Mike Freitag had every reason to blast Indiana. He certainly could have fired back at the Indiana University administration and point out that not only had he compiled a record over the last six years that the vast majority of schools would be thrilled to have, he also graduated players and conducted himself like a gentleman. And certainly men's soccer has seen vivid examples of not acting like a gentleman recently.
But Freitag's teary comments at Armstrong today showed why many people thought he would have no trouble continuing the legacy Jerry Yeagley had established at IU. While he made it absolutely clear he was unhappy with his dismissal and the way it was carried out, he also refused to add to the negativity.
Freitag started off by thanking the university for the opportunity. Importantly, Freitag made it clear that he understood the expectations of the job. It would certainly be understandable for a coach to wonder what was expected of him when he was fired after coming within two minutes of going to a Final Four.
Freitag's biggest complaint was the meeting between the players and administration that occurred shortly after their loss to UNC. His comments make it sound like he thought he was railroaded, ambushed by an administration that had made up its mind and then gathered the evidence to fit the conclusion.
But Freitag seemed to be missing the point on two issues. First, he specifically focused on scheduling. Yes, IU scheduled a tougher than normal slate this year. The games against Wake and St. John's in the Classic are par for the course, but normally IU would play away games either at UCSB or at Akron, not both. In addition, the Big Ten had a great year this year (5 of 7 teams going to the tournament) and teams IU plays regularly like Butler and Louisville are on the rise. But the difficult schedule did its job: IU hosted two tournament games and having the #6 RPI (when last published) probably helped them get that Butler game at home.
And a note to Fred Glass: that's the schedule that IU fans expect. Sure, raking up 15-18 wins against Evansville, IUPUI, Oakland, etc. would be a gaudy record. But for IU to be battle-ready for the tournament, the team needs that sort of schedule. And for IU Soccer to be a successful commercial and spectator venture, the schedule needs to feature the premier teams in the country.
Second, Freitag seems shocked that the players were unhappy with him. I think the information vacuum is causing the problem here. Glass can mention that the players were dissatisfied, but he can't address specific issues they voiced. Freitag then can't respond to issues if he doesn't know they exist. If a player is angry at Mike Freitag, I would have to think it's partially because IU recruits are sold on the idea of winning titles and going to the Final Four. And once again, a group of recruits didn't get to experience that.
Freitag's statement is all you could want from a departing coach. It's honest, but professional. It shows a fire and passion for the game, as well as a pretty good understanding of why he was fired (with some gaps). Too often in recent past, IU fans have been quick to transform professional failures into personal ones. Mike Freitag has earned better even if his performance is not good enough to deserve another year of employment, and hopefully his statement today showed that.