Last November in New Orleans, Ron Randleman walked onto the Tulane University stadium field just before kickoff to speak with Willie Fritz — the head coach of a team in need of a win.

The two have a relationship that extends well beyond their four seasons together at Pittsburg State, where Randleman coached the Gorillas to two league titles and a spot in the 1981 NAIA Division I championship game, and where Fritz played as a senior defensive back on that team.

Fritz got his start in college coaching when Randleman hired him in 1984 as a graduate assistant at Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas. After a coaching job at a community college, Fritz later rejoined Randleman at Sam Houston State in 1991 as a full-time assistant. Fritz insisted on coaching special teams.

“Unusual for a young coach,” Randleman said. Young coaches commonly think only about offense or defense. But Fritz saw the significance of punts and kickoffs.

Fritz now has 26 seasons of head coaching experience at four different levels of college football and five different schools. He came back to Sam Houston State a third time when Randleman used his influence on the coach search committee to clinch the hire, and Fritz reciprocated with two national championship game appearances in four seasons there.

“He’s like a dad to me,” Fritz said of Randleman and his influence. Long retired, Randleman attends roughly five Tulane games a year.

He saw Fritz win that November game in New Orleans, and one month later, win a bowl game for the first time in 16 seasons.

Randleman now has a scholarship endowment in his name at Pittsburg State, from which scholarships will be awarded to football players who best exemplify his traits of leadership and encouragement.

Fritz said he carries with him much of what he learned from the old coach. His hope? To have as much impact on his players as Randleman had on him. He wouldn’t be where he is without it.


– Christopher Dabe