Fairfield Now - Fall 2007
Introducing Joe Frager: Coach of champions
By Chris O'Connor / Associate Director of Sports Information
That "things happen for a reason" is not just theory for Joe Frager, Fairfield's new head women's basketball coach. He believes it, because he's lived it.
Little did he know, in the summer of 1987, that an unsuccessful bid to become Seymour (Conn.) High School's head boys' basketball coach would change the course of his life - for the better. Having just finished a year as freshman coach, Frager wanted a shot at the varsity position. However, another candidate's experience trumped his, and the then-twentysomething was offered the girls' varsity job instead.
"I told the athletic director that I had never coached girls and had no interest in it," he says, "but a number of people convinced me to consider the position. It wasn't an offer I had expected, but after some careful thought, I decided it would be worth a try."
Indeed it was.
At a press conference in June, Fr. von Arx and Mark Reed, vice president for student affairs, welcomed Joe Frager as
Fairfield's new head women's basketball coach.
Frager spent 11 successful seasons at Seymour High, leading the school's teams to 208 victories and three state championships (1993, 1997, and 1998). "Each championship has its own special meaning, but that first crown holds a special place for me. That team really surprised a lot of people."
Those years helped Frager formulate his coaching philosophy. "The high school years were a laboratory for me. Gradually I came to know what style of play I liked, what I believed in, and ultimately, what I thought worked."
Frager's experiments and the chemistry he created on court became catalysts in his rise to the college ranks. In 1999, Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) hired him as head coach of its women's varsity team. He won 18 games that first season, and went only upward from there. In nine seasons, he posted 189 wins and in that time garnered Coach of the Year honors five times - three from the Northeast 10 Conference and two from the Region I Women's Basketball Coaches Association.
Frager's most recent season was one to savor, as he led SCSU's Owls to a record-setting 34 wins and a nail-biting, come-from-behind victory over undefeated Florida Gulf Coast to capture the NCAA Division II National Title.
"It really didn't sink in until there was less than a minute to go," says Frager, "because I was so focused on coaching the game. Then I saw our kids starting to get excited out there (on the court) and it registered. I turned to my coaches, looked at the clock, and said, 'we are going to win a national championship!'"
During the championship run, the phone started ringing as school after school signaled interest in Frager. Of the many doors that opened, Frager was interested in just one: the one marked Fairfield University.
"Fairfield was the only job I would have moved on for," says Frager, who lives in Shelton with his wife, Shirley, and sons, Brendan, 12, and Kevin, 10. The boys, who he says are more interested in football, baseball, and reading than in basketball, are at virtually every game - unless they have homework. "They're getting to the age that they can be more active and I want them to be around, to be part of the program. It helps me, I think it's good for them, and I think it will be good for the team."
Frager credits his family - including his father, Joe, whom he calls "my role model, my guide, and my best friend" - with keeping him grounded. Easy as it is to get wound tight in the heat of competition, Frager says his wife, father, and children give him perspective and bring him back to reality. "I am blessed, truly blessed," he says, "to have such a supportive family."
Ultimately, it was the sense of family - of belonging - that made Frager's decision to join Fairfield University a fitting one. "Given the level of commitment and sense of devotion I encountered in all my interactions," he says, "it became apparent that Fairfield is really a special place."
University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., and Mark Reed, vice president for student affairs, believe Frager will add to what's already special about Fairfield. "It's not often," observes Reed, "that a school can boast that it's hired the head coach of a defending national champion."
That fact is still sinking in for Frager. "Winning the national title is what you work for," he says. "Even now, to be honest, it still hasn't completely hit home. I just haven't had time to sit back and soak it all in."
It may be a while until he does. Frager's first few months at Fairfield have been non-stop. After hiring his staff, he jumped right into the recruiting season and is now getting ready to welcome the current and incoming student-athletes back. The "x factor" in the coming year, he says, will be how quickly the team adjusts to his philosophy of play (an aggressive "man-to-man" defense and a structured, high-efficiency offense), to a new coaching staff, and to new approaches to practice and playing.
"So far there have been no surprises," Frager says. "But then again, I haven't coached a game here yet."