There was a time when Aaron Frana and Zac Griffin worked long hours in close quarters and ate cold pizza while pouring over game film.
Every once in awhile Jon Meier would pop in for a bit.
Five years later, the locale has changed by 1,600 miles to the south — from Minot, N.D., to Ahwatukee — but not much else for the Mountain Pointe assistant coaches.
Spending so much time, about 65 hours a week, with someone can go one of two ways — detest or best man.
“We’re pretty much having the same conversations now as we did back then,” Griffin said. “We drive our wives crazy.”
While Frana and Griffin had their moments of getting on each other’s nerves while being graduate assistant coaches for tiny Minot State, Frana was the best man in Griffin’s wedding in July of 2012.
“We didn’t know each other at all, but as GAs you have no choice but to spend time together,” Frana said. “We were in a utility closest they basically turned into our office. You get to know everything about someone when you are next to someone for all of those hours.”
Those days in Minot, where the stipend of $172 every two weeks was almost comical but the experience priceless, laid the foundation for the coaching ways and beliefs they've brought to the Pride, which is on a bye week.
“I wouldn’t change anything about it,” said Griffin, who is the Pride’s defensive backs coach for his fourth year. “The whole coaching staff was a bunch of good guys and everyone got along. Joe Ford (then the secondary coach) really helped me understand what it took to be a coach.
“I was completely lost about what it took to be a coach before I got there. That experience really helped me move along the coaching curve.”
Minot head coach Paul Rudolph said it wasn’t surprising to hear the trio continued working with each other after leaving North Dakota.
“They flourished in their roles here and had a lot of the same ideas,” he said. “They wanted a lot of the same things. You could tell they were going to be successful wherever they ended up.”
Frana, who is the Pride’s offensive line coach, went to Minot after some time with Chaparral and was on the offensive staff while Meier, the Pride’s junior varsity head coach, was Minot’s quarterback.
They eventually followed Griffin’s lead, who returned to Arizona where he played high school ball at Corona de Sol and his dad, Jeff, was already on Mountain Pointe’s staff, to take jobs with the Pride.
“Those guys talked about Arizona all the time and Aaron called (former athletic director) Ian (Moses) and asked if he needed a math teacher,” said Meier, who guided the JV to a 7-1 record. “It happened real fast and I couldn’t be in a better place, with better people. I’m lucky to have found a special place like Mountain Pointe.”
Pride coach Norris Vaughan has been a head coach for 29 years and his coaching tree has plenty of roots, but having three on his staff with strong ties to tiny Minot State, which has moved up from NAIA to Division II since the trio left, seems out of place until the common denominator comes to light.
“They are a lot alike. They are smart and put in the time.” Vaughan said. “They do a great job of getting done what we want done.”
Getting things done together is something Frana, who used to mow and aerate the field at Minot, and Griffin have been doing for years. Thankfully, they are doing so in a place today that isn’t the size of a utility closet.
Otherwise, the relationship might not be as solid as it is.
“There was one day where we were having trouble with some software and had to call the company like 10 times,” Griffin said. “I told him to call, he told me to call. It turned into a bit of a physical altercation…
“But who called?” Frana said.
“I did,” Griffin said shaking his head.
It was eventually smoothed over as always not only because they’ve developed into best buds, but because at the time there was no other choice.
“We were essentially forced to be with each other but it worked out great,” Griffin said. “We had some late nights in the cramped space where we’d end up taking turns napping on the floor. It was crazy and at the end we tried to make it work that we ended up at the same place.
“It’s hard to believe it worked out the way it did.”
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