Thru The Lens
He describes himself as a Hannibal, Duffy boy. “We moved to Hannibal when I was six and grew up just two hundred yards from the River High School.” That is how River Coach Tim Fry describes himself.
He played football in high school for Coach Marty Flannery. “We thought he could walk on water,” is how he describes his high school coach. When Tim was a sophomore, he recognized the quickest way to get on the football field was to try out for the position of offense center. On defense, he played several different positions, but liked playing linebacker best of all.
I asked Tim if he had any sports heroes growing up? With a chuckle and a big smile, “Yea, Dick Butkus. He wore number 51 and I wore 51. I wore 51 because that was my Dad’s favorite number. He grew up in the depression and was not able to be much involved in athletics. My Dad’s navy ship was the LSM 51 and that was a lucky number to him. When I came to high school, he asked to see if I could get number 51 for my number. I got 51. That is still my lucky number today.”
Tim also described himself as a shot and discus man in high school. Jordan Potts played an important part in Fry’s life as his high school track coach, giving Tim a love of sports. Coach Potts gave him an understanding of the importance of positive reinforcement in coaching. Both Coach Flannery and Potts’ dedication and attitude instilled in Tim the goal of being a coach. “Coaching was a neat way to make a living.”
Tim smiled and paused for a moment and looked toward the quiet football field. Perhaps remembering a special moment in time long ago.
As I usually do, I asked if there was a moment in his sports career that stands out in his memory? “As a coach, I would say the 1997 football team that finished 10 and 0. I could not get to sleep that night.”
In his sophomore year at West Liberty, he played in a game against West Virginia State, ranked number two in the NAIA, while West Liberty was ranked number four. The game ended in a 14 to 14 tie.
Coach Fry explained that, at the beginning of the game, West Liberty’s kicker had separated his shoulder and went to the hospital. The kicker then returned late in the game and was standing on the sidelines with his arm in a sling. After a couple of positions in overtime, the kicker, with his arm in a sling, returned to make a field goal attempt. With Tim at center, the injured kicker booted the ball through the uprights for the winning points. West Liberty won their first overtime game. The kicker’s story was in the next issue of Sport Illustrated.
Coach Fry has taught school for 34 years and has coached for the same number of years. He started his coaching career at Magnolia, helping Dave Cisar for two years. For his entire career, Tim has coached at least one sport every year.
In that many years, Tim has spent countless hours working with hundreds of young athletes. I asked, “Why?”
“I like that coaching gives you a different relationship with the kids. Rather than always a classroom setting, you get to see them in a different way.”
What is important to you as defensive coach? “Mentally, they have to be aggressive. Have a defensive mentality. Play with high RPM’s, constantly play wide open, with you hair on fire. I tell them each night ‘You got to know where you are supposed to be and get there.'”
Coach Fry explained when his defensive team takes the field, he wants them to play the River defensive system. He wants no indecision by a player. “They must react and go. If there is a thought process, it is too slow and the play is all over. It has to be see, go. That fast.”
I asked Tim if a coach could make a difference in developing the skills of a high school player? “Bob Knight said, ‘Coaching is teaching.’ That is very true. When you work all week and you see it work on Friday nights, that makes me smile. I know they are learning as players and as persons. I believe it is all between the ears. That mental desire to give total effort in the game and practice. A coach can teach the skills, the desire and fire has to come from inside.”
When I asked Tim if he would like to be a head coach. Once again, Tim paused and looked toward the quiet field before answering. “There was a time I would have wanted to do that. The opportunity never presented itself and maybe I would have not been any good at it. But, not anymore. I am glad to be Coach Mike Flannery’s assistant, and before that, Coach Snively’s assistant. And before him, Charlie Thomas, and before that, Dave Cisar’s assistant. I have been fortunate to work with a lot of good people and learn a lot. At one time, I would have liked to be a head coach . But not anymore.”
In 20 years, I asked, “What would you hope these young men and women would remember about you?”
“I would hope,” came the reply, “that they remember that I cared about them, I wanted to help them be successful, and I never thought it was about me.”
Coach Fry is one of those people that you may be fortunate to meet along the way that will make you will feel better for having met him. He is strong in his goals for sports, but realizes it is more than just about the game. Tim is a good role model for the young men and women he teaches and coaches each year. He is as much about a gentleman’s handshake as he is teaching the game of football or the skills of track.
He reminded me of something I believe Lou Holtz once said, “I don’t care how much you know, ’till I know how much you care.” Coach Fry cares about the sport and – above all – he cares about the young people he teaches.
He is a man who made his Dad proud by wearing his lucky number 51. He is also a man who would have liked to have had the opportunity to be a head coach, but now is content to be an assistant. I believe he would have been a good head coach. Tim Fry is a teacher and a coach who teaches the lesson of life to the young, as he looks at life, Thru The Lens.