NOTE: This was one of the chapters in the book I wrote with Steve Rivera: “100 Things Arizona Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die.” We talked to both coaches about their experiences with these popular commercials, and you can watch some of them below.
Arizona State coach Bill Frieder is sitting in the office of a plastic surgeon, asking if there is anything the doctor can do to help with that hound-dog face.
“I can try,” the doctor replies with some skepticism.
That was the set-up for one of the classic bank commercials featuring Frieder and Arizona coach Lute Olson that ran in the state of Arizona in the 1990s. If you’re of a certain age, you recall the commercials with a smile. If you’re a younger fan, or a hoops-head-come-lately to the UA basketball party, do yourself a favor and search “Lute Olson vs. Bill Frieder” on YouTube, where several of the ads are preserved.
In this particular commercial, after Frieder gets his loan approved for plastic surgery, he happily responds, “Doc, make me the best-looking coach in Arizona!”
Cut to after surgery when Frieder picks up a mirror, looks … and then lets out a scream as, indeed, he now looks exactly like the best-looking coach in Arizona — Lute Olson.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Olson said that commercial is his favorite.
The stately Olson and the frumpy Frieder made the perfect opposite comedic pair. The commercials were played for laughs against the backdrop of a larger purpose, especially after an ugly rivalry incident in 1988, when ASU fans taunted Steve Kerr about the assassination of his father, Malcolm Kerr, the president of the American University of Beirut.
“The original idea was to bring the schools together, to show that you could compete and then you could be human beings and not have what had gone on the years before that, like the Steve Kerr situation at ASU. Absolutely intolerable and inexcusable,” said Frieder, who was the Sun Devils’ head coach from 1989 to 1997.
“And then after we did the commercials for a year or two, they became legendary to the point where we made a lot of money doing them. Everybody in the state loved him. After three, four years of commercials, I think more people in the state knew me from the commercials than they did from being the basketball coach at ASU.”
Frieder was always willing to be Olson’s foil on television, to be the self-deprecating one.
“ASU fans were upset about the fact he would do it,” Olson said.
There’s the one in which a saleswoman fawns over Lute. After he leaves, Frieder comes up to her with a pile of Christmas presents.
“This must be your lucky day,” he says.
Still swooning, she looks at his bank card and replies, “It’s not every day you get to meet a famous basketball coach, Mr. … uh, Fridder?”
Frieder’s favorite is the one in which he is revealed to be the maniacal pilot of a small airplane as Arizona is trying to get to the big game on time.
“It takes you all day to do shoot a 30-second commercial, which wasn’t fun,” Olson said. “But it was fun to see when the finished product came out.”
It was totally worth it.
“I thought we really did improve the relations of the school,” Frieder said. “Didn’t have any big situations those eight years that I coached. Took (successor) Rob Evans all of 30 seconds to screw that all up, but me and Lute brought the parties together.”
And Frieder knows people are still being entertained, thanks to YouTube.
“They text me things like, ‘I just watched your commercials’ or ‘They just showed your commercials at a get-together,'” Frieder said. “It’s amazing.”