Curtis Frye: A Life of Family, Friends and Faith USC head track coach paves the way

As Curtis Frye sat in front of a wall of memorabilia from decades of coaching achievements he flashed back through 42 years of students, coaching staff and seasons.

“It was a journey,” recalled Frye.

As a student, Frye began his college experience on a pre-law pathway.

“What originally got me into coaching was that I was already a college athlete,” said Frye. “I wanted to go to law school, but studying pre-law required a lot of work that I was not staying up or willing to do.”

With that, Frye’s coach suggested he move to a major where he could better use his athleticism.

“He put me in physical education,” said Frye. “I soon realized that I better understood kinesiology and the human movement. I was far better in science and mathematics than I was in other areas of study.”

Initially, Frye wasn’t fond of becoming an educator over a civil rights lawyer.

“I wanted to make a difference and at that time, it was a high point in civil rights movement. It wasn’t until I began student teaching that I learned how much I loved kids,” recalled Frye. “From that point on, I knew how I could make my contribution to society.”

Frye’s main goal was, and still is, to make a difference in the lives of those around him.

“I was brought up in the church, where it was important to make a difference and impact your community. I was constantly reminded that the more you give, the more you receive. What was imperative in my life was that I gave back,” said Frye.

And give back he did.

“I fell in love with giving back through education.”

When Frye graduated from East Carolina University in 1974, he knew he was ready to coach. “I was ready to be the head coach some place,” noted Frye. “Instead, I became the soccer coach at East Carolina.”

Frye had no previous experience with soccer and even elaborated that the first soccer game he ever watched was the game he inevitably was coaching. Which they won.

“We had a tremendous first season,” said Frye. “In the four years I coached, we made the NCAA playoffs every year. The second year, we even upset Clemson, the number four team in the country. They said the worst team in America beat one of the best.”

Frye recalls working with the tremendous group of young men at ECU.

“It was the first time they were brought together with a commitment to conditioning,” stated Frye. “I didn’t know soccer, but I knew fitness, so I ran them to death.”

Throughout his time at ECU, the team became stronger and fitter.

“After we won a couple games, the team bought into the fact that maybe I understood some things,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about soccer, so I read books and hired the club soccer coach; he assisted me in better understanding what I was reading. We put together a good four-year swing.”

While at ECU, Frye also worked as the assistant track coach and was in charge of facility operations.

“My character is revealed when I hold myself accountable to my family, faith and friends.”

Fast-forward 22 years, four institutions and one Olympian later, Frye is now a wildly successful head coach for the track and field at the University of South Carolina and the first African American head coach in any sport at USC.

But success didn’t always come easy. Frye always dreamed of bringing the University its first national championship.

“First was something I’ve always aspired to be,” said Frye. In 2002, Frye lead South Carolina to its first team NCAA championship in any sport when his women’s team won the 2002 NCAA Outdoor Championship.

Coach Frye’s tenure at South Carolina has been highlighted by the tremendous accomplishments of the student-athletes that he has coached.

“With more than 60 NCAA and 117 SEC individual champions, Academic All-Americans and NCAA All-Americans, Coach Frye has made his mark as our track and field head coach,” said Ray Tanner, the University of South Carolina Athletic Director. “The 2002 NCAA Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championship will always be special as the Gamecocks first-ever national title."

Leading up to these moments of breaking barriers, Frye dismissed the notion of them being miraculous feats.

“There are people capable of doing many things and have done many things, much greater than I have,” declared Frye. “I just happen to come at the right time.”

Sometimes it is just the right time.

“Martin Luther King Jr. was not the first person to be an advocate for freedom,” explained Frye. “He just happened to take the lead when it was time for that change. When President Obama was elected, he was not the first African American to advocate for justice and humanity, though he took the opportunity to bring forward the progression he hoped for and once again the time was right.”

“So I take the responsibility seriously,” said Frye. “I hope to evoke that color is not what defines a person, but their character is.”

“I live up to expectations. My mother’s expectations of me, my pastor’s expectations of me, my wife’s expectations of me and my children’s expectations of me. If not, I would let myself down.”

Frye believes his mother instilled in him at a young age the importance of hard work.

“Being first is something my mama planted in us,” said Frye. “Not because of your size, not because of your color, and not because of your gender. I believe you can work hard enough that people will need what you have, a service that you give.”

Frye continues to live by that standard to ensure his athletes know he’s committed to the program.

“The reason I stay at USC is because I know North Carolina and South Carolina,” explained Frye. “I am a family guy. My mother lives two hours from me and my wife’s mother is two hours. My grandchildren even live in Greenville and Spartanburg. My church is my family. I stay for my faith and my family.”

“I think I have a greater impact where I am known,” exclaimed Frye. “I’ve had the opportunity to leave, but I stay where I am seen and known because it keeps me doing the right thing. When I go to a bar, I won’t over-drink, because someone there always knows me.”

