BELTON — Pete Fredenburg is comfortable in his own skin. Perhaps even more so than the common man.
Whether he’s on the football field, at a civic function or in some faraway airport, he is at ease with who he is and all he has accomplished, oozing a confidence that seems to say he could do it all again if he had to.
Come Saturday, Fredenburg will be inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco, where the Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach will take his place among the state’s greats in an induction class that includes former NFL player and coach Gary Kubiak and former Texas Rangers infielder Michael Young, among others.
“I never thought about the Hall of Fame until I was nominated the first time. I didn’t make it that year. I wasn’t sure I would ever make it,” Fredenburg said. “This has just blown me away.”
The ceremony will surely laud Fredenburg’s feats — from his days as an athlete at Clifton High School and Southwest Texas State to his time as a high school and college coach — all of which were born from a work ethic and confidence that he’s had all along.
Fredenburg leans back in a chair in his office and furrows his brow, his mind rewinding through a lifetime spent on athletic fields.
One of four children in a loving family headed by a father who had a lumber business in Lubbock, Fredenburg could have done just about anything with his life.
Still, though, there has to be something from his youth that foreshadowed his career in sports.
“I think it was a normal childhood,” he finally offers. “You look back and say, ‘What made me go in this direction?’ My mom and dad were just incredible people. They loved to watch every sporting event that I did. Daddy had a background of playing semipro baseball, so he always encouraged my playing.”
The family’s move from Lubbock to Clifton coincided with Fredenburg’s start in high school. There was a brief return to Lubbock for the spring semester of his sophomore year when, as fate would have it, he spent a few months under the tutelage of fellow Hall of Fame inductee and former Texas Tech basketball coach Gerald Myers.
“He was the coach at Lubbock Monterey at the time and, oh my gosh, I learned so much basketball that spring,” Fredenburg said.
A move back to Clifton for the start of his junior year allowed Fredenburg to complete his high school days as a Cub, and it was then that he discovered what he wanted to do with his life. Aubrey Roberts was the Clifton football coach and athletic director, and all Fredenburg knew was that he wanted to be like his coach.
“In high school, I was probably better in basketball than anything. But I fell in love with football,” he said. “It was kind of disappointing to my father, I think, because he had a background in baseball and those were the golden years in baseball. He thought I was a good baseball player, but I fell in love with football.
“I thought the world of Aubrey Roberts. He had such an incredible impact on me. I really think that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing, largely because of Aubrey. He just loved kids. You got around him, and it made you excited to be with him. I remember vividly, I was standing in the lunch line, and Aubrey was there and was joking with us. I remember making a mental note and thinking, ‘Man, I really like the way he influences people.’”
From Clifton, it was on to Southwest Texas State, where Fredenburg accepted a football scholarship. He was a three-year letter winner as a defensive back from 1967-70, and his brushes with influential people continued — although not all of them pertained to football.
“We were there when Johnson was the president, so periodically we’d have breakfast with Lyndon Johnson,” Fredenburg said almost nonchalantly. “That school just really blossomed from there. My sophomore year, we were No. 1 in the nation. I hurt my knee that year but stayed with the team, even though I should have had it operated on. I fell in love with the school and met Karen. You can go back and see those old boys who were there with you, and it seems like you just left.”
The aforementioned Karen is his longtime wife and mother of their three children. They were married during his senior year in San Marcos, and Fredenburg’s constant usage of the pronoun “we” when talking about himself is an homage to her.
“Karen got her masters while I was finishing my last year of eligibility,” he said. “After that, we decided that we needed to go ahead and get started working.”
Moving up the ranks
That was the couple’s combined annual salary during their initial year in the workplace, where he was an assistant coach at New Braunfels Canyon and she an elementary PE teacher in Bulverde. They bought a house for $15,000 and began their careers.
“We used every bit of the money Karen got for teaching over the summer as a down payment on that house,” he said.
One year was all Fredenburg spent at Canyon before going to New Braunfels High School, where another young dynamic coach by the name of Jim Streety was an assistant.
Streety — a fellow Hall of Famer who went on to amass 343 victories during stints at New Braunfels and San Antonio Madison — soon became the head coach of the Comal County school and kept Fredenburg on his staff for almost a decade.
They remain good friends, and Streety has seen first-hand the ease with which Fredenburg carries himself off the field and the confidence he exudes between the lines.
“I’d have to say he’s probably always been that way,” said Streety, now the athletic director at New Braunfels ISD. “We were all so young then, that we didn’t know any better. But he had a lot of intensity about what he did. The best defensive coaches seem to have that edge on them, and he did.
“Pete’s a lot of fun to be around. I think we all are different away from the game. Most coaches try to come home and be husbands, fathers, neighbors and regular guys. The ones that do that seem to last a little bit longer. He has an awesome family. It’s a testament to him and Karen.”
