Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Turning 39

Fred Samara is closing in on 40.

Samara, the longtime Princeton men's track and field coach, turned 39 this past weekend. That's not too bad for someone who has coached at Princeton for 40 years.

So how does that work? Was he literally born here? Not quite. He actually passed his 40th birthday a few years back.

TigerBlog is referring to Ivy League championships.

This past weekend in New York City, Samara led Princeton to the Ivy League Heptagonal indoor track and field championships. The Tigers put up 147 team points, outdistancing second-place Cornell, who had 101.

For Samara, that was the 39th Ivy League championship of his career here. Yes, he has a chance to get more than one a year. No, it's not easy to win one, let alone 39.

Samara has now won 20 indoor, 15 outdoor and four cross country championships as head coach. His cross country tenure, by the way, consisted of 10 seasons.

It's an amazing record of success that dates to 1977, when he first came here as an assistant coach to Larry Ellis. Samara became the head coach in 1982, and he has put out dominant team after dominant team ever since.

Since 1994, the longest a Fred Samara-coached team has gone without winning an indoor Heps title has been three years. You know what that means?

It means that every single athlete who has competed for Samara since 1994 in indoor track and field has won at least one championship. Even more impressive, 17 of the last 20 classes to compete for Fred have won at least two indoor championships.

Oh, and you can already add the Classes of 2018 and 2019 to the list of those who have two, since they already have.

And that's just indoors.

And that's just within the league. That doesn't even take into account all of the athletes who have advanced to the NCAA regionals, NCAA championships - even winning there - and beyond that to the Olympics (where Fred himself competed in 1976 in the decathlon).

It's not easy to be a track and field coach. It's year-round. The workouts are complex, with vastly different needs for sprinters versus jumpers versus distance runners versus throwers. There are all kinds of meets, often at the same time, with different athletes in different states competing in different events simultaneously.

The coach has to stay on top of all of it. In addition, the coach has to make sure that a team culture is being built and sustained. It has to be taxing physically and mentally.

Watching Fred Samara coach his team, it's easy to tell that he loves it. Each year sustains him, with its own challenges and its own rewards.

Winning is not something any team is guaranteed. Winning isn't easy. Winning over the length of time that Fred has done so is even tougher.

When you take a step back to look at the big picture, it becomes even more remarkable. Yes, year after year, he'll be in the running, as it were, to win at Heps. But who puts him in that position? He does.

Think of all of the athletes who have competed for him at Princeton. It's an extraordinary number, probably in the 700-800 range. 

The win in indoor track and field brings to six the number of Ivy League titles Princeton has won this academic year. The goal each year is to get to 10, and it's certainly possible as the spring begins. At the same time, it's not a lock - as TB said, winning is not something that's guaranteed to anyone.

One thing that TB loves about Princeton is how many different sports win championships over any given four-year period, or even shorter.

In the two-plus years that Mollie Marcoux Samaan has been the Ford Family Director of Athletics, Princeton has had 21 of the 33 teams who compete in Ivy League sports (women's lightweight rowing, men's volleyball and both water polos do not compete for Ivy titles) win at least one championship.

That's astonishing, people.

Some programs will win more than others. That's a given. Some coaches win more than others.

Few have ever won as consistently as Fred Samara.

When you watch him coach, you can still see the intensity that burns within him. He takes nothing that affects his program for granted, and continues to set the bar really high for everyone who wears his uniform.

So congratulations to Fred Samara on turning 39.

That's also astonishing, people.

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