Coaching high school football is a labor of love.
Some coaching jobs may appear to be love at first sight, but quickly erode into fleeting memories of what one thought could have been.
Quite simply, on-field success, and the “happy ending” of many more wins than losses, isn’t a guarantee.
Far from it, actually.
Regardless of how the fall Fridays (and now Thursdays) turn out, the grind of an Arizona high school football head coach never stops – neither do the critical parents, disgruntled players, frustrated fan bases, and every other year-long speed bump which hopefully doesn’t turn into a road block.
For Tempe High head coach Sean Freeman, the wins have been few and far between since taking over the program in January of 2022.
Last week, the Buffs traveled nearly 200 miles for their first win of the season, a 25-23 thriller at Yuma High.
Proud of these young men. I challenged them at half time to come out in the second half and give me everything!!! They did just that ! 1-0 pic.twitter.com/jEBLo6bPFZ
— Coach Sean Freeman (@Coach_FreemanCC) September 2, 2023
The road victory already matches their win total for all of last season – a 1-9 campaign which was hard for Freeman to stomach.
“I’m a competitor at the end of the day,” he said to the “Zone Read.” “It hurt a little bit because, obviously, you want to make a good impression. There were some things against us, as far as numbers, and kids not coming out. We couldn’t finish games, too. There were several games we were competitive in, but we couldn’t finish them.”
This summer, Freeman was bitten by the before mentioned football labor of love.
The rough first-year transition, littered with setbacks and frustrations, made him re-focus, and grind even harder.
“I didn’t take a break this summer, I didn’t take a break all year,” he explained. “After the season, I got right to work. I don’t want to have that feeling again. I don’t want to look my seniors in the face after another 1-9 season. Our goal this year is to lock in. It’s our mantra. It’s what we live by. We’re going to go all out for each other.”
— Coach Sean Freeman (@Coach_FreemanCC) August 11, 2023
Freeman has always been football-first, even at previous coaching stops where the feeling wasn’t always mutual.
Arizona high school football is led by alpha programs which cast long shadows on predominantly African American and Hispanic schools where the sport isn’t prioritized.
Youngin’ went off last night at the JV game. We made a bet “You get a catch and score, I’ll buy you doughnut..You don’t do either, it’s a 100 push-ups in front of the class”….Mr. Smith had 2 tds ! That’s two doughnuts ! #showupandshowout #tempeturnaround pic.twitter.com/KyAduaGmuZ
— Coach Sean Freeman (@Coach_FreemanCC) September 7, 2023
At Tempe, as well as his previous stops at Copper Canyon and his alma mater, Westwood, Freeman’s message to his players extended well beyond the wins and losses between the white lines.
“The sport teaches you a lot,” he said. “It teaches you to work with guys, guys from other cultures which you probably would not have done if you didn’t play this sport, or any sport at all.”
As Freeman navigates his way through his second season, there have been setbacks, with each week scripting a different, sometimes frustrating, narrative.
.@vctrojans starting to open things up.
This pretty touchdown pass from Gunnar Link to Asher Hanzal extends the lead to 24-2 over @TempeFootball with less than a minute to play before the half.#Buffs only had 10 men on the field on this play. @Sports360AZ pic.twitter.com/CwR6ZGxV6b
— Eric Sorenson (@EricSports360AZ) August 19, 2023
However, there is a clear blueprint in place, with Freeman’s finger prints all over it. He is steadfast in the belief there is talent on the Tempe campus – despite a shrinking enrollment (consistent with other TUSD schools), and now 3A classification. He is a regular, and popular, figure around campus teaching freshmen in the classroom, as well as encouraging them to become a part of Buffs’ football. Tempe’s freshmen squad has over 60 players in the program.
It takes men to help raise and mentor better young men. Proud of these two young men @Kamron18Jackson & @taviwilliamsFB for Trusting The Process and becoming leaders within the @TempeFootball program. Major S/O to my coaches @CoachJoe2017 , @Tre_jae , and the big dog @DHunn pic.twitter.com/IM4qpdl8mT
— Coach Sean Freeman (@Coach_FreemanCC) August 6, 2023
On the field, and in life, Freeman is providing leadership to each and every player.
“I’m not an easy coach to play for, I coach really hard,” he said. “But I love harder. When we coach these kids, yeah, I’m gonna get in their tail a couple of times, but I’m going to hug you. I’m going to tell you why I said what I said. I’m going to tell you I love you at the end of the day, because some of our kids don’t hear that from their family members or people who they’re close to.
“Tell them that and show them that, and they’ll go all out for you.”
Tempe hopes to make it two in a row Friday as they travel to the west Valley to take on Carl Hayden.