Four Fathers of Cougar Basketball: Jack Friel

Jan. 18, 2006

Editor's Note: This is the second of a four-part series featuring the 'Four-Fathers of Cougar Basketball': Jack Friel, Marv Harshman, Jud Heathcote and George Raveling.

The quartet will be honored prior to Saturday's (Jan. 21) men's basketball game versus Oregon State at Beasley Coliseum. For tickets call 800-GO-COUGS or go to the Tickets link at

Today's feature: Jack Friel. Check back to Thursday for part three of the Four-Fathers series.

At a school as rich in athletic history as Washington State University, few Cougar sports legends can evoke memories of dedication, spirit and passion as Jack Friel can. On Saturday the university will recognize the longtime men's basketball coach, who passed away in 1995 at age 97, as being one of the 'Four Fathers of Cougar Basketball.'

Friel, the storied long-time WSU Men's Basketball Head Coach, led the Cougars to the 1941 NCAA title game. The '41 team, considered by many the best during his 30-year coaching run, went 26-6 and beat Arkansas in the National Semifinals before losing to Wisconsin 39-34 in the Championship game. Coincidentally, current WSU head coach Dick Bennett coached Wisconsin to the Final Four in 2000.

Jack's son Wally Friel will represent the late coach on Saturday. The Four Fathers is put on by Washington State Men's Basketball, the Athletic Foundation and the Gray 'W' Varsity Club. Wally Friel said many members of the Friel family will be in attendance Saturday.

'This honor for Jack means a great deal to the whole family,' Wally Friel said in a phone interview. 'Jack was a fine man, and his grandchildren have all grown up knowing about him and who he was.'

Friel was the Men's Basketball Head Coach from 1928-1958, and his 30-year tenure (29 seasons) and 495 wins are still Washington State records. Friel Court at Beasley Coliseum is named after Jack, and it became the home of men's basketball in 1971.

John Bryan 'Jack' Friel was born at Waterville, Wash. in 1898. He was an athlete and involved in athletics his whole life, beginning in high school when he starred in both basketball and baseball. He graduated from WSU in 1923, where he studied economics, earned three varsity letters in basketball and was an all-conference pick in 1922. Wally Friel said off the hardwood he was a family man and he could be often be found reading. 'Dad was a fountain of knowledge and a prolific reader. He read everything he could get his hands on, especially politics and history.'

Friel and his wife Catherine were married 69 years before he passed away in December 1995. The couple had an extraordinary presence on the WSU campus and in Pullman, where they lived in their house on C Street for 54 years. Three of the Friels' four children graduated from Washington State.

'(Friel) could fill Bohler no matter how the Cougars were doing, everyone went to games through thick and thin,' Wally Friel said. In addition to his stellar coaching reputation and career, Friel was also known for being one of the only coaches around to have an open gym during his practices.

'Dad let the gym rats play during practice,' Wally Friel said. 'Bohler Gym was the only place to go at the time, there was so student REC center yet, so as long as they weren't in the middle of an important scrimmage, anyone who wanted to could shoot on the open hoops.'

In addition to his responsibilities as head men's basketball coach, Jack Friel had several other titles as well. He served for a time as intramural sports director and taught courses in physical education at WSU. Today, there are directors and many assistants for all three of these departments and one person would never play as many roles as Friel did.

Something many people don't know is that in addition to his legendary basketball tenure, Friel also coached baseball and golf at WSU. In 1977 he was honored by the National Basketball Coaches Association with the prestigious Metropolitan Award.

Friel was also instrumental in getting the Pacific Coast Conference to adopt the one-and-one free throw rule in the early 1950s after pioneering the idea from his years of research. Wally Friel said Jack's motivation behind the rule switch was 'there really wasn't any penalty for fouling anyone, since they would only have the chance to earn one point at the free throw line.' This is another example of Friel's exhaustive love of the game.

In a time when 30 years of dedication to one team or one organization is practically unheard of, it is important to remember and celebrate the life and work of Jack Friel, who lived life as an athlete, husband, father and a 'Coug' for nearly a century.

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