II Central Missouri, were he went 97-47 in 13 seasons and the school's first playoff birth in 32 years. His three seasons at Sam Houston State have included a 31-10 record, the best three-year stretch in school history, and two consecutive berths in the FCS National Championship.
We caught up with the head Bearkat to talk about potential scheduling difficulties ahead, his recruiting strategy, career management and his team's playoff runs in this week's edition of 10 Questions With. (If you know a coach that you think would be an interesting subject for future installments, see the bottom of this post.)
1. You've seen the coverage of the Big Ten's proposal to drop FCS schools from its non-conference scheduling. What would this do to FCS football if this was adopted nation-wide?
The economics of it is what's troubling for us. As far as the funding, it would make things more difficult because you would have to come up with that money some how, some way. Oftentimes, it doesn't fall on the football programs, it's the other sports.
2. You played two FBS teams this year and had only three regular season games in Huntsville. How did that affect your season?
We had a difficult schedule this year, playing a Division II team which basically didn't count and two FBS games, you always play those on the road. We actually had eight games where we had to win seven out of those eight games (to make the FCS playoffs).
3. What's your recruiting strategy for building a program at the FCS level?
You want to recruit the best athletes that you can. In my career as head coach at the junior college level, Division II and now FCS, kids are happier when they're close to home. We're competing against teams that maybe are FBS programs that are outside the state. We go after those kids that maybe are looking at going to FBS programs, trying to get kids to stay close to home.
4. You get a good number of transfers from FBS schools. What makes Sam Houston State attractive for those players?
When it's all said and done, they're 1,000 miles from home and those plane tickets cost a lot of money to fly themselves, parents, and friends back and forth to come watch them play. We feel like we're a very viable alternative for that.
5. How does the "re-recruiting" process work? How often are you competing against other FCS schools for players?
They have to be released first. That's normally taken care of, hopefully, when they contact you. That's the first thing you need to tell them. We talk to them about our place and there's a re-recruitment sometimes, sometimes there isn't because there aren't a whole lot of FCS programs in the state of Texas. I've just seen over my years as a head coach at three different levels, kids seem to be happier when they're somewhat close to home.
6. Your program has had an unbelievable ride come to an end in disappointing fashion each of the past two seasons. How do you, your staff, and your players take stock of the state of Sam Houston State football?
Obviously we're happy with where our program's at right now but we're not to rest and be satisfied until we win a national championship. We talked to our kids in our first meeting when we came back from the national championship game that there's some things we need to work on to get better at but we certainly are not resting in our pursuit of winning a national championship.
7. Each of the FCS National Championship games have played out in similar fashion, with North Dakota State pulling away in the second half after a tight first half. What do you attribute that to?
North Dakota State is a great ball club, well coached, excellent players, very disciplined. We didn't respond to adversity as well as we needed to this past year. In those kind of games, there's going to be momentum shifts and we just did not respond to those shifts very well. We're looking at it, and we've got to get better. We've got to become more disciplined and do a better job of responding to adversity in a positive manner.
8. We wanted to ask about your semifinal win over Eastern Washington, where a 35-7 halftime lead turned into a 45-42 squeaker. You're far away from home in front of a raucous crowd on the red turf and your massive lead is slipping away seemingly by the snap. What was the attitude like on the sidelines?
They came back because they've got some very good players. We had some missed assignments, gave up some easy scores. I blame myself, you're always learning. I think we got conservative, a large part of that was myself. You start looking at it and you're up five scores and there's probably only going to be six or seven possessions for that half. We got away from our gameplan a little bit. It's always a learning situation. There was never any panic on the sideline. When coaches start panicking, that's when players start panicking. We're looking for solutions down there more than anything else.
9. Have you been contacted by any FBS programs about their openings? If so, what has kept you in Huntsville?
When you're having a successful program, you're going to get some interest. I've been in this business long enough now to know that you've really got to look at things because the grass isn't always greener. I've been very fortunate that I've got a great location, I've got a great athletic director, I've got a great president. In the long run, you'd better be really certain about understanding where you're at and knowing that you've got a great situation before you go into something that's unknown to you.
10. What do you say to other coaches weighing whether or not to take a new job?
I just think sometimes you've got to step back and know why you're in this profession. I think sometimes guys lose sight of that. Hopefully it's to help kids. I feel like I had just a great impact on kids when I was making $19,000 as a defensive coordinator at Coffeyville Community College as I do now. You just can't lose sight of that. Sometimes people are very concerned about climbing up the ladder and they're not patient. I'm pretty old school. Put your nose to the grindstone, work hard and people will see you doing good things. Don't ever lose sight of why you're in this profession, try to be a positive role model to your university and your student-athletes. I know that's what we're trying to accomplish here at Sam Houston.
As we mentioned above, we're interested in speaking with any coach with an interesting perspective across all levels of football. If you know someone that would make a good subject, email firstname.lastname@example.org.