UA coaches' wives make time for game

By: Richard Davenport
Published: Sunday, January 20, 2019
Abby Craddock, wife of Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, plays with her daughter Charlie, 2, and son Cain, 10 weeks, on Friday in their home in Fayetteville.
Photo by Spencer Tirey
Abby Craddock, wife of Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, plays with her daughter Charlie, 2, and son Cain, 10 weeks, on Friday in their home in Fayetteville.

The lives of wives of college football coaches are not for the faint of heart.

More often than not, time with their husbands is limited during most months of the year. Everyday tasks often are left up to them.

Laura Fry, the wife of University of Arkansas offensive line coach Dustin Fry, learned to be independent soon after her husband landed his first job in 2012 as a graduate assistant at Clemson while she drove his beloved 1983 red-and-white GMC Sierra truck.

"It broke down at a gas station when I was driving it, but he couldn't come and bail me out," said Fry, who was pregnant with their first child, Hudson, at the time. "So I had to make friends with these nice men at the gas station to help me get the truck started again. So you have to learn to roll with the punches and depend on yourself."

Her experience is the status quo for coaches' wives.

"Coaches' wives are made out of some really strong stuff because we can handle a lot of adversity all at the same time," Fry said.

To prepare her for life as a coach's wife, Dustin Fry asked her to read an article on the subject at the beginning of his coaching career.

"I read it and he said, 'This is what we're in for with the hours and everything,' " she said.

Brooke Stepp, the wife of receivers coach Justin Stepp, received an inside look at the life of a college football coach after she was hired by Coach Chad Morris as SMU's director of recruiting operations.

"I think being a coach's wife is a job within itself," she said.

It was at SMU where Brooke and Justin met and eventually married. She took the same job at Arkansas before quitting on March 14 to become a full-time mother after the birth of their son, Courtland, the next day.

"I think it's such a blessing on our marriage that I really know what happens up there, the stress of the season, the stress of recruiting," she said. "I know the demands on his time and his schedule. I would've never fully understood it. It's hard to understand unless you've been in the middle of it."

Abby Craddock, wife of offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, was a social worker who worked with underprivileged children prior to her and Joe getting married in February 2015. She quit once they moved to Dallas for the SMU job.

"Honestly, the first part of it was kind of traumatic for me," she said.

The long hours apart and uncertainty of when her husband would get home took a toll on her in the beginning.

"It was the little things that would irate me. I cooked dinner and things would come up, or they would have a recruit call or whatever and it would be 10 o'clock," she said. "Those are things you just roll with or learn that's not a big deal."

The Craddocks have two children -- daughter Charlie, who turned 2 years old in November; and son Cain, who was born Nov. 8.

"She's such a daddy's girl, loves her daddy," Abby said of Charlie.

After the birth of Charlie, Abby was determined to make the most of family time when Joe is home.

"It just made me grateful for the time we had together because he would come home and be so excited to be at home," Abby said. "I just decided I wanted our house to be a happy place for him and for our kids."

College coaches usually work seven days a week from the start of fall practice in August until the end of the season, depending on whether a bowl game is involved.

The Frys' son Hudson is 4 years old, while son Ryan is a year old. While time with their spouses is very limited during the season, Fry is appreciative of Morris making time for family.

"Coach Morris has always made the environment at work a family environment," Fry said.

One of Brooke's priorities during the season is to ensure Justin and Courtland get time together.

"I try and not go 24 hours without Justin seeing Courtland during the season," she said.

Stepp and the other wives maximize the time available with their husbands during the week before each game.

"I'll go up there on Sunday nights, even if he just saw Courtland for 10 minutes in between practice and when their meeting starts," she said.

Counting days

The Hogs don't practice on Monday during the season, and Thursday is a shorter day that allows coaches to get home earlier. Brooke adjusts Courtland's bed time on both nights so Justin can spend time with him.

"Justin always gives him his bottle and rocks him and puts him into his bed so they have that hour," she said.

Tuesday's window of opportunity is tight.

"Courtland and I will go up at the end of practice, and we normally take Justin dinner so we would eat with Justin in his office for about 10 to 15 minutes," she said.

