Football Sports

Willie Fritz: A born winner arrives in Houston

Willie Fritz brings a track record of winning and program building to Houston at a time when it needs it. | Anh Le/The Cougar

The University of Houston wasted no time replacing Dana Holgorsen.

Houston’s coach for the last five seasons was fired just one week ago. Now the Cougars have their guy, Willie Fritz. A seasoned veteran of college football and a born winner, Fritz has a record that speaks for itself.

All the way back in 1993 Fritz began his head coaching career northwest of the Houston area at Blinn College. Across four seasons with the Blinn Buccaneers Fritz would  lose a combined five games. In the 1995 and 1996 seasons the Buccaneers went a combined 24-0 and won two consecutive NJCAA National Championships.

Blinn’s dominance during the Fritz tenure earned the coach the head coaching position at Central Missouri. Fritz would spend 13 seasons with the Mules, earning a respectable 97-47 record before moving back to east Texas to coach at Sam Houston State in 2010.

Fritz took over a Sam Houston program that had fallen stagnant since the 2004 retirement of the school’s all-time winningest head coach Ron Randleman.

After just a single rebuilding year Fritz had brought the Bearkats to their first FCS Playoff since the Randleman era, taking the team all the way to the championship game in both 2011 and 2012. The Bearkats lost to North Dakota in both championships but Fritz had earned his stripes.

One more year in Huntsville and Fritz headed to FBS football as head coach of Georgia Southern. The coach had earned 40 wins in just four years at Sam Houston.

Two winning seasons in Georgia had booked Fritz a flight to New Orleans to be the new coach of the Tulane Green Wave, one of Houston’s American Athletic Conferences foes.

Tulane had not won a bowl game since 2002. Since that bowl game the Green Wave had only earned a single winning season. By his third season Tulane was playing winning football and winning bowl games, leaving the Cure and Armed Forces Bowls victorious in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

As had been the case at every other stop before Tulane, no job was too daunting for Willie Fritz. While the following two seasons had Fritz’ Tulane on a downward spiral, a miraculous and unprecedented turnaround in 2022 had the Green Wave 11-2, AAC champions, and set for a Cotton Bowl date with the No. 10 USC Trojans.

There came a Willie Fritz masterclass. Toe-to-toe with USC head coach Lincoln Riley and quarterback Caleb Williams. Under five minutes to play and down by fifteen points, the Green Wave orchestrated a comeback for the ages that left them victorious 46-45 by the end of regulation.

The Cotton Bowl win propelled Fritz into the limelight and put Tulane in the AP top ten in its end-of-season rankings. This season Fritz’s Green Wave did not let off the gas either and entered last weekend 11-1. Despite a loss to SMU amidst the news breaking of his inevitable appointment in Houston, Tulane’s transformation under Fritz was impossible to ignore.

Fritz is a builder and someone who raises the bar of excellence for his programs. After leaving Sam Houston State, Fritz’s successor K.C. Keeler built upon the foundations Fritz had built and made the Bearkats among the best in FCS football.

Decades as a Group of Five program forced Houston to endure being a “stepping-stone” program for coaches on their way to the Power Five. Kevin Sumlin’s departure to Texas A&M and Tom Herman’s departure for Texas left Houston bitter and spited.

UH is now a Big 12 program. Willie Fritz has ties to the Houston area. In addition to his years of coaching in east Texas, Fritz also has close family living in the Houston area. Assuming Fritz sees success at UH, the coach is here to stay.

Fans unfamiliar with Willie Fritz will soon know him much better. Fans familiar with the pessimism of Fritz’ predecessor will soon be pleasantly surprised by the presence of a coach who wants to be in Houston and wants to be a Houston Cougar.

“There is no ceiling for success,” Fritz said upon signing on as Houston’s new head coach. It is a new demeanor and refreshing language for a program that does not want to be treated like a career stepping-stone any longer.

Willie Fritz is a builder. Houston needs building. Willie Fritz is Houston.

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