Coach John Frazier’s decades of passion, expertise propels throws team
Coach John Frazier has been the throws coach for track and field since 2013, but his life as a Bruin has been longer than these past five years. He was an All-American shot-putter at UCLA, and after coaching stints at eight different schools, he returned to Westwood. (MacKenzie Coffman/Daily Bruin)
May 31, 2018 1:19 a.m.
The 1972 Munich Olympics is one of the most infamous sporting events in history – but in throws coach John Frazier’s case, the legacy it left wasn’t all bad.
He recalls being in his home in Lancaster, California, watching Brian Oldfield throw the shot put for the Americans in West Germany. Then just 8 years old, he said it was the first time he was exposed to track and, more specifically, field.
“Then, when I was in the seventh grade, my brother kind of encouraged me to do (the shot put), and my junior high school coach actually got me into it,” Frazier said with a chuckle. “There was a big guy named Jim Bakewell who probably threw 10 feet farther than everyone, but I was second behind him.”
From that moment forward, shot put defined what would be a lifelong journey for Frazier, and one that would bring him to UCLA – twice.
His first trip to Westwood came as an athlete in 1982. The shot-putter was former coach Art Venegas’ first recruit for UCLA.
“When I first saw (Frazier), I was instantly attracted to the fact that he was a good athlete. He was one of the best throwers in the country,” Venegas said. “He was lightning quick, too. I used to tell people that this 270-pound guy could run a 4.6 (second) 40-yard dash. One day, the (Oakland) Raiders tested him and clocked him at 4.55.”
Frazier garnered All-American honors three times and secured a spot on the UCLA all-time top-10 list in both the shot put and the hammer throw. Both records weren’t pushed out of the top 10 until the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Frazier graduated with a degree in political science in 1986 and said that, for a time, he considered following a path set out by his degree.
“I had a roommate who was an attorney, but I was like, ‘Ah, that looks boring,'” Frazier said. “Then I thought about local government. USC had a good program in public administration, and I was offered a (graduate assistant) position to go there and work on that degree.”
After his time at UCLA, Frazier was offered a choice between a master’s degree at USC and the chance to get his feet wet as a coach at UC Irvine.
With a little bit of coaxing from Venegas, he chose the latter.
In his first year as a coach at UC Irvine, Frazier had an All-American under his tutelage, and he said it still felt as though he was competing despite his coaching position. He said he never wanted to be a coach before taking the position at Irvine and that ultimately it was his love for the sport that drove him to pursue it further.
“Track and field being a nonrevenue sport, not only do you do it as an athlete because you love it, but you also don’t go into coaching thinking, ‘I’m going to make a lot of money here,'” Frazier said. “You do it because you genuinely love the sport.”
After his first year at UC Irvine, he was offered a job at Humboldt State, where he coached for one year. Since then, Frazier has been a throws coach at universities all across the country.
After his time at UC Irvine and Humboldt State, the former Bruin coached at CSUN, Los Angeles City College, Cal State Los Angeles, Florida, Arizona and Tennessee, and, after putting thousands of miles between himself and Westwood, Frazier returned to UCLA.
Five years ago, former Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Mike Maynard was promoted from throws coach at UCLA to director, and he needed someone to fill the vacant spot.
“I needed somebody who was capable and somebody who I could trust with taking over some of the coaching that I had been responsible for,” Maynard said. “In (Frazier), I was really looking for somebody … who had demonstrated his friendship and loyalty, and that was a really key thing for me.”
Frazier’s first season back at his alma mater as a coach was in 2013, and he’s been at UCLA ever since. 2018 will mark more than 30 years of coaching for Frazier.
In his return to Drake Stadium, Frazier has coached more than 10 All-Americans, and his team of throwers has been the most consistent group UCLA track and field has had over the last five years.
This past year, when the UCLA track and field staff was gutted, all but one member of the coaching staff either left or was fired. The sole remaining member of the old staff is Frazier.
“No one told me I was fired so I just kept working,” Frazier said. “Normally when a director comes in, he or she cleans house to get the people that they want. … But (current Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Avery Anderson knew) I had the program’s best interest in mind.”
Now, nearly a year after the track and field staff changes, Frazier has coached four Bruins to the 2018 NCAA championship. These four athletes make up the majority of track and field athletes that will go to Eugene, Oregon, this year for UCLA.
And though Frazier’s been at it for more than three decades, there seems to be no end in sight for one of UCLA track and field’s most accomplished coaches.
“Everybody knows (that when they’re with Frazier), they’re with somebody who’s going to enrich their lives,” Venegas said. “He is more than the sum of his parts.”