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Track and Field  . 

Curtis Frye Looks Back on Legendary Career

by Brad Muller

Curtis Frye has seen almost everything in his career as a track and field coach. After leading South Carolina’s program for the last 27 years, he felt that the time was right to have someone else take the baton and smiles greatly about his career.

“Twenty-seven years is a lot of fun, but you can only have so much fun,” Frye said. “I wish everybody could be like me. I’ve enjoyed it.

“Track and field was diverse. Love is what my family was. We raised a neighborhood and track and field is a neighborhood. Big guys throw shot put. Tall guys high jump. Skinny guys run the distance. It’s straight, gay, it’s African, it’s Moroccan, it’s Kenyan, Irish, it’s everything. When you coach track, you coach people. All people. Emotional people. Depressed people. Sad people. Excited people. What I like about it is that it’s so much like life. You can’t lock yourself in a gated community in track and field. You gotta learn how to adapt and deal with the whole world.”

Frye’s career with the Gamecocks was spectacular, highlighted by bringing South Carolina its first team NCAA Championship in any sport when his women’s squad captured the 2002 NCAA Outdoor title. During his tenure, Frye coached or oversaw 28 Olympians who have garnered 14 Olympic medals, 60 NCAA Champions, 126 SEC Champions, more than 500 NCAA All-Americans and 21 Academic All-Americans. He coached 14 SEC Athletes of the Year and five National Athletes of the Year. Prior to South Carolina he enjoyed stints as an assistant coach at East Carolina, North Carolina State, Florida, and North Carolina.

While he still loved what he was doing, seeing the program dip a little below his usual high standards of success became a factor.

“Not being at the level I liked being at, that became one of the giants in the room,” Frye said and then pondered further. “Recruiting. Not being able to land the five stars. That’s what you have to have, and you have a number of them in this league. I just felt it was time for a change because with Carolina, we built it to the point that it was a five-star (program). It’s been three years since we’ve been able to be a top-fifteen. I expect to be contending, or have a contender, or have an Olympian from the day I first got started. It was very hard.

“We had a couple of wins this year in the mile, but we didn’t have a sprint champion. We have some kids that are going to the American Championship, but it’s just not the same as being one of the players.”

There have been many changes in college sports, and increased recruiting of international athletes was becoming a game-changer in track and field, leaving Frye with mixed emotions.

“It became where international was the game you have to play to get five stars,” Frye said. “Our tennis and our golf (teams) play international. With track, we’re good in America, so I tried to play domestic, and probably, three years ago, should have gone more international. Unless you’ve got the right guy (as a coach), and I’ll tell you, we’ve got the right guy (in new head coach Tim Hall). He’s a hot item! He can play the domestic game. I think it’s important that our Olympic team and our World Championship team give opportunities to the tax player. I believe that kids that grow up in America should get an opportunity to compete. We need to be contesting for the best kids in the country to play here and run here.”

“That’s what the ultimate goal has been: impact every life so those lives impact other lives.”
Curtis Frye  . 

Just because he’s not leading the program, don’t think that Frye is going to disappear from the South Carolina landscape.

“I’ll just sound my horn,” Frye said. “I always believed that you should leave things better than they were or you should also be a part of the solution of the things you think are not better. As I’ve told (Athletics Director) Ray (Tanner), I’m at his disposal and to the University of South Carolina’s disposal.

“I know everybody else wants to go to the beach or to the cabin in the mountains, but I’ve invested too much in the betterment of South Carolina and Columbia. So, there’s nothing to run from!”

Frye successfully built a program in a state with a smaller population than many of its rivals, but finding a way to compete and topple some of the other elite programs on the way up in competition or in recruiting is still among his favorite parts of coaching. He’s fond of others that do the same.

“Taking the underdogs and being the school that nobody expects to knock them off, that’s what I love about (football coach) Shane Beamer, and that’s what I love about (women’s basketball coach) Dawn Staley and (women’s soccer coach) Shelley Smith.”

Frye has coached many track and field legends who have gone on to win national championships, world championships, and Olympic gold. To name a favorite or even a favorite moment wouldn’t be fair.

“They are too numerous. I would leave out some really, really important ones,” Frye said.

“I had a little girl (Amberley Nesbitt) once who thought I was saying she was going to be number eight in a race. I said we needed 11 points out of this race. We had two people in the race. I think I saw her eyes water because she thought I meant that she was going to get one point and be eighth and that the other person was going to finish (number) one. And that little girl rolls up and gets first! She exceeded expectations out of the feeling of being the underdog that I tell them all that we are. That person went on to become a doctor the next year instead of going to the Olympic trials. You don’t have to be the biggest dog. You don’t have to come from the biggest place as long as you believe that you are as good as everybody that’s in the race.”

Frye’s Christian faith is important to him, and he tried to live by those standards as a coach and how he dealt with his student-athletes. Now that he’s retired, he’ll be remembered as one of the all-time greats in his field and at the University, but there’s a more important way that Frye would like to be remembered.

“Whenever they look back, they say that Curtis Frye was one of us,” Frye said. “He didn’t do everything that everyone wanted him to do. He didn’t say everything they wanted him to say. He kept it real. I want to be remembered that I didn’t like everything about that guy, but I knew where he stood.

“My mama is just smiling in heaven, saying, ‘hey, he made a difference in some lives of kids who were special admits that went on to become doctors that wouldn’t have been here if athletics hadn’t been their avenue.’ That’s what the ultimate goal has been: impact every life so those lives impact other lives.”