TAMPA, Fla. — Rick Rodriguez remembers how excited Michigan assistant Greg Frey was when he accepted his first coaching job.
Frey joined the University of South Florida staff as a graduate assistant in the summer of 1996, as the Bulls prepared to field their first FBS football program. Frey’s enthusiasm for the job was palpable. The job itself wasn’t lucrative for Frey, a former offensive lineman at Florida State.
Frey’s most notable perks as a graduate assistant: Housing in a campus dormitory and a meal plan.
Accepting that meager compensation was a sign of Frey’s humility.
“Greg won’t brag about himself,” said Rodriguez, who coached Frey, an offensive lineman, from 1987 to 1991 at Clearwater (Fla.) High School. “But he’s one of the best linemen I’ve ever coached. He had talent, but he always had character. That’s why he’s so successful as a coach, and at Michigan now.”
Frey, 45, returns to Tampa more than 20 years later as Michigan’s tackles and tight ends coach/run game coordinator. The Wolverines (8-4) face South Carolina (8-4) at noon Monday at Raymond James Stadium in the Outback Bowl, about 20 miles east of where Frey grew up.
Frey joined Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan in January, his 21st year as an assistant coach, with stops at South Florida (1996-2006), West Virginia (2007), Michigan (2008-2010) and Indiana (2011-16).
Frey is an accomplished assistant coach and a recruiter, but he’s also become a mentor to a younger coach and has a mentor in his high school coach.
He found a mentor in Rodriguez, who retired from coaching high school football in 2013. Frey also became a mentor to Marcus Paschal, a former Iowa football player and Rodriguez’s successor at Largo High School.
“He’s part of my extended family,” said Paschal, who is in his fourth year as head coach at Largo. “Greg was always in Pinellas County. He would stop by, just to see Coach Rodriguez and to have conversations with him. Coach Rodriguez was a big influence on him and his high school career.
“Greg and I, we probably talk and text at least once a week, and we’re on the phone once or twice a month, just to check in. He reaches out just to see how things are going.”
Recruiting and relationships
As Frey grew as a coach, he built himself into a recruiter. In particular, he created a pipeline between the Tampa area and Indiana. There were hits, and there were misses. During Michigan’s preseason. Frey told the story of how he attempted to recruit offensive lineman Mason Cole to Indiana during his senior year (2013-2014) at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs, Fla.
Cole went to Michigan, and reunited with Frey for his senior season.
“He’s down to earth,” Rodriguez said. “The kids relate to him, and he tells guys what they have. I’ve heard him talk to the kids and he’s straight up with them. He tells kids like it is and what he’s going to be.
“Some recruiters are like used car salesmen, but Greg is straight up. And that’s why he’s so successful.”
Frey couldn’t sway another recruit, either. Frey met Paschal when he was a junior at Largo High School in 2001, and attempted to lure him to South Florida.
Paschal went to Iowa, instead, but was well aware of his connection to Frey through Rodriguez. Paschal played for Rodriguez at Largo, graduated from Iowa in 2007 and played for two seasons in the NFL.
When Paschal chose to go into coaching, the first person he called for advice was Frey, who was in his final season at South Florida.
“Greg is a guy I reach out to and pick his brain,” Paschal said. “He’s right in the thick of it, at the collegiate level and can give me some insight, if I ever make the decision to move onto the next level.”
When Frey considered leaving Indiana after the 2016 season, he called Paschal for his input. Sometimes, Paschal said, Frey will also informally inquire about a college-caliber football prospect.
“He loves this area,” Paschal said. “He’s a guy who always going to look out for home. If there’s any big-time players here, he trusts my opinion about players. That means a lot.”
Climbing the coaching ladder
Earlier this season, Frey gushed about his experience at Michigan.
“Every season takes shape and every game takes shape differently,” Frey said. “You don’t know what’s around the corner, and that’s part of the fun of being a coach, being a player, being a fan. That’s what makes this game so great.”
FootballScoop.com and Tallahassee.com reported this week that Frey is a candidate to join Willie Taggart’s staff at Florida State as its offensive line coach. Neither Michigan nor Florida State has commented on the reports, and Frey is coaching with the Wolverines in Tampa as they prepare for the Outback Bowl.
Rodriguez said Frey’s ultimate goal is to become a college head coach. But he gave his mentor advice: Find the right situation. Take the time. Find the right job.
“He’s waiting for the right time, I guess,” Rodriguez said. “You have to look at the timing. If you jump into something that’s not the right job for you, you can bury yourself.”
Paschal looks at Frey’s continuing coaching path from another angle — from the summer of 1996, when Frey essentially worked for free.
“He’s really had to work from the bottom up,” Paschal said. “He’s really put in the work. I’m extremely happy for him, and I always keep my eyes open for him.”