Frank Huguenard is a pariah in most ultimate circles. But can we learn from him?
January 27, 2015 by Charlie Eisenhood in Interview with 120 comments
Before Ultiworld, there was rec.sport.disc, an online forum where ultimate players gathered to do the same things they do online today: hype up players, discuss game results, bitch about USA Ultimate (whether fairly or not), explain strategy. If you’re young enough, you probably don’t know much about RSD, as it is affectionately called. But any insider ultimate player over the age of 25 probably has spent some significant time browsing through threads on RSD.
One constant feature of the online forum was a man most people call “Crazy Frank.” He had multiple aliases, and you could often find him blasting ultimate’s rules, trumpeting his own game called Disc Hoops, and generally flaming the forum. Perhaps you’ve seen him around Ultiworld recently, posting under the simple name, “frank,” in the comments section.
Crazy Frank is a real guy. His full name is Frank Huguenard. After living for many years in California, he has since relocated to Boone, North Carolina, where I spoke to him last week via Skype. I wanted to give Frank a chance to speak his mind, and I wanted to try to understand more about a man that was a gifted athlete and ultimate player in his heyday.
After a period of relative silence, he has reemerged somewhat, working with Raleigh Ring of Fire off and on during the 2014 club season and now getting involved in online discussion (or one-sided ranting, some might say) again.
Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. I took out — at his request — some shots he took at various players and coaches, and I did pare down some of his asides and digressions.
Whatever you know about Frank Huguenard, I urge you to read with an open mind and see if you can come away with some new insight into ultimate, sports, or Frank himself.
FRANK: According to me, everything about the game is wrong. Every drill is wrong. Chuck Kindred doing play-by-play is wrong.
Ok, but, who cares? Who’s Frank Huguenard and so what if he says this? Why does that even mean anything?
So I was thinking: if you took someone like Dylan Freechild or Jimmy Mickle or Justin Allen or some young 21 or 22 year old kid and put him out in Silicon Valley in 1982, this is sort of where I was. In 1982, I was on their par. I’d already been playing disc for 13 years and I was 22.
In 1982, I developed a throw called the backhand lift that didn’t exist before then. And it would be such a big thing that I didn’t get credit for it if it weren’t for the fact through the entire ‘80s I was mocked. They said, ‘That’s not ultimate. What is that throw? That’s’s just crap.’
‘Well it’s actually a phenomenal throw.’
So imagine any of those three guys — I like Dylan Freechild probably the best, but there’s not a player in the world that I enjoy watching.
There’s nobody who’s doing anything on the field that is creating anything. Like if you watch Steph Curry or someone on the basketball court, look at the way that they break down the defense. The defense has to pick A or B. And if they pick B, Steph Curry goes A. And if they pick A, then Steph Curry goes B. This doesn’t exist anywhere in ultimate — no player, no team, nobody anywhere in the world.
CHARLIE: You mentioned Dylan Freechild. Obviously, basketball has its own series of maneuvers and moves that maybe you can try to replicate on an ultimate field. But it’s obviously different wearing cleats.
No, it’s not different.
We’ll get to it! Back to Dylan Freechild. His trademark move is probably the upline handler give-and-go or strike cut. If you’re a defender against him, you have to respect that or you’re going to get beat by it every time. So is that not an A/B choice? Is that not a time when, if you stop the upline, he’s going to take the back field and beat you with the throw?
I would love to coach him. Because, like I was trying to say, you take Dylan or someone like that, let them play for nine years like I did through the ‘80s.
I’ve been dribbling for a quarter of a century. You said ultimate and basketball — you can’t do that. No, I’ve been doing that for 25 years. I’m very good at it.
I played with Ring of Fire last summer. No warmups. I’m 54 years old. I wish I was in better shape.
Someone should have videotaped it.
If you watch me play, I’m very good at throwing a no look — looking over here and throw a backhand air bounce 20 yards. My receiver will be running full speed and I’ll hit him in stride.