Coaches seldom can get away from their phones. Work doesn't stop when they are home because recruiting is a year-long effort. There's still phone calls, text messages, FaceTime and direct messaging on Twitter with recruits.

"I would say the first 45 minutes to an hour after he gets home, I know technically he's still working, so that's just something I've come accustom to," Laura Fry said.

She said Dustin doesn't allow the phone to dominate family time.

"He's really aware and conscientious about taking the time away from the phone and leaving it on the counter instead of always having it in his hand," she said.

Wednesday is family night with the wives and kids having dinner with the coaches and players. It also affords the wives a chance to spend time together.

"We know at least once a week we will see each other at practice," Fry said. "We come and all stand together and catch up through the week, and the kids get to play with each other."

Abby Craddock looks forward to family night, but probably not as much as Charlie.

"She gets to run around the field and gets to play around these big ole football players that are just giants to her," she said. "She loves it."

The coaches go into the office later on Friday mornings, but they might not see their families again until after the game on Saturday, or early Sunday morning if it's a road game.

Being pregnant with Cain during the season and having a Nov. 27 due date presented a challenge for the Craddocks.

"I said, 'Look, if I'm going into labor at the start of the game, I'm just not going to tell you until after,' and he said 'What?' " Abby said. "I said, 'I rather you stay there. I would rather you win the game than be there for our son being born,' and I wasn't being sarcastic."

That didn't became an issue since Cain was born Nov. 8, the Thursday before the LSU game.

Postseason play or not, coaches continue the seven-day workweeks during the contact period, which includes the first two weeks of December and most of January until Feb. 2. The coaches are usually on the road four to five nights a week during the period.

When Joe Craddock is away, Charlie has a hard time accepting her father being on the road.

"She was like screaming, 'Daddy,' " Abby said. "It would be every day. She would wake up in the middle of the night, 'Daddy.' She would say 'Daddy be bye-bye.' "

Courtships

Brooke Stepp and her family became close friends with Morris and his wife Paula when he was the head coach in their hometown of Elysian Fields, Texas, in 1998-1999. The relationship continued through the years and led to Morris hiring her at SMU about month after receiving the Mustang job in December of 2014.

Justin was a receiver and punt returner at Furman from 2003-2006. He was a graduate assistant at Clemson from 2009 to 2011, with his last year being Morris' first as the Tigers' offensive coordinator. Justin left for Appalachian State as the receivers coach from 2012-2014 before joining Morris' staff in Dallas.

Because Paula Morris stayed in South Carolina so daughter Mackenzie and son Chandler could finish out the school year, Brooke and Justin's courtship involved Morris.

"We dated with Coach Morris actually because that first semester we were at SMU," Brooke said. "Paula and the kids had stayed back in Clemson so Mackenzie could graduate because that was her senior year. So he was by himself, and we were the singles on staff so we hung out with him and then we started dating.

"It was all three of us all the time."

When it came time for Justin to ask for Brooke's hand in marriage, he went beyond asking her father.

"He also asked Coach Morris," Brooke said. "He felt like he needed to because I'm real, real close to him and his wife."

Joe Craddock played quarterback at Middle Tennessee State from 2004-2008 and afterward played professionally in Italy for two seasons for the Parma Panthers, winning the Italian Super Bowl in his last season.

Abby and Joe's sister, Haley, were best friends and worked together at the YMCA in Birmingham, Ala. Haley tried to persuade Abby to go out with her brother, but she wasn't having it.

"I didn't grow up around sports. I didn't care for any of that," Abby said.

Haley persisted, and Abby eventually relented and agreed to go out with Joe. They started dating at the end of 2009.

Joe started his coaching career at Clemson in player development in 2012, then was a graduate assistant in 2013-2014. Between his time in Italy and at Clemson, much of the Craddocks' relationship was long distance.

"I kind of thought things would fizzle out, but they didn't," Abby said.

Laura and Dustin Fry met when both were freshmen at South Carolina and Clemson, respectively, in 2002. She and friends initially thought Dustin was a good match for another girl.

"We tried to set him up with another girl, and she just didn't turn out, but I thought he was so cute and I waited and waited," Laura said.

The Frys first met while eating at Duke's barbecue, a famous eatery in South Carolina.

"I loaded my plate down with barbecue, and he looked over at me and was like, 'I like her,' " Laura said.

