Kurt Friess, the coach who guided the Parsons Vikings football program to its first playoff victory in 42 years and won twice as many games in two seasons as the previous six combined, announced on Tuesday that he resigned his post as head coach.
Friess, who also serves as principal of Guthridge Elementary School, cited the COVID-19 pandemic and an increased workload the primary factors leading to his decision.
“It was the right time,” Friess said. “It would be selfish for me to keep coaching. I love being the head football coach at Parsons. But looking at the uncertainty of what’s happening this summer and fall, I foresee it being very challenging to do the best for those players. I don’t think I’m in a position to lead both Guthridge and that football team.”
The Parsons alumnus who played college football at Pittsburg State said he’s anticipating more challenges related to the coronavirus for both fall sports and the day-to-day operations of Guthridge in the coming months.
“The true administering of Guthridge is more challenging in this pandemic,” Friess said. “We’re facing the possibility that we could be facing similar challenges this fall. I just think it’d be self-serving to my ego to keep coaching rather than focusing on the best principal I can be at Guthridge.”
Friess took the head football job at Parsons High School in 2018 and oversaw one of the program’s best seasons in his first fall. The Vikings went 8-3 in 2018, winning two playoff games including a second-round upset at Prairie View in the Class 3A bracket.
A father of three, including his son, Gage Friess, quarterback on the 2018 team, Friess also wants to spend more time with family.
“I understand that it was a family decision and did what he thought was best,” said Parsons Athletic Director Rob Barcus. “Obviously he was very good for our football program. He came in at a time when we needed a dynamic personality. In his first meeting we ever had, he said we will win. That’s what we did.”
Parsons graduated 15 seniors after the 2018 season. That, coupled with playing in one of the most competitive districts in the state, relegated the Vikings to a two-win campaign in 2019. Friess finishes his two-year coaching tenure with a 10-10 record.
“To struggle so hard that second year even though we worked as hard as we did the first year,” Friess said, “was good for me as a person. If we would’ve been successful for two years, I might not have had the same perspective of how hard it is to win consistently in high school sports.
“The fact that we struggled this year had to do with the decisions I made. We had a really successful year my first year, then we really struggled. I imagine those two graduating classes might have different feelings. But I hope they know that it was never from a lack of grind. The difference between winning and losing is really small.”
Friess’ 10 wins doubled the amount of wins Parsons had from 2012 to 2017, when the Vikings went 5-49.
“He brought some pride back and brought a winning mentality back,” Barcus said. “He brought hard work back.”
But Friess cited the work that his two predecessors, Marc Svaty and Travis Hurley, did to try to rebuild the Parsons program.
“I found the program in pretty good shape,” Friess said. “I took over a team ready to win. I was very fortunate to step in at the time I did. So I don’t know if it’s better now. But hopefully winning can breed winning. There’s a possibility that the kids believe they can win more.”
While Friess’ departure was the result of a pandemic that fostered unprecedented circumstances, it also means that the USD 503 board will be searching for its fifth head football coach since in seven years.
Barcus added that the district has filled all of its teaching positions for the upcoming school year, so the new hire will either come from within the district or via Rule 10.
“It’s still going to be a challenge,” Barcus said. “In the past when we’ve had coaching openings, people see Parsons as a great opportunity. People know the talent and speed we can put on the field. I’m sure we’ll have some quality applicants for the job.”
Friess added that he hopes the board considers an applicant’s willingness to stay for the long haul.
“If you’re putting a pie together and you’ve cut it up, that’s an important piece,” Friess said. “I think the board needs to find the best person for the job and the best person to fit what we’re looking for. Probably not somebody as old as me. It would be great to find somebody that wants to sink their roots in my hometown.”
Barcus, who is taking over as the interim head coach during the search, said the district’s goal will be to hire a new coach prior to the start of summer workouts. KSHSAA recently released summer guidelines that allow schools to hold workouts as early as June 1 with state and county approval.
“Hopefully before the state opens up our contact period, we’ll have the position filled,” Barcus said. “That’s the timeframe we’re looking at. We’ve filled all our teaching positions, so that presents some challenges. But I’ve already had some inquiries.”
As for Friess, the Parsons native’s coaching tenure ended abruptly but will go down into town lore.
“The support that I got from the players and town was great,” Friess said. “My family is my biggest fan and harshest critics. To the community, keep supporting the players, coaches and coaches’ spouses. Remember that it’s high school sports. The kids are doing the best they can and so are the coaches. This town treated my family and I great.”