With Ring last summer, I did something I’ve never done before which was to do that left-handed. And I didn’t even realize I did it. It was so sick. It was so filthy sick. You have no idea how good this was. I had to go to Mike [DeNardis] afterwards and say, “Mike, that was left-handed.” It was so clean.
I hit my reciever, Josh Mullen, sprinting, going the other direction, throwing a lefty air bounce.
I went out there on the field and I was unstoppable, doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, however I wanted. And they were all warmed up — they couldn’t touch me.
Anyway, you take Dylan or Mickle or Nethercutt, let them play for nine years, let them start their own team. Let them start playing basketball-style ultimate. Let them do that for 25 years: that’s who I am.
After playing for 35 years, everything I watch is insane. It’s not like Peyton Manning watching a sixth grade football team. What I’m watching is completely insane. The cuts are insane. The drills are insane.
People have horrendously awful throwing mechanics that would never exist if the rules in the game were normal. But because the rules are weird, people learn how to play with just ridiculous throwing mechanics. Imagine a golfer with his legs crossed, with his hands upside down.
Let me go back to basketball; you keep talking about basketball. I’ve played basketball a long time; I watch a lot of NBA. While I watch more ultimate, so I’m a little more strategically in-tune to it, I have a decent grasp of basketball. What do you mean when you say things like, “I’ve been dribbling for 25 years?” And when you say, “We need to have people creating like they create in basketball? What does it mean to be ‘dribbling’ on the field of ultimate?
If you watch me play — you know that Tupac song, All Eyez On Me? You’re watching what I’m doing because it’s radically different. Your eyes are glued on me because you’re like, ‘Oh, what’s he doing?’
Dylan Freechild doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s very good at what he does.
Dribbling. What does it mean in basketball? It means you’re moving with the ball. So how do you do that in ultimate?
Freechild does it, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing. So in other words, he hasn’t figured it out yet, like really understood in his core the effect that he’s having and then taking it to the next level. He’s where I was at in 1989.
You can see that he’s doing a little bit of this, but he hasn’t understood the effect he’s having on the defense. You can tell when he’s playing: he doesn’t know how he’s breaking down the defense.
You’re saying it’s just instinct rather than control over what he’s deciding to do.
Well, I’m not thinking when I’m playing. If you have to think, you’re screwed.
When I stepped on the field last summer with Ring, I’ve got so much muscle memory — i’m 54 years old, I’m out of shape, but I’m the best player on the field. Because of the thing that Dylan doesn’t have — all of that automatic thinking. It’s all just muscle memory.
But it’s also an acute awareness of the effect that you are having. I own the defense. I’m able to move with the disc — dribble.
The best way to shut me down in the game is to not let me get the disc. If I get the disc, you’re fucked. Seriously. And good teammates know how to get me the disc.
Denardis always kicks my ass — he’s like, ‘It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.’ But is there a good way to say everything about the game is fucked up?
OK so I want to keep you on this idea of dribbling. You’re standing with the disc and you’ve set a pivot foot. What is dribbling, at that point? What makes you better at this than other people?
Because I’m the only one that’s doing it.
What I’m doing…so you’re marking. So I’m sitting there, and…A, I’m completely ambidextrous. And it doesn’t matter how often I throw a lefty backhand, the fact is you know I can throw it.
My whole stance is upright. And I’m lefty, righty all the time. So the disc is always here [gesturing to in front of his chest].
I’m identifying a player on my team — and that player can be anywhere. Anywhere within 15-20 yards. Well, 20 yards is kind of long for a dribble. 10-15 yards.
And that player is anywhere. He’s behind me, beside me, upfield, downfield. This is why I say a 10 yard penalty in so-called professional ultimate is a joke. Yardage means nothing to me. What kind of deterrent is that? 10 yards? Are you joking?
Anyway, so I’m identifying…but not just identifying an open receiver. Open receivers got boring to me 30 years ago. There’s no premium on that.