Dustin's support also made Laura fall for him.

"You normally hear it the other way around with a coach's wife," Laura said. "I'm his biggest fan, but it's such a wonderful feeling to have someone be as supportive of you as you are of them."

Dustin lettered four years at Clemson and was a first-team All-ACC center in 2006. He went on to become a fifth-round draft pick in the 2007 NFL Draft by the St Louis Rams, where he played two seasons followed by stints with the Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos.

"After Denver, we came back to South Carolina and he was a government contractor for about a year," Laura said.

Being away from football added to the itch to go into coaching, and an unexpected turn helped the Frys make a leap of faith.

"We didn't know after a year after leaving the NFL you get a severance check," Laura said. "So we got the severance check in the mail, and we looked at each other and we were like, 'We don't have kids. Let's take a risk'. So we both quit our jobs, and we were hoping that he would be able to be a GA at Clemson."

They moved to Clemson on a whim in hopes of Dustin getting a graduate assistant position with Tigers Coach Dabo Swinney.

"Within 48 hours of us moving there, Dabo called and was like, 'Hey, I would really like for you to be a GA. Would you be willing to move to Clemson?' " Laura said. "It was all in God's plan. Dustin said, 'Actually coach, we're already here.' "

Family recruitment

The early signing period in December saw the Hogs ink 21 recruits to national letters of intent, and they are expected to sign eight more prospects in February.

Brooke Stepp believes her husband's ability to recruit is aided by his outgoing personality. She even admits to being surprised in seeing how close her husband gets with prospects during the recruiting process.

"Every recruiting class, he gets such a close relationship with the kids," she said. "I think it's because he's down to earth. The kids know he's been real with them. He's honest with them.

"It gets to the point where they say 'I love you' to each other when they get off the phone. That's just the way Justin is."

Wives can be assets in recruiting when the Hogs are hosting prospects for official or unofficial visits.

"I think for recruits to see family around -- it's not just the recruits, but for the moms and the dads -- they just get more comfortable with the whole family environment," Brooke said. "It just makes it easier for them to eventually drop their kid off at school."

Having a limited baby-sitter pool makes it hard for Laura Fry to attend some of the recruiting events.

"As I develop that baby-sitter pool, I'll go to the dinners," she said. "I love to talk to the parents and see how excited they are about the recruiting process. I love talking to people. That's always been my nature. I think that's why Dustin and I get along so well. He's a talkative guy too and likes to talk, but I would consider him more of the strong, silent type."

Recruiting can be heartbreaking for coaches and wives who grow close to the prospects. While at SMU, both Stepps were drained emotionally when receiver Adewale Omotosho signed with UCLA over the Mustangs.

"We got so close to him," Brooke said. "We were literally writing letters to his pet cat. We were, the whole staff was, and Justin and Adewale got so close, and I had, too.

The long hours and days return when Arkansas starts spring practice Feb. 26 until April 6. The coaches will have a week off during the March 16-20 spring break. They hit the road for recruiting during the spring evaluation period that runs from April 15 to May 31.

June is also a busy month with on-and-off campus camps for coaches to evaluate potential prospects. While coaches usually take four to five weeks off throughout the year, they still communicate with recruits during vacation.

The limited time together is eased because of Dustin being a good communicator.

"I never feel like I'm out of the loop. I never feel alone," Laura said. "He makes sure I know everything that's going on."

When the Stepps have downtime, they're usually at home or at the beach.

"We're really actually boring people," Brooke said. "We just love to be at home. We literally love to sit at home."

For the Frys, an evening out is a luxury.

"We love to go out and have a really good meal," Laura said. "Like great food, get a nice bottle of wine. Just having a good meal sitting down together and having a great experience like that."

While the trials and tribulations can be taxing for spouses and coaches, Laura said seeing her husband do what he loves is the most rewarding part of being the wife of a coach.

"Just seeing him interact with those guys and just the respect between them and seeing him in his element, that's my favorite part," said Fry, who along with Dustin hosted the offensive line for a barbecue at their house last summer. "It's not even going to games, it's seeing him happy doing what he's good at and finding his niche, which makes my life so much easier and happier because he's happy doing what he's doing."

Sports on 01/20/2019

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