Bill Freeman Born: January 28, 1931 (Burlington, KS) Died: December 18, 2015
Graduated: Burlington High School, 1949; Emporia State University, 1953
At first, it was one. Then a few weeks later another, and few weeks later another, and another, and the letters kept coming. The letters were all from former players of Bill Freeman and they were all in support of their coach; the same support Freeman had given them from the time they played for him in high school.
The players didn’t have to do it; Coach Freeman was placed on the ballot from the time the first letter arrived, but their persistence spoke volumes about what his former players think of Bill Freeman, not only as a coach, but as a man and a Kansan.
To say that Bill Freeman was a “player’s coach” wouldn’t be correct. He was tough, but fair. As one former player put it, “Just getting by wasn’t good enough. You had to work hard to expect results.” Bill Freeman expected a lot from his players and he was a true believer that the harder you worked, the easier things became.
Freeman freely admitted that his coaching style was tough. In an interview at the time of his retirement from coaching in 1990, Freeman said that his style was, “demanding, very demanding, and at times maybe kind of militant.” But it was that toughness, instilled through repetition and attention to detail on the practice field, that many of his former players attribute as the secret to their success off the field after playing for Freeman.
Bill Freeman was born in Burlington, Kansas, in 1931 and had the game of football in his blood at an early age. Graduating from Burlington High School in 1949, Freeman signed on to play football at Emporia State University, where he was a four year letterman for the Hornets. He graduated from Emporia State in 1953.
Although he loved to play the game, it was coaching it where Freeman made his mark. His coaching career began in 1953 and over the next thirty-seven seasons, everyone knew where Coach Bill Freeman was going to be on Friday nights in the fall: roaming the sidelines, whistle around his neck, coaching his teams.
Freeman’s coaching career began at Baxter Springs High School in 1953 before he was named the head football and track coach at Parker Rural High School in 1954. Freeman coached Parker Rural for three years and following short stints at Nickerson and Midland College in Nebraska, again serving as both the head coach for football and track, he landed at LeRoy High School in LeRoy, Kansas. Freeman fell in love with LeRoy during his five seasons at the helm and although he went on to coach other places, he always called LeRoy home.
While at LeRoy, Freeman’s coaching style began to produce results. Freeman’s LeRoy squad claimed a mythical state title, so called because there were no playoffs in Kansas high school football at the time. In 1965, Freeman took his coaching talent to Osawatomie High School, where he coached 1997 Kansas Sports Hall of Fame quarterback Lynn Dickey. The Trojans claimed two state championships under Freeman in 1966 and 1973.
In 1974, Freeman was tabbed as the next head football coach of one of the most successful football programs in Kansas high school history: Lawrence High School. Following the retirement of 2003 Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee Al Woolard, the Lions were struggling to rebuild. Freeman was the man for the job and returned Lawrence High School to prominence within just five short years, winning his first state title in Lawrence in 1979. Freeman followed that early success with four more state championships in 1984, 1986, 1987, and 1989. For his career, Freeman’s football teams claimed a total of eight state championships.
The success also paid off on the track, as Freeman coached the Lawrence High track squad to two state championships in 1989 and 1990.
As the letters poured in, it became apparent that Coach Bill Freeman’s success on the field was only one portion of his story. To many of his former players, Freeman was more than a coach; he was a friend, a mentor, and someone who taught each of them the lessons to help make them who they are today.