It’s finding a place…and there’s no thought processes. When I’m dealing, I’m dealing. It’s just attacking and attacking. If you watch my hands, I’m attacking almost 10 times per second.
And every attack is legitimate. They may be fakes, but they’re all honored.
First I’m breaking it down mentally. So I’m picturing the field and getting a feel. I’ve got a ridiculous field sense — and I hope that none of this comes across as ego: I’ve just been doing this for 50 years.
So I’ve got this tremendous feel for as I’m moving, especially if I’ve started to throw. I feel the defense’s presence; I break it down mentally. Penetrate. I hate the word give-and-go because penetration is much more pregnant with meaning.
Give-and-go just means I’m going to throw and run. Penetration is purposeful: I’m going to throw where I want, when I want. And then I’ll get the disc back.
So if you know you can always get the disc back by virtue of all those factors, that’s dribbling.
One thing I want to clarify: you mention that it’s 10 or 15 yards. So you’re looking to find a teammate who is in a place where you can put the disc into an advantageous position whether for them or for yourself and then try to get it back?
No I don’t try; I get it back.
[Laughing] OK, just get it back.
Well, although! In football, what do you need to be able to run play action passes?
You have to fake the run.
What do you need to do that?
Well you have to set up the run game.
Yes, you have to establish the running game. If the defense thinks your running game is a joke, then play action doesn’t work.
So what I’ve been doing the last five or six years is running a lot of play action. I’m not trying to get the disc back; in fact I’m purposefully not getting it back. I have a hand signal that I can give to my — in the 90s I called it the hardwood. That player is the hardwood — I’m literally dribbling off of them.
And they’re not even running. They’re not running; I’m not running.
When I watch ultimate today, it’s like watching a basketball game and no players dribble. That’s what I see when I watch ultimate. It’s a major component of the game just completely missing in action.
I feel like I’m understanding a little bit better what you mean by dribbling. You talk about penetrating the defense. Can you do that with a throw as well as with an actual physical movement like running?
OK…what do you mean? Like somebody running into a space where the disc is also going.
No I can’t stand that. Charlie, I don’t know if I mentioned it but everything about the game is wrong. Just flat out wrong.
I know you feel that way.
No, I don’t feel that way…It’s more like flat earth society. When you know something, you know it. There’s no feeling about it.
People have been arguing with me for 10 years, 15 years.
I’ve had, in the last 15 years, a good 2,000 traveling calls made against me that were ridiculous. Not only are they legitimate moves — which drives me nuts — but these aren’t just legitimate moves — they’re sick.
But here’s what gets to your question. It’s splitting a hair with a razor blade on whether or not I’m traveling. But if you watch I don’t travel. There’s no one who travels less than I do.
As I’m penetrating, the disc is coming out of my hand just prior to my foot moving. It’s a very explosive move. So I’m starting to run and right before my pivot foot comes off the ground, the disc comes out.
But the run comes first and the disc comes second. This is how I’m 54 and I can beat anybody. I’m starting to run while my marker is stopped.
And part of the thing that Dylan and all those guys haven’t figured out yet is…
I did a questionnaire. Question number one is: is it best to decelerate into a catch?
Um, it depends on where you are on the field. I would generally say no, you don’t want to do that.
Answer is: you do want to do that.
If I qualify it, since it was a trick question: if you are guaranteed to get the disc, is it best to decelerate into the catch?
Yes, you’ll be in control — you’ll be balanced.
So: is it best to decelerate into the catch? Of course.
The question is how do you run an offense where you’re guaranteed to catch the disc and not get D’ed. That’s my offense.
So as I’m exploding, I’ll put three to four steps of separation on my defender. And that allows me to decelerate into the catch and give them half of their steps back.
When you do this for a long time, like Dylan will figure this out, you realize, ‘Ok I’ve just blown four steps on this guy and I can give some of that space back.’
Then you can decelerate into the next catch. It’s a lot like riding the halfpipe, if you can hang with me.
