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Fred Sailer: Impossible to replace

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PERHAM — A common theme in discussing Fred Sailer with a number of coaches and fine arts instructors is the agreed-upon impossibility of replacing him. Someone will surely get the job, but after 16 years as Activities Director, Sailer has made an indelible impact on the many people who have worked under his tutelage.

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This is the second part of a story on Fred Sailer’s retirement from Perham Public Schools. Engineering Perham Success can be found here.

“Fred's shoes will be impossible to fill,” Music Instructor Kevin Kosiak said. “From the very first interactions I had with him, he made it clear that he really was not learned in the arts, music, theater, speech, etc., but he was very knowledgable about quality and hard work. I think we have had some success over the years with our Community Musical, choir program, 5th Street Band, and our speech program. We have quality, hard working people running these programs and although Fred is no expert in these areas he has recognized quality product and high expectations for the students that participate in these activities. Fred has been my greatest ally when it comes to procuring funding, advertising, etc. for all of my programs. He sees quality and kids working hard and he does what any great CEO or administrator does; gets out of the way and lets the directors and students run.

“If Fred hadn't spent his career in teaching and coaching I think he would have been a very good businessman. He has great vision. Even in areas such as mine where he has no experience directing. It was his idea to do the collaboration between our production of White Christmas and our downtown merchants. He is the one who came up with the name of  our school rock band, "The 5th Street Band." Twice the last two years he has gotten my singers a chance to sing the National Anthem at Section Championships and the State Basketball tournament. Seeing my students sing the National Anthem up on the jumbotron at The Target Center has been one of the highlights of my 26 years in music education.  Both events were due solely to Fred picking up the phone and making it happen for my musicians. I think that is what every good administrator and CEO does, they are constantly looking for how they can showcase their product and improve what is being delivered. And he has worked tirelessly to give me the resources I need to keep the product going.

“He is knowledgeable, fair, and supportive. I haven't always gotten what I want. But when I didn't, I didn't feel too bad because I knew that Fred's decision had been fair.

“He's a friend and a respected colleague. I will miss him tremendously. I frequently have people ask me at the end of a school year when I have some exceptionally talented seniors how I am going to replace them. We always strap on our boots every fall, but honestly there have been some great seniors in my programs over the years that have never been replaced. We carry on, but the great ones aren't replaced. We will get another AD, but Fred won't be replaced. Don't think he can be.”

“Fred has been an amazing advocate for our program,” Dr. Sandra Wieser-Matthews said. “I won a State award for speech, this year. I attributed that recognition to the support that I have gotten from Fred, over the years. Also, when there have been conflicts, he has been the calm voice of reason. He can sit all sides down, treat them equally and respectfully, and make everyone feel stronger...by the time they leave. I am so grateful for his mentorship and friendship. When my mother passes away, he came to her funeral, in the summer. What AD does that? It meant a great deal and he has always been there for me and the Speech competitors at PHS.”

Cross Country head coach and math instructor Jeff Morris continues the accolades on how Sailer is more than just an administrator, but also makes as large an impact when it comes to friendship and mentoring.

“Kids need mentors, but so do coaches,” Morris said. “He has been such an amazing mentor in my life at Perham. I was at a coaching clinic recently and the person putting the coaching clinic on asked us to make a list of the five people who have an impact on my life. When I made my list of five, Fred immediately came to my mind. Here was my list of five so you get an idea of how much Fred has meant to me as a mentor.

“Jesus was No. 1, No. 2 my wife Kay, No. 3 my parents which included a dad who adopted me, No. 4 my high school coach cross country and track coach and easily making that list was Fred.

“Fred has been the guy who if I needed counsel, he listened to my dreams, frustrations, and even conflicts with coaching and I knew in the end Fred always supported me. I know there were times when he probably thought my dreams were too big, but he gave me the confidence I needed to chase them anyways. He also challenged me and held me accountable. Sometimes I felt like he might be limiting what I wanted as a coach, but looking back I see how he just wanted the best for me and the kids I coach.

“I remember when first working with Fred, I would get so nervous when I would go to his office to talk to him and he even asked me about this early on. You could say I had the same fear that I had for my dad who adopted me. You feared him, but it was all about respect. It did not take long to realize that Fred was always for me, the kids I coached and the programs I was building.

“In Fred’s absence, we lose more than an AD. He is a mentor, a support, a leader, a friend, a fan of coaches and kids. As coaches and advisors have built successful programs with kids, Fred truly built a school of champions with coaches, kids, and community members.

“It really is amazing to have such an amazing boss to talk about like this.”

Sailer related a story from Morris’ first year where a couple of seniors on the cross country team approached Fred to tell him, “We don’t think this guy can coach.”

Sailer begged to differ with the two students. This past fall, Jeff Morris was named the National Coach of the Year joining Dave Cresap as recent Perham coaches to gain a national distinction.

Sailer and head basketball coach Dave Cresap have had ups, downs, tragedies, championships and a number of private talks that were not always about winning or even basketball. Like he has for so many others, Sailer played a pivotal role in shaping one of Perham’s most successful coaches.

