After Decorated 40-year Basketball Coaching era, St. Thomas' Steve Fritz Goes out a Winner

Reigning NCAA Division III champion coach Steve Fritz today announced plans to retire from coaching after 40 seasons, including the last 31 as the University of St. Thomas men's basketball head coach.

Fritz will continue full-time as athletics director at UST, where he's completing his 20th year in that role.

In 31 years as head coach, Fritz's Tommies had only one losing season and compiled a 594-246 won-loss record (.707 win percentage).

Current 11-year assistant coach John Tauer, an All-MIAC and Academic All-American Tommie player under Fritz in the 1990s, has been named St. Thomas' interim head coach for the 2011-12 season. A search for a full-time head coach will take place in spring 2012.

“No one could have enjoyed coaching more than I have,” Fritz said. “I have been blessed with great players and great assistant coaches throughout my career and will always be grateful to these people and all the great Tommie fans. I look forward to putting my energies toward supporting the continuing growth and success of all of the Tommie programs.”

Today's news conference can be viewed here.

Remarkable season

Fritz guided the 2010-11 Tommies to the NCAA Division III championship in a field of 403 teams – a first for MIAC men's basketball. En route to its 30-3 finish, UST beat four top-seven ranked teams in the last nine days of the season, capped by its Division III championship-record 24-point victory over Wooster (Ohio) in the national finals.

Fritz swept the three Division III National Coach of the Year awards for 2010-11. He was three weeks shy of his 62nd birthday when he guided the Tommies to the championship and became the oldest coach to win a Division III men's basketball crown.

The Blooming Prairie, Minn., native and Rochester Lourdes graduate has been affiliated with St. Thomas men's basketball for the past 44 seasons as a player (1967-71), assistant coach (1971-80) and head coach (1980-2011). That stretch covered 1,199 consecutive St. Thomas games since his freshman year.

Fritz' mark includes an impressive 44-27 postseason record. His St. Thomas teams have posted the best won-loss record in all of college basketball over the last three seasons (83-8, .912). The Tommies will come into 2011-12 with the longest current win streak in NCAA men's hoops at 12 after a season in which it twice defeated 2010 national champion UW-Stevens Point.

Fritz was selected as MIAC Coach of the Year by his peers 14 times. His Tommie teams won 16 MIAC regular-season championships, including the past six crowns. UST also has advanced to the conference playoffs 23 of the past 24 seasons, with a league-best 10 titles and seven second-place finishes.

The Tommies also reached the NCAA playoffs 12 times, advanced to the national quarterfinals in 2009 and played in the NCAA Final Four in 1994 and 2011. The Toms were ranked No. 1 in Division III for six weeks in winter 2009, and also beat defending NCAA Division II champion Winona State in November 2007.

Fritz replaced his St. Thomas coach Tom Feely as head coach in 1980. He's been such a fixture here that he might be the lone individual in college basketball to coach in three different on-campus home venues. His first season of 1980-81 was the final one in UST's O'Shaughnessy Hall gym. Fritz's second Tommie team rang in a new era in Schoenecker Arena. His final team opened the new Schoenecker Arena inside the new Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex and posted a 15-1 record there last winter.

Coach Steve Fritz and Tyler Nicolai hoist the NCAA Division III men's basketball national championship trophy.

Coach Steve Fritz and Tyler Nicolai hoist the NCAA Division III men's basketball national championship trophy.

His athletes have won three CoSIDA Academic All-America honors. In the past 10 seasons alone, Fritz's players have won All-America honors eight times and conference Player of the Year honors five times.

He also served in several administrative positions in his first two decades at St. Thomas, including assistant to the president, director of financial aid and director of admissions.
Fritz is a member of the St. Thomas Athletic Hall of Fame. As a three-time all-MIAC performer, he helped lead the Tommies to a combined 84-24 record and two conference titles from 1967-71. He led his team to the NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City, Mo., in 1970 and again in 1971. In his junior and senior years, the Tommies went 30-2 in league play, and he won UST’s coveted Mr. Tommy Award his final season. He finished his playing career with 1,944 points, a school record at that time, including a then-school-record 43-point performance in a postseason win over Lakeland. He is still ranked second on St. Thomas’ all-time career-scoring list, and among the top 30 Minnesota collegians, and also ranks third in St. Thomas career rebounding with 915.