Fredenburg speaks glowingly about Streety and his time at New Braunfels but knew even then that what he really wanted was to be a college coach.
He struck up a relationship with then-Baylor defensive coordinator Corky Nelson, who told him that to make it to the college ranks he first had to be a high school head coach. So it was off to Giddings for his first head coaching job — a stint that lasted two years before Nelson offered him a spot on the Baylor staff, even though it wasn’t the most financially lucrative offer.
“This was in 1979. The opening was for what they called a part-time coach. I would coach a position but with a part-time salary,” Fredenburg said. “Karen and I decided that we really wanted to do that anyway, so we went. Karen took a job at Midway High School and was pregnant with (youngest son) Cody. We won the conference going away that first year and went to the Cotton Bowl. I thought, ‘Man, this is some fun right here.’”
After one season, legendary Baylor coach Grant Teaff made Fredenburg a full-time assistant. Nelson left to become the head coach at North Texas after the ’81 season, and Fredenburg was promoted to defensive coordinator one year later.
“In no way was I ready for that position, but I was really surrounded by some great coaches,” he said. “They were great football coaches and we immediately started meshing out what we wanted to do defensively. We started a huge run of getting some really good players. In the mid-80s, we were really good on defense.”
Fredenburg’s words are always steeped in reverence for Teaff, who is among the most influential coaches in his life — a foursome he refers to simply as Aubrey, Jim, Corky and Grant.
“I learned so much from Grant because he was such an even-keel guy, and he let you coach. He expected you to do well,” he said. “One thing I learned from him was that regardless of how big the game was, he was always the same.”
The Bears experienced enormous success during Fredenburg’s time at Baylor, which lasted 14 years and came to a crushing end with Teaff’s exit.
“It was enormously disappointing to leave Baylor. It was devastating,” Fredenburg said.
What followed were short stints as a defensive assistant at LSU — “a great experience but also a dumb move because (head coach) Curley Hallman had not done well” — and as defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech.
“We did not have a great experience there in Rustin for two years,” he admitted. “But looking back, all of that was preparation for this.”
Crusaders’ guiding force
In the few years after their Waco departure, Karen earned her doctorate and was asked to come back to Baylor as a professor. Cody was going into his sophomore year, and the Fredenburgs wanted to make their next stop the last one during their youngest son’s high school career.
That same year, UMHB had made the decision to start a football program. The timing couldn’t have been better, and a meeting was arranged with former school president Jerry Bawcom and then-AD Ben Shipp.
“Dr. Bawcom and Ben Shipp set up a time for me to come visit, and so we walked around with Ben. I remember the grass needed mowing,” Fredenburg said. “My only experience with Division III was (oldest son) Denver playing quarterback at Austin College and the fun he had and then seeing this, and for some reason I got excited. We decided to take a chance.”
It turned out to be the chance of a lifetime, and Fredenburg has built the UMHB program from scratch into a perennial national power.
In 20 seasons under his guidance, the Crusaders have a 210-39 record, with 16 playoff appearances, seven trips to the semifinals, three appearances in the title game and one national championship. They have compiled 36 postseason victories and 15 conference titles, with Fredenburg straying very little from the beliefs he started out with in New Braunfels.
“He’s a no-nonsense guy. You know exactly where you stand with him, and he’s fair. He’s extremely transparent and expects a lot out of his coaches,” said UMHB great Jerrell Freeman, who went on to be the starting middle linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears. “When you’re first playing for him, you find out quick that you better get to work. It’s fun to win and he knows how to do that. You have to be willing to accept what goes along with that.”
During a coaching career of more than 35 years and counting, Fredenburg has been part of only a small number of losing seasons.
He still isn’t exactly sure of the reason for his sustained success.
“You often wonder about why you’ve been able to have success at so many different places,” he said. “I think coaching is a calling. What impressed me about Aubrey and Jim and Corky and Grant — they have the common denominator that they have high expectations of themselves, high expectations of the people around them and they love the process of developing a team.
“I’ve always had great confidence in being able to get guys to play hard and play well. I don’t know where it comes from, though. I’m a better coach than I was a player. I could always figure out how to teach things and teach people to be better.”
That sounds like the qualities a Hall of Famer should have and, with his upcoming induction looming, Fredenburg can take a little time to reflect on what got him there.
Coaches in general — or at least the good ones — usually aren’t too big on looking back while they’re still in the business. After all, there are always more players to recruit, more film to watch and another game to prepare for.
Perhaps that’s why Fredenburg can sum things up so quickly.
“To be recognized for something you love so much is pretty phenomenal,” he said. “I really thought I would come here, get Cody through high school, and then go back to Division I. I’ve had opportunities to go, but I’ve fallen in love with this place. We’ve enjoyed the journey so much. It’s a good gig here.”
Once again, Fredenburg is comfortable.
Of course, that only seems natural for a man who is so at ease with who he is.