One of the most successful coaches in Nashville high school sports history almost got a pink slip before his 2013 season started.
Don Freudenthal, a man who has coached his Ezell-Harding softball teams to 13 state championships and 785 victories in 28 years — fired?
“Last spring , Ezell’s president Beecher Frasier, called me into his office,” the veteran coach, whose team won its most recent title last month in Murfreesboro, said. “I thought it was going to be a routine visit.”
It was anything but.
“He told me that they were going to make a change at the position,” Freudenthal said. “I was dumbfounded. He informed me that I could coach that season but that (2013) would be my last at Ezell. ‘My intentions are to fire both you and your son [Deron, the boys basketball coach].’ he told me.
“As for me, he mentioned they were interested in pursuing a younger coach. I didn’t have any health problems or any issue that might warrant my dismissal. I simply couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
Keep in mind, this isn’t your average, run of the mill coach, who was peddling along with a .500 or less record and running out the string.
At the time of the surprise meeting, Freudenthal’s Ezell teams had won 12 championships, more titles than any other school in the state in that sport, and one of the more remarkable coaching careers of anyone in Tennessee prep history. His record is 785-228 and he has been named state coach of the year 11 times and national coach of the year in 2001.
Freudenthal’s Ezell teams won six straight titles (1990-95) and five in a row (1997-01) another time. The Eagles were runners-up three other times.
The Ezell field was named after him in 1999. Under his leadership, Ezell has seen players graduate from the school like all-state stars Courtney Mitchell, April Faircloth, Jill Booth, Kim Dunlap, Courtney Mitchell, Chrystal Bobo, Jennifer Wright and many others who went on to remarkable careers in college.
Freudenthal had a distinguished career in the Air Force, 1967-70 active duty, then retiring in 1997 after completing his National Guard active reserve duty.
The 66-year-old has been a fixture at Ezell for almost 40 years, driving the 25 miles from his home each school day and serving as the school’s athletic director, middle school principal and Youth Hobby Shop director.
His son Deron has coached boys basketball at Ezell. His children have gone there, and he has grandchildren there.
Freudenthal and wife Agnes experienced the joy of seeing their daughter Dana being a part of his first state title in 1988 as a senior leftfielder.
If things had played out with a dismissal, the Hall of Fame coach would have gone out on a high note with the state crown. He would not, however, have ended his coaching career.
A number of area schools had heard of his situation and were more than interested in obtaining his services if he actually became available. At the time, he had a clear interest in continuing to coach, even if not at Ezell.
As it turnd out, Freudenthal didn’t lose his job after all.
Since then, Frasier resigned from the school for undisclosed reasons, albeit unrelated to the Freudenthal situation. His departure came about just before the tournaments started.
Although he never mentioned the situation to his players, word nonetheless got around and they knew.
“We all kind of knew this may be his last season,” senior pitcher and home run leader Christiana Gable said. “Each of us wanted to get [a state title] for him, if it was going to be his last year. We wanted to make sure he went out on a high note.”
The working conditions clearly will be smoother for Freudenthal than the last two years, as long-time friend Belvia Pruitt remains Ezell’s principal. Her husband Walter Pruitt is the interim president, subject to board approval.
“Don is an amazing person, I’ve known him for 27 years, and we’re so glad he will remain with us,” Belvia Pruitt said. “He is exactly what we want in a coach and he has been a great example of what our school is about and a wonderful supporter of everything we’re trying to do.”
Freudenthal isn’t exactly slowing down but he is leaving more duties to his assistants, Danny Griffin and Pat Williams.
“They do the heavy lifting, I just push the buttons," Freudenthal said, laughing. “I love Ezell-Harding, and I would never say or do anything that might impact it negatively.”
Asked to sum up the situation over the last year, Freudenthal said, “It is without a doubt the most bizarre time I have ever experienced since I’ve been a coach.”
Unexpectedly, Frasier called Freudenthal two weeks ago to congratulate him on the state title.
“That came out of the blue, and I appreciated it,” he said. “But I cannot say that I will miss him.”
• Kristin Scoggins Bledsoe is no longer the girls basketball coach at Ezell-Harding. She left the school after one season.
Dan Carter, who was the Eagles’ coach prior to Bledsoe a season ago, has returned to that position. Carter was an assistant coach at LaVergne High the past season.
• Freudenthal has been named one of the coaches for the state in the Tennessee Softball Coaches Association Tennessee vs. Kentucky all-star games next Thursday (2 and 4 p.m.) at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville.
Freudenthal, along with Ronnie Burk (Lexington), Annette Edwards (Richland) and Luke Sheppard (Smyrna), whose teams like Freudenthal’s won state titles, will coach the Tennessee team. Ezell’s Gable is one of the Tennessee players.