He and his wife, Bev, reside in Mendota Heights. They have three grown children, all St. Thomas alums – Joe, Peter and Maura.

Tauer part of tradition
John Tauer has 15 seasons with Tommie basketball, including the last 11 as an assistant coach. In his current role he directs the Tommies' offensive sets and also coordinates its recruiting. Tauer has played a large role in helping UST's offenses consistently rank among the best in NCAA basketball in field-goal percentage, 3-point proficiency and assist-to-turnover ratio.
"I am thrilled by the opportunity to be the head men’s basketball coach St. Thomas," Tauer said. "I have been fortunate to have coached under Steve for the last 11 years as well as play for him. He has been an unbelievable mentor to me and so many others, and he is the common link with St. Thomas basketball for the past 44 years. I am grateful to President Dease, Dr. Mark Dienhart, and Jane Canney for their continued support. I am also indebted to all of my colleagues in the Psychology Department who have been wonderful to work with these past 11 years. 
He always thought he might be a coach some day but wasn't sure of the timing. He enrolled in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison after graduating from St. Thomas in 1995 to pursue a doctorate in social psychology and was hired as a faculty member at St. Thomas in 2000.

Coach Steve Fritz looks for one of his 594 wins in his 31-year career as head coach of the Tommies.

Coach Steve Fritz looks for one of his 594 wins in his 31-year career as head coach of the Tommies.

"Steve offered me a chance to help out with the team, and that first year I was a volunteer assistant coach," he said. "I became the defensive coordinator in 2001, for two years, and have been the offensive coordinator for the last eight years. I think I'm ready for the next step."

He intends to continue to teach — one course each semester. "It will give me a chance to blend my two passions – the classroom and the basketball court. In many ways, teaching is coaching and coaching is teaching. My situation has been unique because what I study in psychology (motivation, competition, and goal-setting) is closely tied to my work as a basketball coach.

"We know we have a lot of work in front of us. We graduated five outstanding seniors who cannot be replaced, and Coach Fritz is one of the all-time great college basketball coaches. That said, we embrace the challenges of the next season, and look forward to writing another chapter in the long tradition of St. Thomas basketball. The hallmarks of the basketball program have been teamwork, hard-nosed defense, full-court pressure, and offensive unselfishness – that will not change. The strength of this program is in the tradition and the people: the players, the alums, the administration, the fans, and the coaches. We look forward to working with a passionate and talented group of returners mixed with an excellent recruiting class.”

Busy as AD

In his first two decades as athletics director, Fritz has built on St. Thomas' rich athletics tradition. In 2009-10, he was chosen one of the nation's four Regional ADs of the Year by the National Association of College Athletics Directors (NACDA).

Athletics director as well as basketball coach, Steve Fritz signs the last (and a purple) beam to be hoisted into the Anderson Student Center during a topping-out ceremony. The center is under construction on the St. Paul campus.

Athletics director as well as basketball coach, Steve Fritz signs the last (and a purple) beam to be hoisted into the Anderson Student Center during a topping-out ceremony. The center is under construction on the St. Paul campus.

In the past 13 years alone, St. Thomas has 10 top-two NCAA team finishes. The Tommies captured five NCAA team titles – baseball (2001, 2009); softball (2004, 2005); and men’s basketball (2011). UST also has placed second nationally five times in that span – baseball, (1999, 2000), men’s hockey (2000, 2005); and softball (2006).
In the last 13 years, St. Thomas has received CoSIDA Academic All-America honors 53 times in 13 different sports.

The Tommies have swept the MIAC men's and women's all-sport championships the last four seasons, with seven MIAC team titles in 2008-09; nine more in 2009-10; and eight thus far in 2010-11 with outdoor track and field to come.

In the national Directors Cup all-sport scoring, St. Thomas has placed in the top 40 in Division III all 15 years of the competition, including 11 top-25 finishes, and appears headed for another top-25 finish this season.

Over the past three years, Fritz has been extensively involved in the planning and opening of St. Thomas' Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex.

Fritz's résumé also included a stint on the Division III Women’s Golf Committee, and the MIAC Athletics Directors’ Committee.