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Fridley resigns as Watford City head coach after 42 years

The phrase “just one more year” for Fred Fridley isn’t going to happen.

After spending the past 42 years as Watford City’s head football coach, Fridley announced his retirement on Monday.

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Fridley, who has been a head coach for a total of 48 years — all but six at Watford City — has built the Wolves into a North Dakota powerhouse and accumulated a state-record 312 wins and nine state titles.

“When I started out, I probably didn’t intend to coach for this long,” Fridley said. “But what happened is the success, the type of kids I had and the work ethics they showed each year kept me going. It was enjoyable. Sometimes when you are enjoying it, you just stuck with it.”

Fridley’s first state championship came in 1975 when the Wolves won the Class B title. The last state championship Fridley won was the Class 2A title in 2008.

Guy Fridley — Fred’s son and the athletic director at Dickinson High — played football for Watford City in the early 1990s. He knew this day was going to eventually come.

“It was kind of a bittersweet day,” Guy Fridley said. “He still loves the games. He still loves the kids. But, he also loves the game of golf and his family too. I think that won over in the end. He just wants to relax and do some other things that he enjoys doing.”

Fred Fridley felt like with the amount of returners for next year’s team, it was the best time to leave.

“At the beginning of the year, it was in the back of my mind all the time,” Fred said. “I just wanted to wait for the season to be over with. There is a good team coming back next year and I felt with the coach that’s coming in, I wanted to leave him with a good team.”

Guy Fridley wasn’t on one of the state championship teams and the furthest Watford City went in the playoffs was a semifinal loss to Killdeer in 1995. Killdeer went on to win the Class B state title, which was the Cowboys’ first championship.

However, it wasn’t winning which made Guy Fridley’s time on the sidelines with his father enjoyable. It was learning life lessons.

“It was a unique experience in a nutshell,” he said. “He didn’t treat me any different than he treated any other player on the field. When we were at home, there wasn’t a lot of football talk. But I learned a lot of different things from him on the football field and practice field. He’s just a man that has a deep care for people. The one thing I’ve never heard my dad say is one bad word about a person. In this day in age, you don’t see many people like that. I’m just fortunate he installed a lot of great values in me as well.”

During Fred Fridley’s tenure as head coach, Watford City has played in 16 state title games. However, the titles came in many different forms of Class B, Class 1A and Class 2A.

Fred said he preferred when there was only two classes — Class A and Class B — for high school football state championships.

“I liked it when it was back in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s,” he said. “I like the old way a little bit better.”

One coach who was hoping to get another try at winning a football game against Fred Fridley is Dickinson Trinity head coach John Odermann.

Watford City defeated the Titans 26-13 on Oct. 15 at the Biesiot Activities Center in Odermann’s first season as the team’s head coach.

“Fred was one of the few coaches that was still around from when I was playing,” Odermann said. “He came up and shook my hand, and he was one of the few guys that made me feel welcome as a head coach in my first year. It meant a lot for a guy — who has won so many games and is as well respected — to take the time to show me a little of respect as a new head coach.

Odermann added with a laugh: “I kind of feel cheated that I don’t get another shot to beat him. That was one of the games that I circled on the calendar right away. I knew Fred was getting up there and if I could beat him in my first year, I’d be batting 1.000 against Fred Fridley. I won’t get that opportunity now and I’ll forever have a losing record against Fred Fridley. But if that’s the case, I’m OK with that.”

Odermann said the state of North Dakota has lost a great coach with Fridley’s retirement. Odermann said Fred Fridley has probably forgotten more about the game football than he will ever know.

“There’s no doubt the impact coach Fridley has had on the football landscape of western North Dakota and North Dakota, as a whole, in the last 50 years,” he said. “There’s definitely going to be a hole that’s in Class 2A football.”

Fridley knows he’s going to miss being on the sidelines during football season because he will always have the passion for the game. But, he said you have to know when to step away.

“You always hate to let go, especially if it is something that you enjoy,” he said. “It was a difficult decision. Some people wanted me to stay one more year, but that’s the way it has been for the last few years. The one more year just had to end.”