Written by Jon Machota
Former Cowboy, Frisco Centennial asst. coach Ben Fricke remembered as humble, dedicated, hard working
Mark Howard will never forget those text messages or the date that he received them.
It was Jan. 3 of this year and the head football coach had just texted his staff at Centennial High School in Frisco to remind them of their Monday morning football meeting at the school.
Ben Fricke, Howard’s offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, texted him back, saying that he wasn’t feeling well and thought he had the flu. Howard then received a text message the next day from Fricke that said he was in the hospital.
Fricke was diagnosed with colon cancer.
On Feb. 21 he died at the age of 35.
“It’s so hard to really think about because it came on, and obviously he had cancer and was not aware of it, but for it to be in the stage that it was in,” Howard said, “I think took us all by surprise.”
Fricke was still in the process of compiling quite the football résumé. The Austin native was a four-year starter and 1997 All-American on the Houston Cougars offensive line before being selected by the New York Giants in the seventh round of the 1998 NFL Draft. He then joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1999 and was on the team until 2001, starting five games at center in 2000.
The past three years were spent trying to chase his next football goal – becoming a high school head coach.
Howard distinctly remembers the hours Fricke dedicated from the very first day he was hired. He was constantly watching film and trying to find ways to improve his chances of getting that head coaching job.
“He was so dead-set and focused on becoming a head football coach,” Howard said. “He felt like he really needed to be on the fast track. He studied the game like no other I’ve ever seen, especially starting like he did. He spent countless hours watching video.”
But things changed for Fricke. Howard remembers a conversation that he had with his assistant coach following the birth of his daughter. It was Fricke’s second child and he was beginning to have a different outlook on life.
“After she was born he told me his priorities had changed,” Howard said. “He spent so much time up here at the fieldhouse looking at video and preparing for football that he understood that his family was a lot more important. He shared with me how fortunate and how blessed that he really was to have the family and how much he loved them.
“He said, ‘You know, I’m in a good situation. I’ve got a good job. I really enjoy what I’m doing. Maybe I’m not in as big a hurry to pursue that head coaching job after all.’”
That was one conversation that will always stand out to Howard when he thinks of Fricke.
“To me, the was probably the most significant thing that he shared with me, because I knew what he wanted, what his goals and what his desires were,” Howard said. “I don’t think they ever would’ve changed, but he didn’t want to sacrifice his family for that because he knew he was in a good situation, had a wonderful family and wanted to spend time with them.”
Despite all of the accolades and accomplishments, Fricke, who also taught a business education class at Centennial, never talked about his glory days. Even Howard said he has learned more than he could have imagined about Fricke’s accomplishments since his passing.
“You can Google Ben Fricke and you can see all kinds of stuff on him, but Ben was a very humble person,” Howard said. “You would never know anything about what he had ever done in the past unless you just started specifically asking him questions. Otherwise, he would never say or bring it up. He would just never talk about himself.”
When Howard hired Fricke he believed he was taking a chance. Despite the honors on the field, Fricke had no coaching experience. Howard said he went with his instincts and hired him because of the person he was.
“I try to make it a habit to hire men of character and integrity that are going to be great role models for our kids, and he was all of those things,” Howard said. “He was a very friendly, very caring and very giving person.”
Funeral services were scheduled for today at 1 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Frisco.
He is survived by his wife Amy Diamond Fricke and their two children — son Luke and daughter Synneva.