Local coaches sport Wildcat enthusiasm

Special to the Arizona Daily Wildcat

For many University of Arizona alumni, Saturday's football game will be neither the most important of the week nor their only Homecoming game.

In fact, many will probably enjoy the serenity of sitting in the stands after pouring their hearts and souls into a Friday night football game.

Around Tucson, there are at least four high school head football coaches who hail from UA. Counting assistant coaches, there are about a dozen local football coaches from the university.

Some of Tucson's more distinguished high school football coaches were once Wildcats. Alumni like Amphitheater High School coach Vern Friedli, a longtime Tucsonan and 1961 graduate, and Sahuaro High School's Howard Breinig, class of 1963, have made quite a name for themselves in Tucson.

In fact, Friedli has become somewhat of an institution at Amphitheater.

The Tucson Citizen sports department used the headline "Tailback High" to describe Amphi in a feature story, and the name stuck. It's a fitting description for the program that has produced some of the finest running backs in Arizona history.

Friedli coached the Bates brothers Ä Marion, Michael and Mario Ä while they were at Amphi. Michael Bates now plays for the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL, and ran track for the UA. Mario Bates was drafted by the New Orleans Saints after playing for Arizona State University. Marion, the eldest brother, was a high school All-American when he played under Friedli.

"It's been a while since Arizona football has been such a big draw," said Friedli, 164-43-1 as coach of Amphi. "I can remember many falls when more talk and attention went to Amphi or another prep football team."

Friedli, in his 19th season, took Amphi to the state championship in 1979, and has made the Panthers a perennial playoff contender for more than a decade.

"Tucson and (the) UA was a great environment to go to school when I was here, and I liked it enough to stay on and work at coaching," Friedli said.

Breinig has enjoyed his share of success at Sahuaro as well.

His Cougars have been a dominant force in deciding the Class 4A state champion during his eight years there. Sahuaro was state runner-up last year, and state champs in 1992.

"I haven't gone to many of those (Arizona football) games," Breinig said. "I used to a while ago, but now Friday nights are the big games I concentrate on."

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