Jerry Frei

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Jerry Frei
Jerry Frei.png
Sport(s) Football
Biographical details
Born (1924-06-03)June 3, 1924
Oregon, Wisconsin
Died February 16, 2001(2001-02-16) (aged 76)
Denver, Colorado
Playing career
1942, 1946–1947 Wisconsin
Position(s) Guard
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1948–1949 Grant HS (OR)
1950–1951 Lincoln HS (OR)
1952–1954 Willamette (line)
1955–1966 Oregon (assistant)
1967–1971 Oregon
1972–1975 Denver Broncos (assistant)
1976–1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (asst)
1978–1980 Chicago Bears (assistant)
1981–1982 Denver Broncos (assistant)
Administrative career (AD unless noted)
1983–2001 Denver Broncos (scout)
Head coaching record
Overall 22–29–2

Gerald L. "Jerry" Frei (June 3, 1924 – February 16, 2001) was an American football player and coach. He served as the head football coach at the University of Oregon[1] from 1967 to 1971, compiling a record of 22–29–2. At Oregon, Frei coached Dan Fouts and Ahmad Rashad. He later worked in the National Football League (NFL) as a coach and scout, mostly with the Denver Broncos.

Early life, playing career, and military service[edit]

Fittingly, Frei was born in the small Wisconsin town of Oregon. He spent his early years in Brooklyn, Wisconsin, then moved with his family to Stoughton, near Madison. He graduated from Stoughton High School in 1941, shortly before his 17th birthday. He was a classmate there of Marian Benson, whom he later married in 1945. Frei was inducted into the Stoughton Hall of Fame after his death.

Frei attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison. As a sophomore in 1942, he was a guard for the Wisconsin Badgers. The team, which starred two-time All American end Dave Schreiner and halfback Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, finished with an 8–1–1 record, ranked third in the final AP Poll, and was named the national champion by the Helms Athletic Foundation. The Badgers beat the AP national champion, Ohio State 17-7, but lost to unheralded Iowa 6-0 and tied Notre Dame 7-7. That glorious Badger season was played in a final-fling atmosphere on campus with many students, including football players, already enlisted in the service and awaiting their callups to active duty during World War II. Only one player from that Badgers team still was on the Wisconsin roster in 1943. Frei was only 18, but like most of his teammates, he went on active duty in early 1943. He still was only 18 years old.

Frei served as a pilot in the United States Army Air Forces, after training flying 67 reconnaissance missions in the Pacific theater for the 26th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron (26th PRS) of the Fifth Air Force's 6th Photographic Group. In the unarmed version of the P-38, he made solo or tandem flights over Japanese targets to take photographs in advance of bombing missions. He was awarded the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf clusters, meaning he in essence earned the medal three times.[2]

Later, Frei's son, Terry, told the story of that team in his book, "Third Down and a War to Go." Two starters (Schreiner and tackle Bob Baumann) were killed in action on Okinawa and the Badgers compiled a stunning collection of military honors in various service branches and around the world.

After the war, Frei returned to Wisconsin, where he played football for the Badgers as a junior and senior in 1946 and 1947. He graduated in 1948.

Coaching career[edit]

Early coaching positions[edit]

Journeying to Oregon at the recommendation of a fellow pilot, Don Garbarino, Frei quickly became a popular high school football coach at Grant High School in Portland, Oregon.[3] He was an assistant to Ted Ogdahl, who himself earned a Silver Star for wartime service in the Pacific fighting, as the Generals—with future Oregon Duck and NFL quarterback George Shaw starring—won the Oregon state championship in 1949. Frei became head coach at Lincoln High School in 1950, then line coach at Willamette University in 1952.


Frei joined the popular, respected and successful Len Casanova's football staff at the University of Oregon as freshman coach in 1955 and two years later became offensive line coach. When Casanova became athletic director, Frei was named Oregon's 25th head coach in 1967. The Ducks were about to move from the on-campus Hayward Field to the new, off-campus Autzen Stadium. Hayward Field was a track and field shrine, but woefully inadequate and a recruiting handicap for football in Casanova's final seasons. Recovering from a 2-8 start in 1967, Frei's teams had a 22–29–2 record for his five seasons as head coach. His 1970 team defeated both Southern California and UCLA, plus then-unbeaten and highly ranked Air Force late in the season, and finished second in the Pacific-8 Conference in a time when only the league champion could go to a bowl game. He twice was United Press International's national coach of the Week that season.

