Head Football Coach, Tulane University
Even after the fanfare surrounding the opening of Yulman Stadium in 2014, Tulane University’s football team had a disappointing season. Soon after, Tulane fired the head coach who was brought on in ’13, Curtis Johnson, and hired Willie Fritz, who had been the head coach at Georgia Southern. Luckily, Fritz isn’t much for fanfare anyway. A self-described “pretty boring guy” with few interests outside of football, whose resume includes successful stints at smaller football programs such as Blinn Community College and Sam Houston State, he’s passionate about college football and singularly focused on the team. A former football player for Pittsburg State, he boasts the title of “winningest” coach in Central Missouri’s history. Fritz took time to talk to us about the Tulane players and what surprised him about New Orleans.
Q: What were your goals when you got hired on at Tulane? I got into this profession because I have a passion for teaching, and coaching is teaching and vice versa. I enjoy the interaction and relationships I have with the student athletes and my fellow coaches. I always tell people that all my friends are very, very interested in what I’m doing, and you never hear them talk about their jobs.
Here at Tulane, our goal is to bring a consistent, winning football program here to New Orleans. Not good one season, then down for a long period of time. Tulane’s had one winning season in the last 14 years. But there’s so many positives to sell here, with the bevy of talent in this area as far as football, the great academic reputation of the university and the iconic city of New Orleans. So we feel like the sky’s the limit.
Q: How would you describe the typical Tulane player? What we’re looking for is someone who’s a model of a true student athlete. It’s a work in progress, but we’re always trying to find the right fit academically. I know the right fit character-wise. I’ve been doing this a long time; I don’t have a desire to bring in any kind of guy that’s going to have problems here academically, or have problems with being able to be on his own and make mature decisions. A Tulane guy, in my opinion, is someone who’s a good student, someone who’s a good football player, someone who’s got outstanding character. In this region of the country, we can find 25 of those guys every year.
Q: What appeals to you about coaching on the collegiate level in general? I coached high school for a little bit and I enjoyed it as well, but you don’t have as much interaction or influence on the student athletes. What I like about college football is it’s a chance to represent the university, a city; the alums get behind you. A win can really help student athletes, coaches and managers, but I think it really helps the university. It gives great pride.
Q: Had you been to New Orleans before moving here? I had been here a few times for conventions and things, but had never recruited here. We’ve enjoyed it. There’s a lot more to New Orleans than people realize – than what I realized. Sometimes if you’re an outsider you hear about one street here in New Orleans. You know the name of that street.
Q: What about New Orleans surprised you? The great pride people have with the city. I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t love living in New Orleans. It’s also the first city I’ve lived in where I have people coming to visit me.
Q: Is it hard to keep players focused, being in a city like this? That’s why you do a good job of recruiting the right guys. It’s very difficult for me to change 18 years – if a guy wasn’t raised right, I’m going to have a hard time changing that. There are so many positive things to do in New Orleans; you have to find guys that are mature enough to find the positive things to do.
Age: 56 Occupation: Head football coach, Tulane University Family: Wife, Susan; children, Wesley, Elaine, and Brooke Born/raised: Shawnee Mission Kansas Resides: English Turn Education: Pittsburg State University Favorite movie: Remember the Titans Favorite TV show: “Ray Donovan” Favorite band: Tulane’s TUMBA Favorite food: Fried chicken
Favorite New Orleans restaurant: “Too many to really pick, but I’ll go with Mr. John’s.” Favorite hobby: “Hanging with the family!” Favorite vacation spot: Kansas City
I’m a pretty boring guy, really. I learned a long time ago there’s people who try to do a whole lot of things, and they do a whole lot of things average. That’s one of the reasons I don’t have hobbies; I’m pulled a lot of different directions in my job, and when I do have free time I really enjoy just relaxing and hanging out with my family. I’m probably one of the few coaches that doesn’t fish, hunt or golf.