Morgan State University interim head football coach Fred Farrier gets ready for the team's season opening game against his alma mater College of Holy Cross.
Morgan State University interim head football coach Fred Farrier gets ready for the team's season opening game against his alma mater College of Holy Cross. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

He's the interim coach of a winless football team that lost its most recent game, 62-0. But know this about Fred T. Farrier: Records aside, the Morgan State coach is intent on turning out men. Team meetings are as likely to touch on character and trust as on completions and touchdowns.

"Every game, I believe we've got a chance to win," said Farrier, 44, whose team hosts Howard on Saturday at 7 p.m. "At the end of the day, though, football is just a tool to teach life's lessons, long term. We're preparing these players to be good husbands and great dads. Because when you graduate, you've got to pay that car note and day care bills, and those folks want their money on time — and nobody's going to pat you on the back every time you pay the mortgage. And if you don't pay it, they're coming to take the keys."

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To that end, the door to Farrier's cluttered office is always open to players struggling to cope with matters on and off the field. The Bears wasted no time seeking him out.

"Coach is easy to relate to," defensive lineman Ayodeji Agbelese said of Farrier, who joined the Morgan staff in 2014. "I came to him with leadership issues in my life. He helped me to mature, to grow, and now I'm a team captain."

Josh Miles' problem was academic.

"I was having trouble with calculus, but [Farrier] found me a tutor on campus," said Miles, an offensive tackle from Western Tech. "I got a B in the class — and that might have been a miracle."

Routinely, Thomas Martin — one of Morgan State's top receivers — sticks his head in the coach's door to discuss parenting. Martin's 3-year-old son lives in Florida, and he misses him. Farrier understands: His own wife and children reside in the family's Kentucky home.

"Coach gives me ways to cope with it," Martin said of long-distance fatherhood. "That makes it easier to focus on the field. He says, 'When you're going through something, use football as your therapy, your release.' It helps."

Morgan State and Howard both seeking their first win

Morgan and Howard both seeking their first win.

To date, however, Farrier's human touch has brought no victories. Morgan State is 0-2 entering the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener against Howard (0-3).

"Things will come together; we can definitely bounce back," Martin said. "The 1993 [Dallas] Cowboys started 0-2 and won the Super Bowl, so anything can happen."

Farrier's desk is peppered with hand-carved wooden buzzwords straight from Hallmark cards. Trust. Faith. Love.

"You'd be surprised at the number of young men who've never had someone tell them, 'I love you,'" he said. "I say that and they look at me like they've never heard it."

Morgan State faces a Marshall team that has won 10 games for three straight years

Morgan State did itself no favors, scheduling two explosive teams at the start.

The Bears' slogan this year is BELIEVE. The word is emblazoned both in the fabric of the players' T-shirts and their minds. Farrier has made it an acronym to remember: By Eliminating Limitations, It's Easier Validating Expectations.

"A big part of what we do is to get inside these players' minds, to deal with their hang-ups," he said. "I tell them a story about a huge hurdle in my life and how it helped me get where I am today."

In 1995, while riding a motorcycle near his home in Cleveland, Farrier was struck by a drunk driver.

"I broke both legs in 17 places, tore both rotator cuffs and needed more than 15 surgeries," he said. "Friends and family brought medicine to my house, but one day it ran out with no one around. The pain was severe; my right leg had been crushed and I lay in bed, crying. Finally I thought, I've got to help myself. So I slid into the wheelchair, grabbed my keys and scooted out the back door."

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Somehow, Farrier maneuvered down five steps, crawled into his car and drove to the drugstore, using his left foot on both the accelerator and brake.

"From that day on, I had the mindset that 'the only person who's going to limit you from doing anything is yourself,'" he said.

Mistakes costly for Morgan State football in season-opening 51-24 loss to Holy Cross

Running back Orlando Johnson hobbled from the Morgan State locker room wearing a grey T-shirt with "BELIEVE" — the Bears' mantra for 2016 — printed on the back.

That's the mantra he drills into his team, though not one that he embraced as a player. An Ohioan, he attended Holy Cross where, as a wide receiver, he was "an average player and a classic underachiever. I didn't realize how good I could have been."

An economics major, he joined PricewaterhouseCoopers in Cleveland as an accountant where, for four years, he crunched numbers unrelated to football.

"I was happy wearing suits, driving downtown and working in a skyscraper. I thought I was going to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company," Farrier said. Then, in 1997, a friend suggested he apply for a graduate assistantship at Michigan State under then-head coach Nick Saban. Farrier attended a game and quickly stashed his suits.

"I missed the roar of the crowd," he said.

Assistantships at Saginaw Valley State (Mich.), Tennessee Tech and Shaw (N.C.) followed before Farrier became head coach at Kentucky State in 2005. After four years and a 19-25 record, he was fired.

"I'm a firm believer that we're all interim coaches," he said.

After several seasons as a football commentator and then assistant coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic, Farrier joined Morgan as offensive coordinator in 2014. In February, he replaced Lee Hull, now wide receivers coach for the Indianapolis Colts. But his own post is one Farrier calls "the best job in the world."

"On one hand, as head coach of a Division I institution, I'm the CEO of a $10 million company," he said. "At the same time, essentially, every day I get paid to go outside and be a playground monitor."

Players swear by Farrier's style.

"He cares about us as people," Agbelese said. "He's made us closer as a team. I see it all coming together, maybe [Saturday] against Howard."

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