Apr 30, 2016

Farewell to First Downs: Coach Chooses Family over Football

Reporting Texas

As a kid, Cody Fredenburg loved to visit football practice at Baylor University, where his dad was an assistant coach. He could stand next to his favorite player, Trooper Taylor. He often caught a glimpse of his dad coaching on the sidelines and dreamed of one day doing the same.

In 2004, Fredenburg began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. His father was the head coach. Fredenburg thought he’d be happy forever.

But Fredenburg, 35, entered the 2015 football season with a secret. A career as a coach, which once seemed so inviting, had become a burden for him and his family. On Dec. 9, Fredenburg announced his retirement from his position as the offensive coordinator at UMHB.

“My boys will only be little boys once, and that’s something I want to be a part of,” he said about his sons, Abbot, 4, and Gus, 2. Taking his boys to school, meeting them for lunch or being able to coach their little league teams became increasingly more important to Fredenburg than coaching at the college level.

Fredenburg and his wife, Lindsay, had struggled for nearly a year with the decision to leave the game. Midway through the 2015 season, Pete Fredenburg gave his coaching staff a weekly devotional. The focal point that week happened to be “coaching is what we’re made to do. This is what we are here for.” Cody Fredenburg walked nervously into his dad’s office and told him he wasn’t sure.

Pete Fredenburg was shocked. His son had decided as a little boy he wanted to be a coach and had always been the most emotional of his three children when it came to wins and losses. He said his first thought was why. He questioned if he had done something wrong as a head coach or if he had an impact on this decision.

“This is a career with extreme highs and extreme lows. In the extremes, you question the liberty of your commitment and the effect it’s had on your family. I think everybody does,” Pete Fredenburg said.

He told his son he thought getting out of coaching was a bad decision and that these concerns were normal.

But Cody Fredenburg had made up his mind. The lifestyle, the stress and the sacrifice were not worth it for him and his family.

The only thing he didn’t realize was that they were not alone.

“The most shocking thing so far has been the number of young coaches who have called me because they are thinking about doing what I did,” Fredenburg said.

With alarms sounding around 4:45 a.m., coaches often attend staff meetings and team workouts before their own children even wake up for school. They spend hours watching and rewatching film until each frame is broken down into the smallest detail. They might take a 15-minute break to eat a sandwich before heading to practice and position meetings. Then it’s back to the film room. They often return home hours after their families have gone to bed.

The physical demands can also lead to health issues. Urban Meyer, for instance, won his second national championship in 2008 at Florida. He took a leave of absence a year later due to physical and mental health issues, including chest pains and dehydration. He didn’t stay away for long. He coached the following season, and in 2012 became the head coach at Ohio State, where he won a third national championship in 2014.

Stress is a common concern among coaches. Teran Mawhinney, a 23-year-old graduate assistant at UMHB, traveled to the American Football Coaches Association conference in January. He attended a session titled “Family, Football and Finances.”

“I am very family oriented, and hearing how big of a challenge it can be to balance football and family led me to question going into coaching,” Mawhinney said.

Rather than giving up on the career, Mawhinney contacted several Division I coaches’ children to ask about their experiences. He asked about ideas such as how their families plan vacations around recruiting trips, how they find time to have meals together during football season and how often their families are together. He’s received both negative and positive responses but realized that a “strong mom leading the family” was almost always mentioned.

While working under Fredenburg, Mawhinney said he admired how often he saw Lindsay making it possible for their family to have moments together.

Lindsay, Abbot and Gus Fredenburg were regulars at UMHB practices and events, but those few minutes were often the only time the coach would see his family that day.

“It sounds bad, but one of the hardest adjustments has been working Cody into our routine,” Lindsay said. “Abbot, Gus and I ran like a well-oiled machine and adding Cody to that is different but also great.”

The two met in 2006 at Oklahoma State University, where he was a graduate assistant and she worked in the football offices. Football was at the center of their relationship. It moved them from Stillwater, Okla.,  to Hattiesburg, Miss., to Nacogdoches and then back to Belton and Mary Hardin-Baylor in 2012. Football is how they made many of their closest friends.

Today, they are experiencing life in an entirely new way.

Fredenburg now works as a project manager for a utility construction company, Denbow. He can disconnect when he’s done for the day. He coaches Abbot’s T-ball team.

The Fredenburg family now eats dinner together every night.

Although they fear this coming fall may be tough, Lindsay Fredenburg says she often stops and reminds herself: “Cody isn’t dying, he is just getting out of football, and now there is so much more life to live together.”

Although he won’t be on the sidelines, the former coach is still looking forward to the season.

“I get to go tailgating, which I’ve never done,” Fredenberg said. “The hard part will be picking where to go first.”