Dr. Sam Freas, an influential swimming writer and the head coach of the men’s and women’s swimming & diving programs at Oklahoma Baptist University died overnight. Freas celebrated his 72nd birthday on Saturday.
In 2011, Freas was named the first head coach of the newly-created Oklahoma Baptist swimming & diving program. At the time, they participated in the NAIA, but have since moved to Division II of the NCAA.
OBU won every NAIA men’s title during their time in the league, while the women placed 2nd in 2012 and then won 3-straight titles thereafter.
The team made an immediate impact: in 2018 at the Division II NCAA Championships, the men’s and women’s programs both placed 5th in their debuts. David Lambert won the 50 free that year and broke the NCAA Division II Record. That further-cemented Freas’ reputation as an elite sprint coach.
This year, Oklahoma Baptist took 20th place in the men’s meet and 10th place in the men’s meet.
Prior to OBU, he was also the head coach at Allegheny College (64-12 dual meet record), Arkansas (84-15 dual meet record), Hawaii (40-0 dual meet record), LSU (61-9 dual meet record), and SUNY Potsdam.
At Arkansas, his swimmers set 7 American Records, 3 World Records, won 1 World Championships, and 11 were named Olympians. In total, he’s sent 19 swimmers to the Olympics, and was a coach of the South African team at the Olympic Games. He was named the SEC Coach of the Year 3 times, the WAC Coach of the Year twice in swimming and once in diving, and the Southwest Conference Coach of the Year 4 times.
Another coach of a similar era and repute, Don Gibb, remembered his former colleague fondly.
I had the opportunity to work with Sam as part of the World All Stars during the Goodwill Games in Long Island,” Gibb recalled. “Eddie Sinnott, Anthony Nesty and and I were his assistants as we had swimmers on the team. The man was an incredible recruiter! He had attracted world class athletes from around the globe to come and compete in a meet that really didn’t mean that much in the grand scheme of things.
“Those kids swam great (spanked the USA), had a lot of fun in and around NYC, and made some friends for life. Sam had that ability to bring people together and get the most out of them. He did it at Arkansas, LSU and most recently at OBU. Nothing but fond memories of a man who loved swimming and loved his athletes, and was always thinking of innovative ways to find more speed.”
He also served as the CEO of the International Swimming Hall of Fame from 1989-2004, and has written several books about coaching sprinting, in addition to several other academic roles.