Fridley retires as Watford football coach

The man synonymous with Watford City football is calling it a career.

After 42 years, nine state titles and numerous state and national coaching accolades, Fred Fridley is stepping down. The Wolves finished 6-4 this season and lost to Shanley in the first round of the Class AA playoffs.

“Sometimes you just think it’s the time,” said the 71-year-old Fridley, who compiled a 321-103 career record and coached more than 100 all-state players. “I have a pretty good team coming back next year and I wanted to leave the coaches coming in with that type of situation. I think that’s one of the reasons, and 48 years of coaching is a pretty lengthy time and sometimes it’s time to get out.”

Fridley coached multiple sports at Fessenden before taking his first head football job at Watford City, where he appeared in 16 state championship games and won 56 straight regular-season contests from 1974-1981. His 321 wins are a state coaching record, while his nine state titles place him second on that all-time list.

“Being in the state championship game 16 times, that was always a highlight of the coaching part of it,” Fridley said. “We won nine of them, but the other ones that we were runners-up, those were just as special. All the teams I really appreciated. The wins were really important, but all the kids who came back and say it was memorable to have me coach them, that was special as well.”

Fridley is a member of state and national halls of fame and was named the national high school coach of the year in 1997 – the same year the Wolves renamed their stadium Fridley Field. Watford City Activities Director Randy Cranston said those accolades, coupled with Fridley’s longevity, make the coach a revered figure in the community.

“His reputation is everybody calls him ‘Coach,’ ” Cranston said. “He’s coached a lot of kids, a lot of kids’ kids. I think he got to the point where he’s coached some kids’ grandparents now. … And when kids look up the wall and see the national coach of the year (award) and how many state championships he’s won, that gives him respect right away.”

Fridley said he’s seen the quality of football increase dramatically during his tenure. He used to rely on natural, farm-kid strength to supply his teams’ muscle. Now, weight training, concussion seminars and first-aid programs are part of leading a program.

But the core essence of the job – and what Fridley loved about it – remained the same.

“The coaching, relating with kids and their work ethics and being on the practice field, those types of things haven’t changed,” Fridley said.

Daniel Allar covers Minot State University and high school athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.