When Willie Fritz was introduced as the next head coach of Georgia Southern’s football program, he took former Eagles quarterback and College Football Hall of Famer Tracy Ham’s advice.
Fritz told a packed Bishop Field House crowd on Friday: “Tracy Ham told me during the interview process, ‘Coach, for your press conference, we need you to say two words. Triple option.’”
Fritz, who spent the last four seasons at Sam Houston State, plans to install the same offense he ran there.
“We’re a triple-option type team,” Fritz said. “We do it in a different way than what you have been doing here at Georgia Southern. We’re more in a pistol, more of a (shotgun) set. We’ve rushed for a lot of yards. We were the leading scoring offense in the FCS over the last three seasons, so we’re going to put points on the board. But I do believe that you’ve got to have a great running attack.”
Fritz was selected from a pool of four finalists. Fritz, Wofford head coach Mike Ayers, Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper and Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton all visited Georgia Southern’s campus for final interviews this week. The entire search took 18 days.
Fritz was the only candidate to be offered the position out a pool of 20 who were initially contacted, athletics director Tom Kleinlein said.
“We offered this job to one person,” Kleinlein said. “The guy I just introduced.”
Fritz was offered a one-year contract from the university with an additional three years from the Georgia Southern University Athletic Foundation for a contract totaling four years, with a base salary of $300,000 per year. Kleinlein said the contract offered to Fritz was the same as the counteroffer given to former coach Jeff Monken after Monken was offered the job at Army.
The full details of Fritz’s contract, including available funds for assistant coaches, have not been finalized.
The contract includes a buyout clause, so if Fritz resigns his position at GSU, the university will be owed the remainder of the university contract, Kleinlein said.
The contract will automatically roll over each season if Fritz’s Eagles win at least seven games and the program’s academic progress rate maintains a score of 940 or higher.
“If he comes in and produces both in wins and losses and academically like he’s supposed to, we keep him on as our coach,” Kleinlein said. “That’s what we want to do. We want to try to create stability in our program, and we want to incentivize our head coach so if he goes out and does the things we ask him to do, we’re behind him.”
Kleinlein and GSU President Brooks Keel each used the phrase “relentless expectations” in reference to the Eagles. Keel told the crowd that there were four factors he was looking for in the next head coach — academic success, discipline on and off the field, tradition and winning — in that order.
“That is what we do here at Georgia Southern,” Keel said.
Keel added that Fritz is “a man who we know will instantly and sustainably lead our football program to national recognition and success.”
The search committee was made up of Ham and Tim Durden, both former Georgia Southern players; Rob Whitaker, the university’s GSU vice president for business and finance; faculty athletics representative Chris Geyerman; and members of Athletics Foundation Executive Committee.
Kleinlein said he did a lot of listening and let the committee handle much of the questioning during the interview process — especially when it came to GSU’s traditions.
“I understand Georgia Southern’s traditions,” Kleinlein said. “Tracy Ham and Tim Durden, they lived them. They know them. When they’re asking those questions, it’s a whole different deal.”
Fritz, who was the head coach at SHSU, Central Missouri and Blinn College before coming to Georgia Southern, had a familiar feeling when he was told about the yellow school buses the Eagles take to Paulson Stadium before games.
“He looked at me,” Kleinlein said, “and he said, ‘Do I drive the bus? Because I did that at Blinn College.’”
Fritz said that some of his staff of assistants will come from his staff at Sam Houston State, though he did not offer any names. He will also talk with the coaches left on the current GSU staff.
“There will be some guys from my previous staff that will join us,” Fritz said. “I’m going to visit with all those guys who are still currently still here and we’ll see where that leads. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a staff member or two who will be on our staff.”
Fritz said the Eagles will run a 4-2-5 defense.
Kleinlein said time is limited for hiring a staff of assistants, and he expects to have at least some hired soon. Wednesday will mark the end of a recruiting “dead period” where coaches may not contact prospects in person. The dead period began Dec. 16.
Kleinlein will leave all staff decisions to Fritz.
“This is his program,” Kleinlein said, “It’s his program to decide what fits.”
When asked about the negative reactions by some of the GSU fan base to next year’s move to the Football Bowl Subdivision Sun Belt Conference and the program’s move away from its traditional, under-center, spread option offense, Fritz offered one solution.
“Winning,” Fritz said. “I’ve learned that that kills all ills.”
Fritz said he will give all current players an opportunity to earn a position.
“Some of them will be excited about that and some of them won’t,” he said.
Fritz will meet the players for the first time on Sunday evening.
“Oftentimes the players feel left out of the selection process. To me, everybody begins with a clean slate. I’m going to establish relationships with each and every one of them,” he said. “I want to make sure that I do a good job of letting them know that I’m excited about the opportunity to be their head coach and lead them into battle.”