Friedrichs A Whitworth Icon
Warren Friedrichs is not affectionately known by a clever nickname to those on the Whitworth campus. He does not possess a larger than life persona. If he were to take a stroll through the main walkway that runs amid trees from the Fieldhouse to the Hixson Union Building, people would not stop and stare.
Friedrichs is not a celebrity at Whitworth. But the question is, why not?
The Pirates participate in Division III sports, not exactly the type of program that has ESPN knocking on its door. As it is, golf coaches, like Friedrichs, don't command much attention anyway.
Friedrichs, who is currently in his 10th season as the head golf coach at Whitworth, doesn't add a lot of look-at-me-and-what-I've-done bravado to the table, so it's really not a surprise that most people aren't aware of the heights he's reached.
"He's a really successful guy at Whitworth. He's in the Hall of Fame, I think," said freshman golfer Lyle Rudnicki with a bit of uncertainty.
Indeed, Friedrichs was inducted into the Whitworth Heritage Gallery Hall of Fame in 2011. The induction was the culmination of almost three decades of work at the school, most recently as the golf coach and athletic director (he ran the athletic department from 2009-2011). That's not how he etched his name into Whitworth lore, though.
Friedrichs first came to Spokane -- he was previously at Concordia University in Portland, Ore. -- to coach the Pirates basketball team in 1986. Fast forward 16 years and he had become a five-time Northwest Conference Coach of the Year, the 1996 NAIA Division II men's Coach of the Year and had led the Pirates to five conference titles and three national tournament appearances.
There were multiple factors considered by Friedrichs when he stepped down after the 2000-2001 season. The team travels by bus to play its away games and league contests take the Pirates as far as Salem, Ore. The long rides back to Spokane during the middle of the night in uncomfortable buses -- the men and women's team would often travel together -- with a bad back was not an ideal way to catch a few hours of sleep.
That last year of coaching on the hardwood was also his son's freshman season at Mead High School. The time commitment coupled with the travel made it tough for Friedrichs to see his son play basketball for the Panthers.
"Basically, my last year, I didn't conceive of myself coaching basketball until I retired," Friedrichs said.
So he stepped down. Friedrichs continued to teach -- he's in the kinesiology and athletics department -- and became department chair.
"I didn't miss the recruiting and I didn't miss the travel, especially in the winter, [with] the bus rides," he said. "I did miss home games, and when you had a big home game. You come out before the game, the crowd's getting it. You're kind of in a fog when you're coaching. You don't really know what's going on. You're just in a box, a court. You don't really interact or hear much of the fans.
"People always said it was fun over there, the crowd got after it like they do now. Those home games that mattered at the end of the season, playoff games, those were really, really fun."
Friedrichs got his opportunity to return to coaching less than a year later -- albeit, a much less glamorous position -- when he was approached by administrator Scott McQuilkin to see if reviving the golf program would be of interest to him.
So Friedrichs went about building the Whitworth golf program from the ground up. The hardest part was convincing student-athletes to play for a team that hadn't existed before.
"We're using a good venue at Spokane Country Club, I wanted players that were good in the game, good students and then not just field bodies," Friedrichs said. "We were kind of hit and miss there for the first three years or so. Then once we had one large group that graduated a few years ago, had about four in that class, I think. Then we were off and rolling."
Despite the hurdles, success came quickly for the Pirates. The Pirates officially hit the links for the first time in the Fall of 2003 and the men had their first Northwest Conference title by 2005. They've won four conference crowns and played in two NCAA Division III tournaments. The women shared the conference title in 2009 and 2010, earning the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament the latter year.
Friedrichs has been honored as the Northwest Conference Coach of the Year four times for men's golf.
Add it all together, basketball and golf, and Friedrichs is a nine-time Coach of the Year, 11-time conference champion (including women's golf) and has led Whitworth to five NCAA tournaments.
Call him the Bill Russell of Whitworth.
With all that success, there must be some sort of secret. But, according to Friedrichs, it's actually quite simple -- recruiting.
"College success in a college sport, half of it is recruiting," he said. "If you just accept the ones that show up on campus and want to play here, you're going to be very, very average. If you want to be good, you got to go out and find good players and have them come over and visit Whitworth and see what we have to offer.
"So you need to go out and be aggressive. I thought I was a pretty decent recruiter [with] basketball, then with golf I put pretty much the same amount of work in for golf recruiting."
Recruiting is a bit different for golf. Instead of going to games upon games upon games, evaluating not only the talent level of basketball players, but also personality, the approach to golf recruiting is more laid back. Of course Friedrichs has to see the player on the course, but it's not as intense of a process.
That's just fine with him. He doesn't miss the long days on the wooden benches at random high school tournaments. Although, they do make for good stories.
"The other day he was telling us a story, he saw Magic Johnson in this recruiting thing back over in like Ohio," Rudnicki, the freshman golfer, said. "He was like a college coach, he saw Magic Johnson at this high school event or whatever. He was so much better than every single person on the field, he would just rebound it and dribble it all the way down the court and score."
But Friedrichs doesn't offer these anecdotes often.
"It comes out slowly," Rudnicki said. "Here and there he'll tell stories and stuff. I think by the time I'm a senior, I'll have lot more stories to tell about coach. I'll know him on a deeper level."
Imagine building a basketball program from a nobody to a powerhouse, coaching there for a decade and a half and then sitting in your office every day after you retire a mere 200 yards from the court.
Now try doing that and not being intrusive to the coach who succeeded you. Can't be easy, but Friedrichs has handled it well.
"We have the chance to have him to practice," said current basketball head coach Matt Logie. "With all the success that he had as a basketball coach, I really value his input and his ability to just give us another eye to what's going on. He's also really been good about allowing me to carve my own path at Whitworth and figure out things as I go."
Time helps ease feelings of yearning, and the 10-year buffer between Friedrichs retirement from the hardwood is certainly a lot of flips of the calendar. What Friedrichs feels more than anything these days is pride.
"For me, it's really satisfying that [as] a program that [our] longevity of pretty consistent success has continued and even surpassed it in some ways," said Friedrichs, alluding to his days of pacing the sidelines.
"We certainly are trying to live up to the expectations that he and Coach [Jim] Hayford have set for the program in the past," Logie said. "I know that he takes pride in what he was part of building and it's great to have that set of eyes and experience on campus."
Friedrichs is a soft-spoken man with thin brown hair that's graying at the temples. He sits back in his office chair on a Monday morning and offers an endless stream of answers, not needing a question to prod.
"When I started coaching golf, I lived and died with every putt," he said. "I'd watch and they'd have a 12-foot downhill for birdie and they'd go five-foot by and now they got a five-footer for par coming back and it's just like, 'Ahh.' They're out there in trouble, they're looking up through this little hole in the trees and I'm just going, 'Punch it up in front of the green.' After a while you get used to just calming that down because you got those things happening all the time.
On this morning, Friedrichs will talk about everything from his recruiting philosophy to the reason he gave up coaching basketball. He'll discuss his love for golf and off-handedly mention the fact that he played in college, along with "a little baseball." He'll talk through a phone call.
You'd be a fool to not listen to Friedrichs talk about his almost 30 years of collegiate coaching at Whitworth. Not just for the stories, but for the wealth of accumulated knowledge. The kicker is, of course, the majority of people on the Whitworth campus do not know this.
But maybe it's best that way, so he can continue to shape and mold the lives of Whitworth student-athletes without the hindrance of fame.