Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Remarkable Fred Samara

If you were to walk into TigerBlog's office - and the door is always open - you could walk to the other two offices that make up the Office of Athletic Communications without having to go back out into the hallway.

The OAC ends at the third office. There's a wall there, and head men's basketball coach Mitch Henderson is on the other side of it. Next to Mitch is compliance assistant Kelly Widener.

There was a time that the OAC actually extended all the way to the end of Widener's office. The OAC had four desks in its back room, plus a little side storage area and then another office that opened out into the hallway, an office that was once the home of Princeton's marketing director.

The entry way into the back offices then was the size of a door opening, though there was no actual door there. TigerBlog's office has a door that he can close to shut himself off from the rest of the OAC, though he rarely does.

Anyway, there was a little height chart that was on the inside of the frame to the non-existent door to the back room. It actually was just a pencil mark and then a person's name, there to denote the height of basically anyone who wanted to be included.

About eight feet off the ground somebody scribbled "Ben, age 12."

The "Ben" in question was Ben Samara, who wasn't quite eight-feet tall at the age of 12 but who certainly was tall.

Ben is the son of Fred Samara, the longtime coach of men's track and field at Princeton. Ben was a regular in Jadwin Gym as a kid.

Ben Samara has lived his whole life around Princeton track and field. And he certainly was a kid when TB first met him. A big kid, but a kid.

TigerBlog learned yesterday that Ben is now the head track and field coach at Princeton High School. His father is still the head coach at Princeton University.

Where did TB learn this?

In the video interview with Samara on goprincetontigers.com.

It's an interesting Q&A with Samara, who is tied for the longest current tenure among head coaches here, with, of course, Peter Farrell, the women's track and field coach who started here on the same day in 1977.

Has Fred slowed at all lately?

Well, Princeton won 11 Ivy League championships this academic year, and Fred won three of them - in cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field. It's the "triple crown" of Ivy League track and field championships, and only two coaches have ever pulled it off.

Here's your hint - the both started at Princeton on the same day.

Farrell has done it twice with the Princeton women. Samara has now done it seven times with the Princeton men.

The video piece on Samara is a very interesting, somewhat revealing look into the man who has overseen so much success during his time here. He talks about his coaching philosophies, his own experiences as an athlete (including the 1976 Olympic Games), his mentors who helped develop as an athlete and many other subjects, including Farrell.

Samara's resume at Princeton is unbelievable.

He has coached 38 Heps team championship teams between the three sports. He has coached NCAA champions. He has coached Olympians.

For TigerBlog, the big question is how does the fire stay lit as long as it has for coaches like Samara and Farrell. When TigerBlog asked the same question of Bill Tierney, his answer was that each year is its own challenge.

Perhaps the same applies to Samara and Farrell.

Track and field is grueling, perhaps the most grueling of any college sport. It's even more grueling for the coaches than the athletes, TB supposes.

It is one meet after another, and each one requires the coach to figure out whom to put in what event, what point of the season it is for each athlete, what the expectations are for each come the important meets. And then one championship event leads directly into the early-season of the next sport, with little time to recharge. To do this year after year, and to do it at the consistently high level that Princeton track and field has achieved, is even more startling.

As TigerBlog watched the video, he couldn't help but wonder how many athletes have competed for Fred Samara and if he and Peter have coached more athletes than anyone else ever to coach at Princeton. It's likely, with large squad sizes combined with long, long tenures.

TigerBlog sees them every day, the two track and field coaches. They walk by his office one way and then back again. They stop in more than most.

They'll come in just to hang out, Peter more than Fred. With Peter, it's a daily occurrence.

Fred stopped by yesterday. He sat down for a few minutes, joked a little, and then was on his way.

After all, the NCAA regionals are coming up in little more than a week. And then there are the NCAA championships. And then it'll start again.

Another year. Three more championships on his record.

And then another year. And another challenge.

For the remarkable Fred Samara.

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