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Key takeaways from Willie Fritz’s first press conference

Willie Fritz made his first impression as UH’s new head coach Monday afternoon in his introductory presser. | Anh Le/The Cougar

Cougar fans got their first look at new head football coach Willie Fritz on Monday in his introductory press conference, and a new wave of optimism around UH football came with it.

Fritz spoke with confidence and conviction and said all the right things. Let’s take a look at the most important moments from the new coach’s first media appearance at UH.

A proven winner taking a step up

One word above was uttered above all throughout the press afternoon press conference regarding Fritz: winner.

“There’s a lot of things that you’re trying to guide towards as far as your north star your guiding principles when you’re looking for somebody to lead our program,” said athletic director Chris Pezman. “But really what it came down to is, Coach Fritz is a great coach. A proven winner everywhere he’s been. A program builder.”

Thirty-one years into his coaching career, Fritz has 247 wins with five different teams.

Fritz began his head coaching career at Blinn Junior College, where he won 26 straight games en route to back-to-back national titles in 1995-96. Then, at Central Missouri, Fritz went an impressive 97-47 in 12 years before taking Sam Houston State to consecutive Division I-AA championship appearances in 2011 and 2012.

Fritz took the leap to Division I-A in 2014, betting on himself by taking the Georgia Southern job despite his unfamiliarity with the area.

“When they hired me I asked, ‘Why would you hire me? I’ve been to the airport in Atlanta twice. I don’t know anybody in Georgia,'” Fritz said. “They liked the fact that I turned some programs around and we got that program turned around.”

The Eagles won nine games in both of Fritz’s seasons at the helm, winning the Sun Belt in 2015.

Now, after turning Tulane into AAC and Cotton Bowl champions after eight seasons there, Fritz has the chance to put his winning resume to the test at the highest level of college football: The Power 5.

“A lot of people start on third base and I think you hit a home run or hit a triple. It took me a long time to get around the bases. And I finally got my home run by getting this job,” Fritz said. “I’ve done it at the junior college level, I’ve done it at the Division II level, I’ve done it at the I-AA level, I’ve done it at the Group of 5 level. I want to do it at the Power 5 level. That’s a goal of mine.”

Familiar place

One of the biggest pieces of Fritz’s coaching resume is his familiarity with the state of Texas and his ties to the city of Houston itself.

Both of Fritz’s daughters currently reside in Houston, and after his stints at Blinn and Sam Houston State just down the road, Fritz knows the city inside and out.

“It’s one of the many reasons why I wanted to come here,” Fritz said. “To have this opportunity to do it in the great state of Texas, the great city of Houston. The vast majority of the players (at Blinn) that played for me were from the greater Houston area.”

In fact, Fritz said that he is already reacquainting himself with the many high school coaches in the state with whom he built relationships at previous stops.

“I’ve already been connecting with him,” Fritz said. “The month of January is really just me going around recruiting.”

Recruit. Retain. Develop.

That recruiting is the first branch of the three-pronged philosophy that Fritz laid out early in his press conference.

“Recruit bonafide Division I student-athletes with character. It’s a big deal to me,” Fritz said. “We’re gonna recruit the heck out of the state of Texas. I don’t know why you wouldn’t. The best football in the country is played here in this state.”

In the age of the transfer portal, player movement has been at an all-time high in college football. Every year, top-tier players from around the country look for greener pastures elsewhere, leaving teams without key players.

However, for Fritz, retaining his guys has been a strength.

You got to provide a culture where your kids can thrive and grow and get better on the field off the field in the classroom, wherever it might be,” Fritz said. “I’m proud of the fact that there are 133 schools that play Division I football, and we’ve (Tulane) been in the bottom 10 of guys who have entered the portal. I think that tells you about the type of culture that we’ve had.”

As for development, that’s where Fritz’s son, Wes, comes in. Wes Fritz was pivotal in Tulane’s rise as a Group of 5 power in his role as Director of Player Personnel and will come with his father to UH. Wes already has relationships with current UH players and has played a big part in turning scarcely-recruited talent into NFL-level players.

“We weren’t able to get five-star guys, we got one-star two-star guys and we saw something in him and developed them into five-star guys.,” Fritz said. “We got 15 guys playing in the NFL right now, and for 11 of them, we were their only Divison-I offer, and a lot of credit goes to Wes.”

Old School Football

When discussing his team’s playstyle, the 63-year-old Fritz minced no words when it came to his penchant for playing old-school, complementary football.

Fritz declared that his teams won’t hold focus on one single phase of the game but instead will place their emphasis on being disciplined and limiting mistakes.

I really believe in complimentary football. Offense, defense, and kicking game all being aligned with each other.  I’m involved in all facets of the program, but also all three phases.” Fritz said. “The Cougars don’t beat the Cougars. I mean we want to be disciplined, and want to have few pre-snap and post-play penalties.”

That’s a stark contrast to what the Cougars dealt with the last five years with Dana Holorsen, who famously took control of the offense while the team struggled with penalties to an almost crippling extent. With Fritz, mental mistakes and carelessness with the ball will not slide.

I’m the ball security coach. If a guy didn’t handle the ball properly. He’s gonna hear from me very quickly” Fritz said. “When I’ve been plus-one or better (in the turnover margin) at all these different stops in 31 years as a head coach, we’ve won 91% of our games.”

To get to that point, however, Fritz is going to need to install a winning culture. Perhaps more important than recruiting, familiarity with the area or even the coach himself is a program’s culture. Still, the seasoned head coach believes he has what it takes to do so, and even pointed to the uber-successful men’s basketball program right down the street as an example for his new team.

“You just gotta be around, you got to be available. You got to be consistent” Fritz said. “I saw Coach (Kelvin) Sampson we were walking in. And one of our goals is that we’re going play as hard as a football team as his basketball team plays.”

Fritz also feels that his experience with nearly every part of a football team — even teaching a theory of football class at Sam Houston — gives him a distinct advantage in how to operate a successful football program.

“One of the advantages I feel like that I have maybe other head coaches l don’t have is I’ve taped ankles,” Fritz said, “I’ve lined fields. I scheduled an advised student-athletes for 15 years. I was a strength coach for 20 years. So I’ve done it all and you got to make sure that you have the whole department aligned.”

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