It wouldn’t take but just a second of sound to know which Mansfield teacher was rounding the corner of the school parking lot. The man responsible for that rumbling, grumbling sound of the old, familiar blue Ford pickup truck must be arriving at school. A routine, the man and his machine, has followed for the past 38 years.
On June 2, however, the universally respected but unintentionally reserved parking permit for Coach Bill Frye and "Old Blue" became available. That’s because the basketball and baseball coach with the most wins in Mansfield school history started enjoying his first day of retirement after nearly four decades on the job.
George William "Bill" Frye hung up his whistle at the end of the 2015 school year. The coach widely known around the area as the "legend" became a full time man of leisure.
"They said you’ll know when it’s time," outlined a more relaxed Coach Bill Frye. "I never dreaded going to school one minute. It was never like a job to me. But, now that I’m older I’d like to do something else while I’ve still got the chance."
"I’ve been confined in the classroom and gym for a long time," reviewed Frye. "I’m really an outdoor person. I want to do some of the things that I enjoyed in the past when I was a kid. Hunting, fishing, and t-ball games for my grandsons are a lot higher on my list of things to do now."
Frye started his enormous career in 1976 as the football, basketball, and baseball coach at Altus High School. That experience riddled by unusual circumstances made Frye questioned whether he truly wanted to be a coach.
In his first year, Frye had 13 players on a win-less (0-8) football team. As basketball season arrived, the Altus gym was condemned. That led the rookie coach to conduct practice outside, and play all games on the road. Consequently, that interval ended in another zero win season.
"This isn’t as fun as I thought it would be," remembered Frye. "We did go 10-8 in baseball games at the end of the year which gave me new life."
Frye spent another unfulfilled term at Altus that next school year. He substitute taught for nine weeks his third year out. Then he landed a physical education and driver’s education job in 1979 at Coal Hill before a desire to return to coaching planted him and his wife Cindy at Mansfield in 1980.
"I thought we were at the end of the earth when we arrived in Mansfield," said Cindy Frye. "I grew up in Altus, hung around Ozark, and never heard of Mansfield. We moved to a little old trailer out on Highway 96 so Billy could coach again. Little did we know we’d still be here?"
Frye served the students of Mansfield through a variety of roles. Most recently he was the school’s drivers education instructor, health teacher, and cross country coach. During his 35 years at MHS he taught social studies, coached football, volleyball, basketball, baseball, and assisted with track.
He posted an amazing 400 victories in basketball, 355 wins in baseball, and nearly 1,100 total career victories in all sports that he has coached.
The Lady Tiger legend was the first to lead a Mansfield women’s team to a state championship. His 1986 girls’ basketball team won the state title. He coached current University of Arkansas at Fort Smith cross country runner, Hannah Holstein, when she won the 2013 class 3A state high school cross country individual championship.
It wasn’t just the victories that made Frye memorable. It was the influences he had on the players, students, and other staff members that made him stand out.
"One of the biggest influences I took from Coach Frye, and still use today, was the idea that athletics was not everything," said 1999 Mansfield graduate and current Heber Springs High School baseball coach BJ Greene. "After bad losses, Coach never made a big deal about them. He knew it was just a game in the grand scheme of life. I truly believe this is one of the major reasons he was so successful."
John Mackey, current Mansfield High School women’s athletic director and longtime friend of Frye, added to the notion of the departing coach’s influence.
"He was the most organized person in the most cluttered way that I know," observed Mackey. "He taught me my organizational skills and attention to detail. He was meticulous to a fault."
"Once we spent half the night looking for a basketball when the count came up one short. We finally found it above a ceiling tile in the old high school gym. I pushed that old giant ladder while he rode on top popping up tiles."
MHS 2015 senior, Cristy Rogers, called Frye crazy but, "someone I will always remember greatly."
"I had Frye in class many times in high school," announced Rogers. "He was an amazing teacher. He always made sure to explain his thoughts. Sometimes, you never knew what was going to come out of his mouth. I love that crazy man."
Madison Strunk, a member of the junior class this past school year, also had Frye in class.
"Driver’s education was always the best," declared Strunk. "We’d go on pointless, random drives. Sometimes it was to run one of Coach’s errands or go get something to eat."
Frye’s famous eating habits were a subject that Mrs. Sue Ward chuckled about at a retirement party for the departing coach. Ward has been member of the Mansfield faculty for most of Frye’s entire career.
"If there’s food around, you’ll find Frye," joked Ward. "I think that’s why he coached so long. It was the hospitality rooms and all that food that kept bringing him back."
According to ESPN Radio personality, Jim Reynolds, it was food and coffee that kept the lovable mentor driven. At that same retirement gathering, Reynolds explained a short story to the assembled crowd.
"Bill and I went on a hunting trip in west Texas sometime back," confessed Reynolds. "Where we stayed, they didn’t drink coffee. They drank wassail."
"After about three days, we finally needed a coffee fix," laughed Reynolds. "Bill remembered there was a cup of coffee left in the truck from the trip down from Arkansas. I knew what he was thinking. ‘Let’s find a microwave and I’ll split it with you.’"
Coach Greene had a different coffee confession about his former instructor.