So I accelerate, decelerate, and as I’m decelerating and I get the disc back, my defender runs past me. But now, instead of what you see most of the time — people running give and gos all the way up the field — I’m going all over the place. Wherever the defender’s momentum is, I’m going in the opposite direction.
And as soon as you learn how to dribble, then you can take 80 years of basketball philosophy and apply it to ultimate. Triple post offenses, pick and rolls.
I run pick and rolls — legally — all the time.
Did you play basketball growing up?
Where does your basketball interest come from?
There’s no one who’s ever been more passionate about ultimate than I have. I spent decades playing, and I studied everything about other sports that could be applied to ultimate.
If you look at ultimate, it looks like a football field. It has kickoffs, which are kind of lame and pretty useless. The end zones, proportionally, are over four times larger than football’s end zones. Other than that, ultimate has nothing to do with football, in the rules. Nothing.
If you put the field aside and just look at the rules, ultimate is almost identical to basketball, except you can’t dribble. Except I learned how to dribble.
Do you understand the triple threat principle and what it does to ultimate?
I guess the idea would be that you could throw with either hand and…
No, no, no. Triple threat is the same as in basketball. You can throw to a receiver or you can score. Those two things, in my mind at least, are distinct. You’ll see if you watch, there’s a whole different vibe when someone is looking at the endzone.
They’ll look at the endzone when they’re trying to score, and then they’ll turn and look to pass.
So those are two different threats that the defense has to honor. The third threat is penetration.
And this is probably the most important thing that you can understand: what’s the implication?
Um…it makes it more difficult for the defense to react to what you are going to do.
Because you can do any one of three things.
Let me see it another way. On the basketball court, what happens you pick up the dribble?
Well you’re forced to pass or shoot.
Well the defense can shut you down and double team.
That’s right. You need to really understand that and sleep on it. The implication is — and this is a principle. It doesn’t matter whether you’re running the Princeton offense, or you’re running the Triangle offense.
It’s a principle and it applies whether you’re playing against a man, a zone, a box and one.
The implication is that before you pick up the ball, you’ve got more influence over the defense than you do when you pick it up. When you pick up the ball, you’re letting the defense collapse.
It’s a mental thing. It’s a philosophical thing. But the defense has to lay off of you because they have to honor all three threats. As soon as you give one of the threats away, they can collapse in on you.
In ultimate, it completely applies.
There’s not a single player that does anything to manipulate the defense. It’s insane. Freechild’s as close as you’re going to get, but he doesn’t know the Triple Threat.
In ultimate there’s no picking up the dribble. You go and you penetrate, and you get it back and go and go and go. The defense has to honor it. They have to honor that extra threat. And there’s nothing they can do.
It sort of wrecks the game. Sorry. It ruins the game. When you can score anytime you want…
I actually find this compelling. But to push back a little bit, in basketball there are three things that you can do: you can dribble, you can shoot, and you can pass. And that’s the concept of the Triple Threat.
But in ultimate, the only thing you can do once you have the disc in your hand is make a throw. Now I understand that you are drawing a distinction between throwing to a receiver, throwing to the endzone, and throwing to dribble.
What is the distinction between throwing to a receiver and throwing to dribble? Because you keep coming back to dribbling as the thing that people don’t know and don’t do.
When I penetrate, I’m getting the disc back. Period. That’s not really up for debate.
It’s funny because I always get accused by those that don’t know what I’m doing that I’m a selfish player.
[Laughing] This is the quintessential team activity. I’m doing the work here — all you have to do is stand there.
But when I’m passing to a receiver, I’m passing. I’m done. But when I’m penetrating, I’m breaking down the defense.
But you haven’t answered my question: what’s the distinction between dribbling and passing?
When I’m passing, I’m just throwing a pass. I do that all the time.
But when I’m penetrating, I’m exploding, I’m carving a lane. I’m going to get the disc back, unless I’m running play action or some other deception. It’s a totally different move than passing.
Is there anyone in today’s game that does what you might call dribbling?
