Pierce Frauenheim is a legendary coach.
He’s not legendary like Vince Lombardi or Tom Landry. In fact, he’s often overshadowed even in the New Jersey high school mantle by the Karciches, Toals and Campaniles.
But if you’ve ever spent any significant time with Coach, you know he belongs in that class.
The guy is a winner, plain and simple. In my four years at Immaculata – 1999 through 2002 – we lost just one regular season game – a 7-0, home loss to New Providence in 1999. We made the Non-Public III playoffs every year, reaching the state finals in 2001.
We were heavy underdogs to Coach Karcich’s St. Joseph (Montvale) team in the 2001 finale played at Bergen Catholic, despite our undefeated road to the championship game. Many of us who played on that team – two weeks prior to the final – were happy to be there. Few were certain we could play with, or beat, the highly-touted Green Knights.
But Coach didn’t only think we could play with them. Coach thought we could beat St. Joe’s.
He was certain we WOULD beat St. Joe’s. “The will to win,” he’d close every practice, “we will win.”
We believed and we played, tooth-and-nail, to the bitter end. We lost 17-9, thanks to a third-quarter hook-and-ladder pass we’d practiced against but couldn’t execute. But I’ve always remembered that belief he had in us: That we were on the same field as St. Joe’s, not to be in awe of them, but to beat them.
But it wasn’t just belief that made Coach a winner. It was his class and dignity. He would not tolerate swearing– he kicked kids out of practice who did. Many high school coaches these days swear at their kids. Coach, leading by example, never did.
I never appreciated coach’s class and grace, though, until I was forced to deal with other coaches. There are some who live to win, and win at all costs. As someone who presently covers high school sports for a living, I read about – and interact with – coaches who have built programs and take joy in running up the score against inferior opposition.
In fact, covering high school football in Connecticut, there’s a coach who is widely-considered the father of the state’s “50-point rule.” He’d regularly score 60- or 70-plus, topping out with a 90-0 win in 2005. Some of his tactics, evidently, trickled down to Phillipsburg when the Stateliners felt compelled to beat Montgomery 75-0 in 2010.
Coach never did that. He never wanted to do that.
It’s been two years since I’ve attended an Immaculata game. Covering sports in Connecticut keeps me away from home a lot. I still consider the lessons that coach instilled in me: That no single player is above a team, that the punt is the most important play in football – the catch, the kick, the blocking up front, the transfer from offense to defense. I understand there’s been a lot of stain placed over my high school. I appreciate that some of it is even deserved. And I know that legends can’t hang around forever.
But there’s a reason why Coach is the only one Immaculata’s ever known. There’s a reason why he’s won 332 games and why so many of his former players come back and coach for him – some of whom even do so without compensation.
It’s because, whether you like him or not, Coach is a winner. He was a player on one of the two undefeated teams Rutgers has ever had. He’d make us lineman up-and-down set, in homage to the Dallas Cowboys – the team which drafted him.
If you asked me, the four cousins I had who played for him and the thousands of young men he’s coached over the years, I’m sure they’d all say the same.
Congrats on your retirement, coach. You are – and always will be – a winner.