Local coaching icons set bar for longevity

2011-07-26T00:00:00Z Local coaching icons set bar for longevity Arizona Daily Star
July 26, 2011 12:00 am

In celebration of Arizona's centennial, the Star will feature our picks for the 100 best athletes, moments and teams.

Throughout the summer, we will showcase our list - with the first 90 in no particular order. In August, Greg Hansen will choose his top 10, with a column on each.

Vern Friedli, Dick McConnell

Achievement

Ironwood Ridge High basketball coach Brian Peabody once tried to get mentor Dick McConnell to name his top five players from a legendary career, spent mostly at Sahuaro.

"I said, 'Well, I can't. I won't,'" McConnell said. "Not after 45 years."

No way. The memories are too rich, too long, too happy.

Same goes for Vern Friedli, who enters his 36th season as football coach at Amphitheater. Friedli has won 328 games, plus a 5A state title in 1979, and is still going, saying he's back for at least one more year after suffering a stroke in January.

In 2008, both McConnell and Friedli were inducted into the National High School Athletics Hall of Fame.

"I wouldn't know where to start (listing memories), but it's just been a fun, fun trip," Friedli said.

So much fun that neither coach thought of leaving for the prospect of more money at higher levels.

Friedli said he could have only envisioned coaching at Air Force because of its regimentation, and McConnell said he briefly considered Washburn, his alma mater in Kansas, before his former college coach talked him out of it.

Friedli remained in the Tucson area after being stationed at Fort Huachuca in the 1950s, saying the support of his wife, Sharon, was the main ingredient for his success. McConnell stuck around Tucson to amass a career 774 victories and four state titles from 1968 to 2007.

Current age

McConnell, 81; Friedli, 74

He said it

"It's really hard to quit, I'll tell you that. … The first year or two, I wasn't very pleasant. But I'm 81 now, so I guess it's best to kick back. I go around and watch my former players." - McConnell

Bruce Pascoe

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