Anyone who comes close?
Freechild. But he’s where I was 25 years ago.
There were some guys 15 years ago in the Bay Area, because I had an influence there. But in today’s game? Nobody.
Can you think of anybody?
Well I’m still just trying to understand your philosophy. The thing that comes to my mind is Seattle Sockeye’s offense from last year. It had that kind of bouncing, plinko style.
It’s very linear. Unfortunately, you just have to see me, because what I’m doing is just different.
Look, offense should dictate tempo. In basketball, in hockey. And in ultimate frisbee, the rules are horribly lopsided in the offense’s favor.
And yet in a game where the offense already has a huge advantage, who dictates tempo? It’s the defense! That’s fucked up.
What I do is dictate tempo. It takes an awful lot of work, but once you dictate tempo, it’s like one of those things. It’s like you’ve got a tray full of water and once one side tips, the whole thing tips.
Once you apply this leverage onto a defense, and they know that you know that they know that you know.
I own you. Then the whole thing collapses.
Seattle doesn’t do that. They don’t know what they’re accomplishing. And it’s very linear. They just go up the field — da, da, da, da, da. No.
That’s where I was a long time ago.
Fun for me is like this. I start to penetrate and I piss you off. Because you’re a better defender than I am. Then I get the disc back and you run past me and I go 120 degrees in another direction. And now I’ve doubled the separation on you, because all that momentum you had to catch up to me.
So now you finally catch up to me and you’re really pissed off. And then I go 120 degrees again. Now you’re furious. You’re so pissed off that you try to foul me because that’s all you have.
So you give me a forearm shiver but all you get is the back of my shirt as I’m running away from you. That’s fun for me.
I swear to God — I’ve done that many times. It’s the most fun in the game.
The hucks? I got bored with those 30 years ago.
Layout catches? Who cares?
Destroying a good defender on a give and go move? That’s the game. And nobody does it to the grace, and the power, and the leverage that I do.
And I don’t want this to sound egotistical. I’m a lonely man. I can’t fucking play. I can’t play the game that I love. I hate it. I’m the best at what I do.
My thinking is so far beyond everybody — and I can’t even play the game.
Do you think your approach and the way you present your ideas causes it to be a challenge for people to listen to what you’re saying?
No, I know it does. I don’t think so. I’m sure it does.
I have no idea how to do it at this point. I could use your help, actually.
Let’s just say you listen to this phone call and you say, ‘Holy shit, there’s not a thing about what he said that actually sounds wrong. And yet the guy is kind of abrasive. So what do we do?’ I don’t know.
You mentioned that you’re abrasive and you sort of accept that. How do you feel about the moniker ‘Crazy Frank?’
Uh…It’s pretty harsh.
[Editor’s Note: I ellipsed a long comment here about Frank’s “carpet bombing” on an online forum called RSD and how he claims he was impersonated by Idris Nolan, a west coast ultimate player, that caused him to be ostracized.]
I don’t like the moniker Crazy Frank. I don’t know who originated it, but I know it came during that phase [when I was posting frequently on RSD].
Pretty painful to tell you the truth.
RSD has dwindled into oblivion. When I started Ultiworld, I used to read RSD to see if there was anything going on. But I haven’t been on in at least six months.
You’ve been off the Internet for a while in the ultimate community. And you’ve come back. You were working with Ring of Fire this past season. You seem to want to be getting involved again. Why?
I think it’s just a human quality. It’s human nature to want to learn. And to want to know.
And when you discover things, I think it’s part of who we are — we want to share what you know. I know it sounds cliche, but I don’t want to take this to the grave with me.
Ultimate — dating back to the New Games movement — is dogmatic…it’s a very bizarre thing. I can’t watch it.
The way that I play violates the basic tenets that the game was built on. The game was invented in 1968 as an anti-Frank Huguenard game. I epitomize the kind of person that I’m sure Joel Silver hated. Joel Silver wouldn’t have dreamed of trying out for the third string basketball team. I’m a highly competitive, highly athletic person. And in the early ‘80s, there were a lot of hippies playing the game.
