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New GSU head football coach speaks at Rotary event

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POSTED: July 18, 2014 10:34 a.m.
Patty Leon/

Rotary President Brigitte Shanken, GSU football coach Willie Fritz and Rotary member Danny Creasy.

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Georgia Southern University’s new football coach, Willie Fritz, was the guest speaker at Tuesday’s Rotary meeting at the LaQuinta Inn in Flemington.
Rotary member Danny Creasy, a GSU alumnus, introduced Fritz and gave a little bit of his background to the group.
Fritz led Sam Houston State to back-to-back Southland Conference titles, NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title-game appearances in 2011 and 2012, and a third-straight playoff berth last season. In 21 years as a head coach, Fritz owns a 72.3 winning percentage with a record of 176-67-1.
He was named the Liberty Mutual FCS Coach of the Year in 2012 and was nationally recognized in 2011 as the American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year. Honored as the AFCA Regional Coach of the Year in 2011 and 2012, Fritz was selected by the media and his peers as the Southland’s Coach of the Year in 2011 after his team went 7-0 in conference play.
Fritz played on two conference-title teams and was a four-year starter at defensive back at Pittsburg State. He remained at his alma mater as a student assistant coach in 1982. Early coaching stops included a year at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School in Kansas in 1983 and Willis High School in Texas in 1986, and graduate school at Sam Houston State between those stops.
Fritz told the crowd that it’s been a whirlwind experience since being hired by GSU in January.
“When I came in and took the job, (GSU) Athletic Director Tom Kleinlein told me he was going to have me go out and speak with a bunch of different groups,” Fritz said, adding that he told the AD he would tackle as many groups as he could until the season started. “This is my 89th speaking engagement since I took the job January the 10.”
Fritz said he is good friends with former GSU coach Jeff Monken. The new coach said that around Christmas, he received a call that Monken accepted the coaching job at Army. Kleinlein flew to Texas, and he and Fritz met for roughly four hours.
Fritz shared the conversation with his wife and told her he was excited about the opportunity.
“She knew very little about Southern. I got her on the Internet, and I played for her the Erk Russell retirement speech … she said that is a neat place and I have to meet that guy,” he said, drawing laughter from the audience.
A week later, they flew out and he interviewed for the job.
“I had clothes for two days and ended up staying five days,” he said.
He said all practices and game preparations are open to the public — except for the ones before the Georgia Tech game Sept. 13 in Atlanta.
“(Former GSU coach and current Georgia Tech) coach (Paul) Johnson still has a few friends there in Statesboro,” he said.
Fritz said the challenge is making a great program even better.
“Every program that I have taken over, and this is my fourth stop, they were terrible on the field, and they were terrible off the field, and they were terrible in the classroom, so there was nowhere to go but up,” he said. “The difference here is that we have the structure in place. We have the discipline in place on the field, we have the conditioning … the challenge for us is to have the continued success at the (Football Bowl Subdivision) level that Georgia Southern is accustomed to at the (FCS) level.”
He also described the renovations and additions at Paulson Stadium, which include a $12 million upper deck that will be the new students’ section.
“Then, we put a $14 million, 52,000-square-feet football-operation center in the front of the facility … we are placing the Erk Russell statue in front of the facility … we’ll have a hall of fame … office space, players’ lounge, computer labs … downstairs will be a 10,000-square-foot gym with $350,000 of new equipment … just a fantastic athletic facility,” Fritz said.
He said the grand opening will be the Eagles’ home opener Sept. 6 against Savannah State. GSU’s first Sun Belt Conference game will Sept. 25 against Appalachian State in Statesboro.
Fritz said the Eagles’ strength is their offensive line. Asked how his offense differed from Monken’s, the coach said they are slightly different but similar in nature. The Eagles will run the triple option and have the offensive play-calling balance at 65 percent run and 35 percent pass.
Fritz praised the team’s quarterbacks, which include Kevin Ellison, who had 120 yards rushing against Florida last season, and Favian Upshaw, who ran the fastest 40-yard-dash time on the team at 4.3 seconds.
The coach said that right now, it appears they are right where they need to be.
“We had a good recruiting class … a couple of the publications said we had the No. 1 recruiting class of the Sun Belt Conference. On paper, we are kicking butt right now,” he joked.
GSU opens the season Aug. 20 at North Carolina State.

 

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