Grammer: 25 reasons why Friedli still coachesby Geoff Grammer on Aug. 28, 2008, under Sports
Longtime Amphi coach cites his players
Standing in the rain watching an Amphi football practice this week, a lingering question bounced around my head.
How could Vern Friedli, a 73-year-old coaching legend with more than 300-career victories on his résumé, possibly want to keep doing this?
His once-proud program has a grand total of three wins since the end of the 2005 season. Enrollment has left Friedli scraping to field a 35-man varsity roster while as many as nine players in the school’s boundaries started playoff games in 2007 for either Ironwood Ridge or Canyon del Oro.
After the practice ended, one in which the out-manned Panthers were preparing for Friday night’s season opener against Class 4A Division I power CDO, I got more than one answer to my question.
In fact, I got 25.
As I talked with Friedli about his team, future and legacy, one-by-one, 25 Panthers football players quietly walked into the coach’s office to shake his hand before going home for the night.
“You want to know why I keep doing it?” Friedli asked. “That’s why right there.”
It wasn’t a production. It wasn’t for show.
The show of respect to their elder leader, a man who some may view as a crusty, cantankerous old man too set in his ways, is something the team has never been told to do.
“These young men come from situations and backgrounds other schools might not ever imagine,” Friedli said. “But what we stress to them here from day one is how to carry themselves in a respectful way. And the payoff is years later when they become productive adults years after some dumb Friday night football game.”
Friedli’s Panthers are a shell of their former selves, as is the once highly-anticipated and bitter annual rivalry game with CDO.
Amphi’s last win over the Dorados came via a 21-17 victory at CDO in 2003. The Panthers held an 8-game win streak from 1994-2001 in which every game was won by double-digit margins.
In 2007, on Amphi’s home field, the Dorados benched several starters in the second half and coasted to a 31-6 season-opening win.
In the game, Amphi fumbled five times, including three early turnovers leading to CDO touchdowns.
The Panthers did hold the powerful CDO running attack to 190 yards, the lowest total against CDO all season until its 4A-I state championship game loss to Scottsdale Saguaro.
Friedli is well aware CDO is at the top of the southern Arizona football mountain right now, but refuses to prepare his team for defeat.
“That’s not how we do things,” Friedli said. “We know our work is cut out for us, but I’m not sticking around unless I feel I can still be useful somehow and that isn’t going to happen if I’m not trying to prepare these kids to win games.”
The uphill road to CDO for Friday night’s game won’t end at kickoff. The Dorados boast arguably the best group of skill players of any southern Arizona football team – running back stars Griffin Ronstadt and Ka’Deem Carey; receivers Josh Robbins, Justin Kitchen and Ryan Retz; and first-year starting quarterback Doug Steele – could all be the best players in their region at their respective positions.
CDO, under ninth-year head coach Pat Nugent, expects to make another strong run at a state title after a 2007 season in which they were a minute away from winning one.
Amphi answers with a solid group of starters, but very little depth.
Senior fullback/linebacker Ron Huff is a Friedli-type guy. The 6-foot, 200-pounder is a spark plug who could cause problems for the inexperienced lines of CDO, which will have five first-time starters on the offensive line.
For more on high school sports, check out the Grammer School sports blog.
Kickoff at 7 p.m. unless noted
Amphi at Canyon del Oro
Catalina at Flowing Wells
Bisbee at Douglas
Sahuaro at Palo Verde
Nogales at Rio Rico
Sahuarita at Cholla
Santa Rita at Pueblo
Cienega at Catalina Foothills
Scotts. Chaparral at Marana
Sierra Vista Buena at Chandler Basha
Empire at Hayden
Ft. Thomas at Tanque Verde, 4 p.m.