And I was playing frisbee for 10 years before I played ultimate. I didn’t play ultimate because of Spirit of the Game, or pot smoking hippies, or guys wearing dresses, or girls playing on the field topless. I played because I was an athlete and I was a damn good frisbee player.
And the game has just been very strange. It’s a very bizarre, twisted entity. And it needs to be fixed.
The whole professionalized ultimate world is weird because it was born out of the mentality that created the problem in the first place.
Is there any evidence at all that there are people watching?
The game gets a lot better. The rules need to be changed. It’s still the inmates running the asylum. I’ve been looking to professionalize the sport for 30 years so that teams can be coached and the rules will change. And neither of these things has happened.
So what do I want to get out of this? There’s nothing egotistical about it — I don’t want to be vindicated. If people want to call me Crazy Frank, that’s their beef. I don’t want any fame. I just want the game fixed.
And I want to play. It sucks that I can’t play.
What do you think are some incremental, realistic changes that need to happen in ultimate’s rule set to make it a better game?
Hard cap of three steps for traveling. Period. I mean, period. Boom.
Picks — I defy you to define a pick rule that makes any sense. It’s ambiguous at best right now. And when you see my offense it’s a joke. Can you call picks in a zone defense? Well my offense puts the defense in a zone at times.
Endzones should be 10 yards. They’re too big.
One rule that I like — I was against at first — if you go down to catch the disc, you can’t get back up.
Jump passes. Why are jump passes illegal? Did you ever think about that? They’re illegal in ultimate because of traveling. But if you make a hard cap of three steps, and jump passes are legal, that makes a much more dynamic game. So if I’m coming in hot, I can take two steps, then jump and throw.
Slapping the disc out of the thrower’s hands. Why is that illegal?
You think that should be legal?
It’s legal in Disc Hoops [Huguenard’s invented game, somewhat similar to ultimate]. And it’s decreased marker-thrower contact by 90%. It’s done exactly the opposite of what people think.
Am I going to hold the disc in front of you like this? No I’m going to shield it. That way the whole contact goes away. It’s counterintuitive to what we’ve all been conditioned to think.
So contact on the arm or hand would still be a foul?
But if you hit the disc out of their hand, it’s legal. Like basketball, basically.
Of course. All ball baby! It’s a great rule. We’ve done it in Disc Hoops for years and it’s completely solved the problem of marker-thrower contact.
My first instinct was that that’s insane. But…I can see that it would work because it certainly works in basketball. It would change the strategy a little bit, but if you took gambles to try to swat the disc out of their hand, then you might get burned on a pivot.
This reminded me of the other rule change that I forgot.
A receiver will catch the disc but get clobbered. And they’ll keep playing. The guy’s got a bloody nose, but the referee’s just watching.
There has to be a way of limiting the quantity and severity of contact. And the leagues should get together and say — wherever their line is — ‘This is too much. This player has fouled too many times.’
Basketball has a decent system to model after. But right now it doesn’t exist. It’s ludicrous to watch a player get clobbered and nothing happens. There should be fouling out.
If you were to tell a young player today, ‘Here’s something you can do to get better.’ What would you say? I mean simple, actionable things.
It all goes back to penetration. You know, half the drills I see are thirty years old. I mean that’s pretty fucked up.
I’ve got a triangle weave drill. It’s one of the greatest drills ever. If a team, all they did was do the triangle weave drill for a season, they would be so much more competitive.
But really, if there’s one thing players should do, it’s learning how to dribble.
How is it that a game that was meant to be unorthodox so incredibly orthodox? Why is it that every team does plyometrics? Why is it that every team does the same drills? Why does every receiver on every team when he catches the disc pivot away from his offense and pivots down towards the end zone?
Nowhere in sports — even if those things were the right things to do — do you have that level of predictability.
It’s dogma. It’s beliefs.