Terry Frei suggests in his book that Frei was criticized for not maintaining "discipline" on the team when some of his players protested the Vietnam war and wore their hair long on what was then a turbulent campus. Frei himself was known to be conservative, but his philosophy was that especially because he had flown in combat when younger than many of his players and had been forced to grow up fast, he wasn't going to try to control his young players' lives, dictate their hairstyles, or attempt to censor their political views away from the field. He steadfastly refused to call his players "kids," and some made fun of or never understood his unvarying references to them as "young men."[4]

Incredibly, in a pattern that would continue for most of his NFL coaching and administrative career, his official Oregon coaching biography published in media guides and programs made no mention of his military service during World War II and made no attempt to explain the four-year gap between his sophomore and junior seasons as a Wisconsin player. He never brought it up and most of his players were astounded to hear about it later—much later.

Frei resigned as head coach on January 19, 1972. That was two months after the end of the 1971 season, which included road losses to national champion Nebraska and national power Texas in "paycheck" games deemed necessary for the then-strapped Oregon athletic department. The final game was a 30-29 loss to Oregon State on a day when Rashad (then known as Bobby Moore) was unable to play because of injury.

Frei, popular in Eugene, had seemed destined to remain as coach, but his resignation followed a dispute with the athletic director, who recommended that Frei fire assistant coaches to deflect criticism and mollify some disgruntled boosters, primarily in Portland.[5] The ridiculousness of that request would become clear later. His final Oregon staff included future NFL head coaches John Robinson, George Seifert, and Gunther Cunningham, future NFL defensive coordinator John Marshall, and Bruce Snyder, the later the head coach at the University of California, Berkeley and Arizona State University. Radical student body president Iain Moore issued a statement to the Oregon media, declaring: "In an un-ideal situation, Jerry Frei ran as ideal a program as possible with the broad interests of the participants pre-eminent in his mind and actions. The Oregon program will be all the poorer for his departure and his reputation has been besmirched in the process."[6]

National Football League[edit]

Frei was an assistant coach with the Broncos (1972–1975), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1976–1977) and Chicago Bears (1978–1980), returning to the Broncos in 1981. He was a Broncos offensive line coach under John Ralston and Dan Reeves before going into scouting and administration, and he wound down his full-time career as the team's director of college scouting. After his retirement, Frei served as a consultant until his death in 2001.


Frei's eldest son, David, has hosted the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show since 1990. He once served as the public relations director for ABC Sports, the Denver Broncos, and the San Francisco 49ers. He has been the WKC's director of communications since 2003. He is an advocate of service dogs, serving in organizations and writing books on the subject.[7][8]

His second son, Terry, is a sports writer for The Denver Post and his books include: 1, "March 1939: Before the Madness"; 2, "Olympic Affair: A Novel of Hitler's Siren and America's Hero"; 3, Playing Piano in a Brothel; 4, Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming; 5, Third Down and a War to Go; 6, '77: Denver, the Broncos and a Coming of Age, and 7, The Witch's Season, a novel clearly based on Frei's Oregon teams and the men and women on the campus in those times.[9]

Frei's daughter, Judy Kaplan, is a former schoolteacher who now is a community volunteer in the Denver area. Another daughter, Susan Frei Earley, is a former principal with the Colorado Ballet who also danced with the Tampa Ballet and Tennessee Dance Theatre. She is the ballet mistress with the Tulsa Ballet.[10] A third daughter, Nancy McCormick, is a senior legal assistant with the Chicago law firm of Barlit, Beck, Herman, Palenchar and Scott. Frei's widow, Marian, died in Lakewood, Colorado, in March 2011.

Head coaching record[edit]


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
Oregon Webfoots (Athletic Association of Western Universities / Pacific-8 Conference) (1967–1971)
1967 Oregon 2–8 1–5 T–7th
1968 Oregon 4–6 2–4 T–5th
1969 Oregon 5–5–1 2–3 5th
1970 Oregon 6–4–1 4–3 T–2nd
1971 Oregon 5–6 2–4 6th
Oregon: 22–29–2 11–19
Total: 22–29–2


External links[edit]