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November, 2003 Vol. 28 No. 3
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Herman Frazier speaks with students

Frazier's experience in balancing the demands of school and training contributes to his warm relationships with Manoa athletes.

Intensity and Stamina

Manoa Athletic Director Herman Frazier is an Olympian, administrator, visionary

by Michael Tsai

It's said that the classic 400-meter runner possesses both the mercurial intensity of the 100-meter sprinter and the slow-burn conservatism of the long-distance racer. To master the distance, the athlete must first reconcile these polar temperaments with discipline, focus and a keen understanding of how and when to act.

In his first year as University of Hawai'i at Manoa athletic director, Herman Frazier -- former NCAA 400-meter champion and Olympic gold medalist -- proved these qualities have equal application in the administration of an athletic department. Drawing on seemingly paranormal reserves of energy and enthusiasm, the 48-year-old Frazier has maintained the forward momentum initiated by his predecessor, Hugh Yoshida, and cleared a path for aggressive future growth.

Since taking the helm Aug. 1, 2002, Frazier reorganized his senior staff, introduced a three-tier premium seating plan intended to help the department become financially self-sufficient, worked tirelessly with the streamlined 'Ahahui Koa Anuenue on fundraising within the community and negotiated the contract to retain the university's most high-profile coach, June Jones. He's also shown a deliberate, measured approach to dealing with an NCAA inquiry into the UH men's volleyball program and more mundane problems that inevitably arise in the course of attending to a 19-sport department hit hard by a struggling economy.

"It's always a challenge when a new person enters an established environment, and there were a lot of challenges waiting for me when I got here, but it helped that I already had a relationship with Hugh and understood what I was getting into," Frazier says. "The school has been successful, but we could be better -- and we will be. We need to balance the budget and continue to do all of the things necessary to take care of our students, coaches and athletic programs."

Frazier arrived at Manoa with an impressive athletic and professional resume. A multi-sport athlete at Germantown High School in Philadelphia, he made his mark as an elite track prospect in college, first at Division III Dennison and later at Arizona State. By the time he graduated ASU in 1977, he had earned Olympic gold in the in the 4x400 relay and bronze in the 400 meters, gold medals in the 4x400 relay at the 1975 and 1979 Pan-American Games and an NCAA 400-meter championship. He was an eight-time All-American at Arizona State and holder of two world records.

Frazier at Arizona State

Frazier at Arizona State.

"I'm very close to student athletes because I understand what it takes to balance school, training and student life and to perform at the highest level," Frazier says. "When I talk to recruits, they'll know that I understand what kind of demands they are under and that I support them."

Empathy for student athletes is only part of the equation. With more than a quarter century of administrative experience, Frazier boasts national and international credentials few can match. Joining the ASU athletic department staff shortly after graduation, he steadily worked his way from graduate assistant to senior associate athletics director. As his career advanced, he also made it a priority to do what he could to support the U.S. Olympic program.

Saddened by U.S. and Soviet boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 games, Frazier (a member of the 1980 Olympic track team) says he was inspired to make sure politics would never overshadow the higher goals of the Olympic movement. He's held numerous positions on the U.S. Olympic Committee, including his current post as one of three vice presidents. Over a 12-year span, he's served on 25 different Olympic boards and task forces. Many believe he's next in line to become president of the committee.

Frazier has also been active in various areas of the NCAA, contributing his expertise to a dozen committees over the years. His growing reputation as a sure-handed leader didn't go unnoticed. Though passed over for ASU's vacant athletic director's position in 2000, Frazier was selected to turn around the troubled Alabama-Birmingham athletic department. At the time, the department was operating under a $7.5 million dollar debt. A Title IX lawsuit and other problems soon followed. The conditions would have been difficult for anyone assuming the job, but they were worse for Frazier, who was confronted with hostile media and suspicious alumni.

"It's the Deep South and I was an African -American AD working for a very good hard-working female president who was aggressive (W. Ann Reynolds)," Frazier says. "That's all I'm going to say about that." Regardless, in his 22-month stint at UAB Frazier drew praise for his work ethic and his involvement in the community.

He applied the same approach in his transition to Hawai'i. During his first year, Frazier delivered some 75 speeches to community groups and civic organizations and lent his support to a host of others, from the Boy Scouts to the Junior Filipino Chamber of Commerce. "As an outsider to Hawai'i, I felt it was important to let people know what I'm all about," he says. "I worked hard to erase people's doubts. I think that's all part of building a rapport with the community."

Frazier helps kick of an Aloha United Way campaign with a game of tug-o-war

Herman Frazier helps kick off the local United way campaign.

Frazier has put even more energy into drawing an already close department even closer. He's a regular fixture at home games, practices, even in the locker room. He's offered to assist in recruiting athletes if his coaches think it will help. "I'm willing to go one-on-one with recruits because I have a keen understanding of what the athlete's perspective is, and I can tell them what UH can do for them," he says.

A self-described "time management freak," Frazier can account for virtually every minute of every tightly scheduled day. He uses green index cards to keep track of his meeting times. On any given day, he'll navigate his way through a half-dozen formal appointments and a slew of last minute emergencies.

Intensity and stamina? Consider this summer day: Returning from Santa Domingo on Olympic Committee business, Frazier passed through Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles before arriving home around 10 p.m. He was back on campus the next morning at 6:30 to greet newcomers to the football program. He had 179 e-mails waiting for him at his office (he answered every one of them personally) and a full schedule of meetings and appointments that extended until 8:30 p.m. The only thing he forgot to schedule was lunch.

"This is my event now," he says. "This is what I train myself to do."

Michael Tsai (BA '92 Manoa) reports on popular culture and lifestyle for the Honolulu Advertiser.