Frosty Westering is the type of coach that could have cared less if he or his program made national headlines. After all, it was he who coined the phrase “Make the Big Time Where You Are.” He won national championships, wrote books and changed the lives of the people around him day after day.
But it’s unfortunate that the passing of one of the country’s most beloved football coaches wasn’t bigger news last month. He influenced thousands of coaches and every college football program uses his teachings and sayings across the country. After decades of changing lives and being a loving and caring family person Frosty left this world and joined the true “Big Time.”
When he passed away on Friday, April 12th there were no cameras on the scene, there was no breaking news nor was there a scroll on the bottom of SportsCenter. Instead we heard about a two-stroke penalty at the Masters and a busted Achilles tendon in the NBA.
Admittedly I was late to the Frosty Westering party. But once I got to it, I enjoyed every second of it. When I started covering NAIA football in 2002, I kept running into coaches who talked about this “Frosty” guy and how his mantra helped them to love where they were coaching. Many of the NAIA schools I visited had subpar facilities and you often wondered how the heck they got kids to go there and why as coaches they stuck around as long as they did.
But after getting to know them and the power of “making the big time where you are” it was easy to see why student-athletes would gravitate toward that style of coaching.
Through the years I met coaches who were direct disciples of Frosty by either coaching with him or playing for him. When asked about it, every single one of them talked about him as being one of the most important and influential people in their lives.
After reading his first book, I was on a mission. I wanted to talk to Frosty. I wanted to learn more about him. I wanted to absorb some of his teachings and try to apply them in my life. The opportunity finally came when Frosty was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
I reached out to the staff at Pacific Lutheran to see if anyone there could get ahold of Frosty for me so I could finally get the interview I had wanted to do for years. I left messages on about six phones and sent emails to everyone who might have had a connection with Frosty.
The next day my phone rang with a number from the 253 area code. It was his son, Scott. Scott went onto tell me that I might have problems tracking down Frosty and my heart sank. But my mood quickly changed when he explained that it was because Frosty and his wife Donna were in Hawaii and they didn’t have a cell phone.
Scott told me the time of day to try to call them and I might be able to track them down. I thanked him and waited a few hours hoping I would catch the coaching legend at his Pacific getaway. I remember calling at what would have been 8.am. local time in Hawaii. Donna picked up the phone. I spent a few seconds talking with Donna explaining who I was and what I was calling for. Donna said I had just missed him because Frosty was already out in the water. She took down my number and would give my info to Frosty.
Hours later, the phone rang and Frosty’s voice boomed through the receiver. It’s like the guy was a power plant sending electricity through the line. I can remember just smiling on the other end as Frosty apologized for missing me earlier and that he really wanted to talk to me. His energy was contagious through thousands of miles. We set up a time for later that night after they got back from the beach festivities they were attending.
The result of that interview is below. Looking back, I was young and still trying to be a “radio host” and “media guy”. I hadn’t learned the art of “shut up and listen” when talking to a legend.
After the interview I wished Frosty luck and he promised to send me a copy of his new book. I gave him my mailing address and promised I’d send him a copy of “NAIA Preview” every year to keep him updated on the NAIA.
My magazine was already out so I sent him a few copies along with a thank you note. I would continue to send him every magazine I published until I no longer wrote “NAIA Preview.” About two weeks later I had a padded envelope delivered to my house and inside it was Frosty’s new book, “The Strange Secret of the Big Time”.
On the title page Frosty wrote:
Enjoy the challenge of the strange secret.
Prov 27:17 WOW!
The passage is one that I later learned was one of Frosty’s favorites and in its brevity described the man’s life and coaching style.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Every article that talked of Frosty’s passing mentioned the national championship teams he coached, the number of All-Americans and even a few players that went onto the pros. But the real stat that couldn’t be reflected would be the number of people whose lives were changed or positively affected by Frosty. How many people did he “sharpen” and how many people did those people touch?
A few years after my interview with Frosty, I got the opportunity to meet him in person at the AFCA Coaches Convention. For me, it was like meeting the Beatles: Legendary NAIA football coach, one of the winningest coaches in the history of college football and one of the greatest human beings to walk the face of the Earth.
As corny as it sounds, I was almost too uncomfortable to go talk to the guy. You know how you hear stories of people who meet their idols or legends and they have a bad experience? I didn’t want to taint my view of Frosty if something went wrong in the conversation. As I stood there after the NAIA Hall of Fame banquet contemplating what I would even say, Pat Ross the head coach of Lindenwood University walked up to me and said, “Hey, that’s Frosty Westering. Let’s go talk to him!”
The experience couldn’t have gone better. We talked about everything from football to the state of Nebraska to his hometown of Missouri Valley, Iowa where I had a college roommate from. I don’t remember every detail of the conversation but I do remember walking away keyed up. You couldn’t talk to Frosty and not walk away more energized about life. Coach Ross and I looked at one another only to be able to utter the words, “Wow.”
A few years later at another NAIA Hall of Fame Banquet during the convention, Bob Young of the University of Sioux Falls was being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Frosty and his wife Donna were in attendance. I told several people a few years ago I wanted to write a book called “The Greatest Coaches You’ve Never Heard Of”. Coach Young and Frosty would be two of my targets for that book.
The banquet went as planned. Coach Young gave his speech and the crowd loved it. It was affectionate and funny, just as I expected from Coach Young. But the highlight of the banquet came after the festivities were over. After the final words were said and the crowd was basically told they were adjourned.
Out of nowhere, Frosty pops up out of his seat and summons the crowd. Like an old coach, he got the room quiet and pointed out the great accomplishments of Coach Young and the others going into the Hall of Fame.
Before we left, Frosty had a group of a few hundred people giving “ATTAWAY” cheers to the Hall of Fame inductees.
“ATTAWAY COACH YOUNG,” He yelled to the crowd and we answered back in unison.
Afterward, he and Bob Young stood near the front of the room and talked for 15 minutes or so. Everyone in the room wanted to be a fly on the wall in that conversation. On his way out, I tracked him down to say hello again and before I could introduce myself he said, “JASON! How are things in Nebraska! Hey those magazines you’ve been sending me are really GREAT!”
I’m not too sentimental and there are times that I question if anyone out there was paying attention to anything I was writing about NAIA football. But to have Frosty remember me after only meeting me once in person years prior to that was truly a compliment. There are far greater people in this world who he has influenced and to have him talking to me with such enthusiasm and passion about my work was inspiring.
There are certain coaches in the NAIA and in small college football that I consider to be legends. Many of them I have gotten the chance to talk to or meet with over the past 10 years and it’s not lost on me how lucky I have been.
But talking with Frosty was different. He was cut from a different mold and had an energy and zeal for life that was unmatched by anyone else. He’ll never be a household name in the world of college football and that’s perfectly fine because Frosty certainly lived up to his mantra. He made the big time where he was and we were all lucky to be a part of it.