Now in his 40th season as head football coach at Watford City High School, Fred Fridley Sr. is North Dakota’s all-time leader in wins and the epitome of a coaching lifer.

As much as he admires his father, and as successful a coach as he has been in his own right, Fred Fridley Jr. wanted to try some other things, too.

And because of that, Fridley resigned Monday after nine seasons as head coach of the University of Mary women’s basketball team. Fridley is leaving to take a position as the director of public affairs at Sanford Health.

“I never saw myself as coaching for 20 or 30 years,” Fridley said. “I’ve always had other interests that I wanted to try at some point, and this was an unbelievable opportunity.”

Rick Neumann, Fridley’s assistant for the past nine years, will take over as acting head coach. With U-Mary’s first exhibition coming up Nov. 5, athletic director Roger Thomas said the school will decide in the next few days how it will proceed.

“Fred had really good teams all the time,” Thomas said. “His teams played an entertaining brand of basketball and a winning brand of basketball. He is a fun guy to be around and did a great job leading the program. … We haven’t worked out what we’re going to do, but we will work as quickly as we can.”

Fridley, who guided the Marauders to a 170-91 record, was successful right from the start. He led U-Mary to a 32-3 record and a trip to the NAIA semifinals in 2003-04, his first season.

He followed that up with another first-place finish in the DAC-10 the following year, then helped the Marauders successfully make the transition from the NAIA to NCAA Division II. Last season the Marauders went 19-10 and earned their first NCAA tournament berth.

“A lot of people might point to the wins, or maybe the final four or the NCAA appearance as highlights,” he said. “The thing that I get most excited about is all the players who graduated. I enjoyed the player-coach relationship, watching them grow. … I enjoyed getting together with former players. My favorite weekend of the year is alumni meeting.”

Fridley said that kind of bond made the Monday meeting where he told the players he was leaving all the more emotional.

“That was probably the most difficult 15 minutes I’ve had in my entire athletic career,” Fridley said. “It was tough looking those players in the eye and telling them I decided to try a new profession.”

But Fridley said the demands of college coaching — especially all the travel — were taking a toll.

“All the recruiting trips and other trips, they take a lot of time,” Fridley said. “I remember when my dad was coaching us, he was always around us. I wanted to be able to spend more time with my family.”

Fridley expressed gratitude to many at the university, including Thomas and his predecessor, Al Bortke, former president Sister Thomas Welder and current president Father James Shea.

He noted that the Marauders are poised to have another excellent season. U-Mary is a veteran team with 11 seniors and juniors. If Neumann assumes the coaching duties, there will be a lot of continuity from last year’s historic run.

“Rick is a person who has been with me every single year that I’ve been at Mary. He helped with the transition to the NCAA, helped recruit those players and build this program,” Fridley said. “… Things aren’t going to change. They have a great nucleus. I feel like the program is in great shape, with the talent and product they will put on the floor this year.”

Reach sports editor Lou Babiarz at 250-8243 or Lou.Babiarz@bismarcktribune.com.