Legendary Amphi coach Vern Friedli passed away; 80 years old

July 21, 2017 by Andy Morales, AZPreps365

Vern Friedli won 331 games in his career, with 288 of those earned on the Amphitheater sidelines. It’s hard to fully measure a man who gave 36 years of his life to the young men of Amphitheater. The word “legend” comes to mind but even that may not be enough.

The football purists will only remember him for his “big school” championship with the Panthers in 1979 followed by a runner-up finish in 1990 and another in 1997 but those trophies are still inadequate.

He retired from coaching in 2012 while holding the state record for victories in the back pocket of his legendary coaching shorts. He was a throwback to a simpler time and it took another throwback in the form of Marcos de Niza head coach Paul Moro to come along and break that coaching record, as he did last year.

Records are forever made to be broken but never the spirit, and no one had a spirit like Friedli.

Friedli visited the Panther sidelines one more time before his passing.  The Panthers went 0-12 from the end of the 2014 season all through 2015.  Things were not looking good but hope came in the form of a 7-2 start to the 2016 season, engineered by the man Friedli openly welcomed, current head coach Jorge Mendivil.

“I’ve known Vern for 25 years and he, without question, is the best coach we have ever had in Tucson,” Mendivil said.

“His passing hit me yesterday when I was told he was in hospice. I know it will fully hit me later but I feel more for his family right now but this is a huge loss for the Amphi family and for Tucson in general.”

Friedli watched from the sidelines last year as Amphitheater beat Pueblo to win the Gila Region championship.  That night, Oct. 28, was the last time Mendivil had a chance to speak to Friedli.

Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson played for Friedli at Amphitheater and he offered a view of a man ahead of his time:

“I think he was one of the first coaches that realized that football training needed to be year-round. If you were not in a winter sport, he expected you to be in the weight room. If you were not in a spring sport, he expected you to be in the weight room. Every year that I played at Amphi, the Weight Room was open on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

Coach Friedli created a culture that expected dedication, preparation, and mental toughness.

After a win or a loss, he would talk to us about staying drug and alcohol free. He wanted his teams to be able to look in the mirror and know they had made the sacrifices to be the best they could be. Every year we had two goals: 1. Win State and 2. Be the best you can be.

At every event, from fundraising to games, he was with his wife Sharon. She was completely devoted to him and making sure the players were treated well and had the necessary equipment.

Once I went from being a player for Coach Friedli to being an Assistant Coach, there were multiple times when he would personally make sure a kid had food, even if it meant opening up his own wallet. He never did it for show, asked to be reimbursed, or wanted recognition.

He always spoke of our teams as a family. That we had to sacrifice and go through pain in order to be a team. While every individual may not be best friends, the good of our family comes first.

Finally, He was a tough coach. He was trying to prepare his players for the mental toughness and discipline needed to be successful as a parent, a husband, and occupations. He would challenge players, but never to break their spirit. He wanted to drive them to answer the challenge, to prove to themselves that they could get the job done under pressure.”

Services for Friedli are pending.


Vern Friedlii (Andy Morales/AZPreps365.com)