"One morning, I was in Frye’s driver education class when it was our turn to drive," stated Greene. "Coach told the driver, I can’t remember who, to pull into the gas station across from the State Troopers’ office."
"Coach Frye got out and went to digging in the back of the car. Low and behold, here he comes out with an old cup. I mean, this cup was so worn out that you couldn’t even tell what it was."
"He was smiling from ear to ear," remembered Greene with a grin of his own. "That smile came from a man that knew he had kept a lifetime, free refillable cup."
"No one went into the store with Frye for fear of embarrassment. I can only imagine what the teller was thinking when he saw that cruddy, old cup."
"I’m sure Coach had some words that only he could say to make that teller believe a free cup of coffee was in order."
In a version of ‘can you top that’, Mackey switched gears about the driver ed teacher with an account of his ride in the back of the famous blue pickup.
"If you know Billy, his truck’s not just a ride put a portable storage compartment," explained Mackey. "There’s only room for the driver. The passenger side is completely full of Sanford & Son type junk. Hunting gear, fishing lures, weed eater line, ungraded health papers, score books, mowing clothes; you name it and it’s in there."
"So, I’m dressed in my good school clothes when he decides to follow the cross country team on a long run," continued Mackey, the cross country assistant. "He wants me to go along but of course there’s no room in the cab. If you’ve looked in the back, it’s just as bad. Oil cans, gas jugs, old tires, aluminum cans, road kill; it’s all in there."
"I hop in the back straddling a weed whacker, and away we go. After a couple of miles, we come back with me and a giant grease stain on my Khaki pants."
Of course, Frye’s wife Cindy remembers that 1977 Ford truck when it was brand new. It was the only vehicle the couple had when they moved to Mansfield.
"We went on our honeymoon in that truck," reminisced Cindy. "We only had the one vehicle, and Billy worked long hours and loved his job. In those early days, I’d walk to practice just to see him. We lived close so I could do that."
"Later, after Landon and Lacey were both born I’d drag them to most all the games," continued coach’s spouse. "Otherwise, the kids would be asleep by the time he got home if the game was to far away. We were his biggest fans and still are today."
Recent graduate and Lady Tiger cross country runner, Mia Harper, is another Frye fan of today. Similar to the others that Frye coached, she described the mentor as unpredictable.
"That’s why everyone loves him," said Harper. "He’s crazy but successful."
Harper went on by adding her good natured scoop on the admired teacher. "The only thing bigger than his number of wins might be his number of cross country t-shirts."
As reports surfaced about Frye’s end of the year intent, more fun loving tales about him did as well. What was astounding about the collection of anecdotes was not so much in the the telling but in the fact the tellers were so comfortable that the coach would enjoy them.
Second year teacher, Lindsey Hester giggled vehemently when she started thinking about the entertainment Frye provided as her mentoring teacher.
"He was my mentor teacher along with Mrs. (Nancy) Clark," hailed Hester near the end of school. "She was the good influence. He was the bad. She tried to get me out of trouble. He got me in it."
"Really, Coach Frye made my first couple of years easier," continued Hester who had an adjacent room next to the legend. "He always picked me up by saying he was glad my smiling face kept him away from the dull days."
Of course, Frye liked to spin a yarn about himself as well. As he thanked well wishers at that recent farewell party, he popularized his fun loving ways with a childhood memory.
"When I was a kid in Ozark, I idolized the mailman," recollected Frye. "He walked outdoors, gave kids candy, talked to everyone, and had a packs of dogs following him. I thought that was cool."
"My Mom told me I had to go to college and get an education. I thought about being a Wildlife Biologist, but the classes were to hard."
"So, I decided to coach," snickered the Will Rogers like humorist to the roar of family and friends in the audience.
But, that deadpan decision all those years ago was one that Greene and thousands of other students are happy the former Ozark Hillbilly made. Vouching for him and his two brothers, Jesse and Chris who also played for Frye, Coach Greene saluted his former teacher.
"The Greene boys spent twelve years of baseball with Coach Frye," said the Heber Springs teacher. "Now, that I’m a coach myself I realize all the phrases, ideas, and mannerisms that I acquired from past coaches. Coach Frye is certainly one of those."
"With all my brothers going through his program, I know we all feel a special bond with him. My brothers and I have had our share of heartache. Coach and Cindy were always there. For that, I will always be grateful."
Dr. Jim Best, the Principal at Mansfield High School, shared his feelings about the teaching career of the Tiger icon.
"MHS is losing a devoted employee who served it for many years," spoke Best. "He faithfully served the school and its students and left an immeasurable impression on many lives."
Now, for as many trips as that old blue Ford pickup truck made to the high school, it made an equal number back to the Frye home.
"I’ve known the sound of that truck for all our married years," sighed a sentimental Cindy. "I could always hear him coming and knew he was close to home."
There’s talk that "Old Blue" may soon be retiring as well.
"That might be the hardest part," said Cindy. "I know the sound of his truck and the comfort of him getting closer to home."
Not to worry Mrs. Frye, your husband is already home. He’s enjoying retirement with his renewed hobbies, and teaching the grandkids the great outdoors.