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PostPosted: Wed Feb 29, 2012 12:05 pm 
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In his letter of resignation Tuesday, Vern Friedli reminded the Amphitheater School Board that it once told him he could "stay until I was 98."

That line got a good laugh, but typical of the incorruptible, almost indestructible football coach, 75, you still had to wonder if he was the one guy who might've been able to pull it off.

"I figured he had another 10 years in him," said Ironwood Ridge High School football coach Matt Johnson, who played for Friedli 20 years ago. "It's stunning. I'm stunned. His is a legacy that will never be matched in this state."

The old UA theater arts major, the son of a lumber mill laborer from California's redwood country, coached the Amphi Panthers for 36 years. Friedli was something of a redwood himself, a tower of stability. He couldn't be any bigger than 5 feet 9 inches and maybe 150 pounds, but he and his teams always led the league in toughness and in turning boys into men.

"I seriously wanted him to stick around to coach my son," said Jon Volpe, the Panthers' 1980s all-state running back who went on to rush for 1,000 yards at Stanford. "I've taken Trevor into the locker room just to let him see how Coach Friedli teaches sacrifice and discipline. I've seen the glow in Trevor's eyes. He's 13. I'm sad that he won't be able to play for Vern Friedli."

In his letter of resignation, Friedli wrote, "I'd like to think I did make a difference, somewhat, over the past 36 years."

He wasn't talking about football.

"He's talking about the kids," said Ed Roman, Friedli's enduring defensive coordinator of the same 36 years. "He's old-fashioned and old-school; he's not political, and in that way he is sometimes misunderstood. But one thing people always knew was that he stands for the right things. If your son played for Vern, he was treated right."

Friedli isn't leaving because the demographics of the Amphi school district shrunk his available pool of players to a shadow of what it was from the Panthers' glory days, 1975-2000. His last Amphi team completed the year with 28 players and his last game was a 49-0 loss to Canyon del Oro.

He isn't leaving because he no longer has a chance to win the state championship, which was one constant that always seemed within his grasp.

He's leaving because the one opponent he couldn't beat, the effects of a stroke he suffered 13 months ago, kept him off his feet.

"I didn't like riding that damn scooter around," he said Tuesday. "I couldn't get out there and demonstrate, on the field, one-on-one, to the boys. I couldn't be as effective. So I'm done."

Friedli's coaching legacy isn't that he won a state-record 331 games, including the last big-school football state title for a Tucson team in 1979. You'll never engage him in a conversation about statistics or records. "I don't talk about winning," he said.

The only number he really cares about - the happiest I've seen him - was when he celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary with his sweetheart, Sharon, in a celebration at Starr Pass.

More than 100 people attended the Friedli's 50th anniversary, which is also the only time I've seen him without that green baseball cap with a big A on it.

His identity was coaching, and his coaching was his identity.

"When I was a kid, living in the Catalina (High) school district, my older brother, Marion, started to watch Amphi play," said Michael Bates, a Parade All-America running back at Amphi in 1988 and a five-time NFL Pro Bowl player. "He kept telling my mom, 'That's the coach I want to play for.' So we moved to the Amphi district, and it was the best thing we ever did.

"Coach Friedli didn't yell or scream. He didn't have to raise his voice, but you got his message. He would always say, 'When the game is over, make your mother proud.' That was a simple message, but it stuck with me. Always make your mother proud."

When the Panthers completed a 3-7 season in November, Friedli told Roman he would not make a rushed decision to retire. He decided he would go through four months of physical therapy to determine if the grind of another season - spring ball, daily weight room conditioning, summer workouts and the team's July camp in Southern California - would be realistic.

"He's getting better," Sharon Friedli said. "But he still has a long way to go. This is best."

On Monday, Roman went to the Amphi weight room, hopeful he would see Friedli and get an answer.

"I suspected he would retire, but he's still so quick-witted. He's so sharp," Roman said. "I began to think he might just overcome this and come back.

"So when he told me he was leaving, it just hit me. Just floored me. Standing behind that white line has been his life."

One that we'll never forget.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 3:24 am 
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Thanks Spanks. You are starting to copy and paste stories like me now. 8-)


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