Frye believes your character is not always revealed by what people see.

“My character is revealed when I hold myself accountable to my family, faith and friends,” said Frye. “I live up to expectations. My mother’s expectations of me, my pastor’s expectations of me, my wife’s expectations of me and my children’s expectations of me. If not, I would let myself down.”

People should care what others think of them, stated Frye.

“I truly care. I think everyone in society should care. Care about me and I will care about you.”

Through decades of coaching, Frye remains that with so many people in a student’s life, the important mission remains the same: You have to drive people.

Fryes' program has allowed him to coach or oversee over 60 NCAA champions, 117 SEC champions, 16 Academic All-Americans and more than 460 NCAA All-Americans. In his career, Frye has coached 28 Olympians who have garnered 14 medals at the Olympic Games.

Following the 2016 collegiate season, Frye served as an assistant coach for the United States national team at the 2016 Rio Olympics including four past and present University of South Carolina athletes. With Frye as one of their leaders, Team USA earned 32 track & field medals in Rio, including 13 gold medals.

“It was a difficult and long process to go through to join Team USA,” said Frye. “It started when I began coaching athletes who were qualifying for the Olympic game.”

In 1996, when Frye became the head coach at Carolina, his former student, Allen Johnson won a gold medal at the Olympic games.

“You have to pay your dues,” said Frye. “I had athletes run at the junior level and high school athletes win at the state level, which leads to recognition.”

According to Frye, as a coach your goal should be to take kids are far as they can go, but also challenge yourself.

“Soon, I got recognition for having worked with really fast people,” recalls Frye. “I had to start with obtainable goals and my first goal was to becomes the South Sports Festival coach.”

At one point early in his career, he did coach the festival in Los Angeles.

“I took my mother and kids to LA, it was such a big deal for us,” said Frye. “We had a lot of success for the south; the south won the national sports festival and from that point people began to realize that I could relate to people past the college level…we won the 4x100 national championship."

Frye went on to coach for Pan American Junior Athletics, the Goodwill Games and the World Championship.

In 2004, Frye officially became the Women’s sprint coach for the Olympic games in Greece.

“Team USA has a rule that you cannot be the head women’s coach if you are a male,” said Frye. “I knew that by becoming the assistant coach, I would be taken out of the process to become head coach. I wanted to be the head coach and the only way to do that was to be the men’s head coach, so it was either get on the Olympic team by being the Women’s sprint coach or wait and have the possibility to not even make the Olympic team.”

In 2012, Frye moved to becoming the assistant sprint coach for the U.S. men’s team.

“Early on, I was disappointed when we did not get medals,” recalls Frye. “As a coach, you expectations are high. You expect to win. The longer you’re in the arena, the more you begin to realize how difficult it is to become the select few that become Olympic athletes and making it is an accomplishment in itself.”

In 2016, four women from the University of South Carolina track and field program qualified for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A remarkable feat.

“On a planet of a billion people, to have four kids from the same institution is almost unheard of,” said Frye. “It is an even more unreal feeling to think that you had an impact in those athletes making it to that level. It the most thrilling feeling to know that you impacted a life enough to lead to that moment.”

One of those athletes was Aliyah Abrams, a sophomore at South Carolina, who competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics in the women's 400 meters race for Guyana.

"It is great to run for such a legendary coach," said Abrams. "He has sent quite a few athletes to the Olympics and I am fortunate to be one of them. He is wise and caring in his approach to coaching and puts needs of his athletes first."

On any scale, Coach Frye works hard to make whatever program he is with the best it can be.

To continue to build the USC program, Frye and the coach staff have built their program on the premise of seeing what works in other programs and implementing it.

“This program is successful because I surround myself with the staff,” said Frye. “They are people who are family-oriented and faith-oriented. We found a female coach that has the ability to relate to young women and from that perspective, we got a female psychologist, and doctors that work with women.”

“This program is successful because I surround myself with the staff. They are people who are family-oriented and faith-oriented."

The coaching staff is continuously seeking to improve the program by striving to fill the missing pieces.

According to assistant coach Delethea Quarles, the last 20 years working with Frye have been nothing but exciting and full of growth.

“His wisdom about life has kept our staff engaged for two decades. People connect with Coach Frye because he has a road map for success that few people share. He always has a vision for success, and he doesn’t settle for second place,” declared Quarles.

“When I started at USC, we looked for things that were not present in our program. We sought them out to be able to make our students better,” said Frye. “Beyond making great athletes, we work to make a place where a kid is driven to be great and won’t have to sacrifice anything to get there.”

Back in his office Coach Frye pauses from what has seemed like endless reminiscing, and turns to his growing wall of accolades and says, "It was a journey."

And what a journey its been.

"I believe if you can work hard enough that people will need what you have, a service that you give.."

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.