UAA cross-country and track and field team lose head coach after 29 years

After the completion of the 2018-2019 track and field season, head coach Michael Friess announced his retirement from the program, after nearly 30 years at UAA.

Friess did more than coach almost three decades of athletes: He built the program from the ground up. He started out as the head cross-country coach in 1990 before taking on the duties of the strength and conditioning coach in 1994. In 2000, Friess started the women’s cross-country program at UAA, while coaching track and field athletes before UAA even had a sponsored track and field team.

Head coach Friess interacts with an athlete. Photo courtesy of Adam Eberhardt.

Friess helped gain sponsorship for outdoor track and field in 2005 and indoor track and field in 2013. Despite starting from almost nothing, Friess has coached 15 NCAA national champions and 178 All-Americans.

Cody Thomas, a New Zealand local, was recruited and coached by Friess until his final outdoor track and field season, where he became the fourth Seawolf to win an individual outdoor national title.

“Coach Friess changed my life. He took a risk in bringing me from New Zealand on little to no performance standards and times out of high school. I’m guessing he saw something that none of the other coaches saw, including other Great Northwest Athletic Conference coaches,” Thomas said.

Thomas explained that there are many reasons that he doesn’t believe he would have been either athletically or academically successful without Friess in the picture.

“I admire his passion for the sport and his strong moral values, such as being on time, integrity and respect. He runs a tight ship and every athlete knows they need to conduct themselves professionally, or you have no place. If you respected him as a coach, he’d respect you as a person and an athlete,” Thomas said.

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Quality was always something that Friess emphasized during his time at UAA. This is one of the reasons he chose to leave to program, to spend more quality time with his family.

“I want to spend more time with my wife Stephanie, our family and our grandchildren. Stephanie and I would love to travel more. I’ve been blessed to have had coached athletes from all over the world, and it would be great to visit and experience their home countries,” Friess said.

Friess spent the majority of his time and effort on his athletes during his career, something former athlete Cody Parker appreciated.

“Coach Friess is extremely passionate about track and field, and that alone was always motivating. He pushed us to our potential. He has been present during some of the major ups and downs in my life for sure,” Parker said. “He helped me through getting surgery on my elbow. He came to every doctor’s appointment with me and really helped through the entire process of rehab, not only with the physical side, but the mental as well.”

Despite the hard times during his career, Parker’s effort and Friess’ support were worth it. Parker was the third Seawolf to capture an individual outdoor title. He came first in javelin throwing in 2013.

In addition to coaching national champions such as Parker and Thomas, Friess also helped coach 237 individual GNAC champions and 32 GNAC team champions. On the cross-country side, Friess coached the team to win eight NCAA West Region Titles and helped the women’s team finish in the top eight at nationals for the past 11 years.

In addition, Friess has been named Coach of the Year a combined 49 times by PacWest, GNAC and USTFCCCA.

“I knew that if I was doing my job to the best of my abilities, that I would always be in the tough position of leaving behind a very good team and very good coaches. This is certainly the case for me now, because the team and staff that are returning and the recruits we have coming in will be very good. It does provide me satisfaction knowing that the program is on a roll and positioned for even greater success in the years to come,” Friess said.

Despite retiring, Friess emphasized that this is likely not the end of his involvement in collegiate track and field. He is open to the possibility of future coaching or non-profit work that benefits his community.

A replacement for Friess is being actively pursued, but no information has been announced regarding prospective candidates or a timeline of replacement.