“Without a doubt, Fred Sailer has impacted my coaching career more than any other person,” Cresap said. “If not for Fred, I would not be where I am at today. He has always let me just coach but was always there as a mentor and a person who would remind me of the things I needed to work on.

He is a coach's AD and I want to thank him for helping mold me into the coach I am today. He will be very hard to replace, but I know Fred well enough that he will be there for the next person if they feel they need his advice. I loved working for a guy that did let us coach, but we knew he would help us out in any way we needed. He always did what was right for kids.”

“Coaches like Dave have had success because they built on some really simple philosophies,” said Sailer.

“Simple philosophies, but they do it to perfection. Defense. You know every night you can count on Perham playing defense. You can’t always count on the ball going in the hoop, but you can count it’s really going to be hard for people to score.”

In taking over an environment that was hardly favorable to many coaches in 1997, 16 years later the opposite is true and Sailer is at the heart of why so many coaches find success here and why they are able to enjoy doing it.

“Fred has always let the coach coach,” Head Gymnastics Coach Charlie Fleck said. “If the wheel is not broken, he says don't try to fix it. I thank Fred for his support in building our gymnastic program. He will be missed.”

Every now and then there is an athletic program that suffers. Like this year’s girl’s basketball team struggling in a two-victory season. While a number of fans were quick to judge, Sailer has an even demeanor of unconditional support for even his newest coaches in the final year of his employment.

“Mark my words, this guy will have a great career in Perham,” Sailer said of Girls Basketball Head Coach T.J. Super. “When I watch somebody like him - he’s organized, he’s got energy, he’s got a plan. I’ll bet you they win no less than 12 games next year, maybe 15. That guy is one of the best young hires. I hope people write it down who don’t believe in him because he’s going to be big here.”

“Fred is the foundation of this school, this community,” Head Football Coach Mike Jordahl said. “He has mentored so many educators in so many positive ways. The success that our school has had and will continue to have is due in large part because of Fred's leadership.”  

“Leadership matters tremendously,” Head Wrestling Coach Robb Moser said. “If someone doesn't recognize Fred's influence in our programs they need a lobotomy. His style has allowed our students and coaches to get better and not get too sidetracked with the inconsequential garbage. He also understands the big picture way better than most — getting first place in the DunVilla Invitational means little if you fold like a lawn chair in the post-season.

For Moser, Sailer is on the front lines of places coaches find distractions. Rather than sit in a tent at the back of the battlefield, Sailer is up front directing and handling situations with an assurance that all parties involved will find a resolution.

For the most part, Sailer has been the resolution.

“I often think that I am lucky that I do not have many parental complaints,” said Moser. “The truth is that I do not know if I have lots of complaints because Fred insulates me (and the others) from the little things that can derail a team or a season. Don't get me wrong, parents have a right to ask questions. I just think that Fred handles them well before they turn into Chernobyl.

“However, Fred is not afraid of bringing anybody to the woodshed when they need to be taken there.  Just last week, an area coach and I had an (what I thought was a good) idea. Fred promptly told us that, although he respected our opinions, our idea was bad for the sport and for kids and provided his rationale. He was probably right. Fred is not afraid of criticism -— he does not use it often, but when he does, it is justified.

“In my sport, most ADs simply don't spend too many sleepless nights worrying about the schedule or the results. Fred does and he does for every other sport as well. It is probably easy to be the AD at a place like Marquette where there is (realistically) only one sport - Men's Basketball. In Perham, we have been good at the big two, football and basketball. But we have also done well in the lesser knowns of Cross Country, Wrestling, Volleyball, Baseball, Speech, the Musical, etc. I think it is because he does want all programs to succeed.  Do you think every AD in Minnesota really wants that? That separates him.

“On a personal level, I think Fred has been one of the biggest influences on my life. Fred was the first person who introduced the fact that a "non-related, ethical, role model” can be the most influential force in a young person's life.”  I think our coaches get that because of him. I think he was the most influential "non-related, ethical, role model"  in my life.  He has been the guy who has given me a compliment when I needed it, a butt-chewing when it was deserved, and a sage when I needed some wisdom.  Fred has been my closest thing to a life coach I could find. There is no way we can replace him.”

Taking a situation and not only improving it but making it the exact opposite of what was dysfunctional is no small feat. What Sailer has done in his time in Perham is earn the adoration and respect of those who work with him and by doing so has gotten the best out of each of them. Perham, as a whole, whether it be athletics or fine arts, is a staple at state level competitions and arguably, the most successful, public school of its size in Minnesota.

“If we’ve done anything, we’ve made it a great place to coach and work,” Sailer said. “It costs the same whether you’re going to be good or horrible. So, we might as well give your kids an opportunity to be champions.”

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Robert Williams
Robert has been the Sports Editor for the Focus since 2010 covering multiple state and national championship teams and is a mainstay at state tournaments each season covering the successful, athletic programs of Perham and New York Mills High Schools.
(218) 346-5900 x223
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