Oregon Mourns the Loss of Former Football Coach
Feb. 16, 2001
Jerry Frei, who culminated a 17-year coaching career at the University of Oregon with five seasons as head football coach in 1971, died at his home in the Denver, Colo., area Friday afternoon following an extended illness.
The 76-year-old Wisconsin native (6/3/24), who had served in the scouting department for the Denver Broncos since concluding a 35-year coaching career at the high school, collegiate and NFL levels in 1982, had been released from a Denver hospital Thursday night. He was home working on a scouting report in preparation for this spring's NFL draft at the time of his death Friday.
Frei began his Oregon coaching tenure in 1955 as the Ducks' freshmen coach and was elevated to offensive line coach in 1958. He remained in that position until he was named the school's 25th head coach upon the retirement of Len Casanova following the 1966 campaign.
'The world has lost a great person, a great football coach and a great ally of the game of football, as well as the University of Oregon,' according to the Ducks' head coach Mike Bellotti. 'He was one of the most genuine, nicest individuals from the first time I had ever met him. His loss is a tremendous tragedy.'
An extremely popular figure, he reigned over the University's football program during an era that featured some of its most notable individual standouts ever. However, it also coincided with some of the most tumultuous periods of student activism in recent history. Coaching the likes of NFL Hall-of-Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, linebacker Tom Graham, as well as current school record-holders Bobby Moore (Ahmad Rashad) and Bob Newland, he accumulated a head coaching ledger with the Ducks of 22-29-4.
'He gave me a start when no one else gave me any scholarship offers,' Fouts said. 'The relationship with him was always special to me. He was more than a coach, he was a friend and someone you could look up to.'
Frei's ability to maintain his players' respect during the periods of heightened student unrest were well documented. So much so that many of his former players gathered in 1990 to hold a reunion to demonstrate their appreciation for their former mentor.
'The thing that impressed me at that time was that he was so non-judgmental,' Fouts added. He was willing to treat us as individual, mature young men. We never thought Jerry got enough credit. We wanted him to know how we felt about him.'
Oregon's best season during his head coaching tenure was 1970, when its 6-4-1 record included a tie for second place in the Pacific-8 Conference.
As the school's offensive line coach, his pupils included two-time All-American Steve Barnett as well as future NFL Hall-of-Fame linebacker Dave Wilcox. His assistant coaches on his staff included former USC head coach and current UNLV mentor John Robinson, former Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder and former two-time Super Bowl winning coach George Seifert (San Francisco), now the head coach of the Carolina Panthers.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1948, the Badgers' former guard and three-year letterman migrated to the Pacific Northwest to begin his coaching career as an assistant at Portland's Grant High School. Following two seasons, Frei became head coach at Lincoln High School in 1950 before entering the collegiate ranks as line coach at Salem's Willamette University in 1952. He remained there until he was invited to join Casanova at Oregon in 1955.
After leaving Oregon, Frei entered the NFL coaching ranks as offensive line with Denver (1972-75, 1981-82), Tampa Bay (1976-77) and Chicago (1978-80), prior to moving into the scouting department with the Broncos in 1983. He was elevated to Director of College Scouting in 1994 before beginning a new role as a college scouting consultant in 1996.
Memorial service arrangements were still pending as of Friday evening.