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‘A coaching genius’: Men’s track and field Head Coach Fred Samara announces retirement after 46 years

head coach fred samara june 2023
Men’s track and field Head Coach Fred Samara has coached more athletes and won more championships than any other coach in Princeton history.
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On June 27, the beloved Fred Samara announced his retirement after 46 seasons as the William M. Weaver Jr. ’34 Head Coach of the men’s track and field team. Samara’s legacy will not be forgotten by the Tiger faithful as he retires having won more championships than any other coach in Princeton history.

“Princeton track and field is one of the most dominant teams of any sport in the Ivy League, and the reason for that is entirely Coach Samara,” rising junior thrower Avery Shunneson told the Daily Princetonian.


Samara’s Ivy League domination saw him lead his team to 51 Heptagonal team championships and 502 individual championships. In 2017, he earned his induction into the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame for his unparalleled achievements.

“Track to me is not an individual sport,” Samara told the ‘Prince’. “It’s a team sport and that’s how you win the championships.”

It is Samara’s dedication to the team aspect of the sport that, beyond championships, has left a lasting impact on Princeton and his athletes.

“I think to call Coach Samara a legend would be an understatement,” said former captain and middle distance runner Duncan Miller ’24. 

“Coach Samara built this team into the best in the Ivy League and one of the best in the nation. He not only cared about our success as student-athletes, but also as young men. He certainly has shaped the person I have become throughout my time at Princeton, and he always reminded us that we could be greater than we thought.”

Samara cultivated strong relationships with each member of the men’s track and field team during his coaching tenure, and it is these relationships that Samara says will be the hardest part of the job to leave.


“The relationships I had with the athletes—they’re all a very special group, and I always look at things as a journey,” Samara said. “We start off freshman year and then we move through the years and then there's tremendous development, not only on the track, but just—and it's not a cliche—just growing as a person in a lot of different ways. And that’s, that’s the most rewarding thing for me, and I’ll miss that quite a bit.”

Samara himself was a part of the track and field team as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. His events included the decathlon, pole vault, long jump, and sprints. As head coach at Princeton, Samara focused largely on field events, but he always made sure to touch all parts of the team.

“I would always kind of put my nose into—so to speak—all the events,” said Samara. “I think one of the ways you can become a successful coach is to really know everybody on the team and pay attention to everybody. I think the guys appreciate that because I think too many coaches have a narrow focus.”

Samara’s athletes certainly appreciate his dedication to knowing both the student and the athlete. Moreover, they remember the way he not only celebrated with them during triumphs, but also comforted and pushed them through challenges.

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“He cares immensely about the person, rather than the athlete of those he coaches,” said Shunneson. “He pushed us and created an intense and fun environment during practices. At meets, he understood when to give us space after poor performances and celebrated with us after new personal records or regional qualifying marks.”

Samara guided six of his athletes to the Olympics in his time coaching, and he was a 1976 Olympic decathlete himself.

“For me, he's a role model, and he's an exceptionally good Olympian personally,” said rising sophomore hurdler Easton Tan. “I want to be like him myself. The whole team follows his example and follows in his footsteps, and he knows each of us very well.”

Samara went out of his way to ensure each of his athletes knew he cared. Tan’s role model is Liu Xiang, the only Chinese who won the Olympic championship and who broke the world record in hurdling. Knowing this, Samara motivated Tan by giving him Xiang’s autograph and photo. Samara’s love for the sport influenced his coaching every day.

“His passion for the sport was unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said former Princeton track heptathlete and current Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Andrei Iosivas ’23.He made you want to practice every day not only to get better for yourself, but for him. He was a person that demanded your best.” 

Samara, indeed, produced the best results. In the last 35 years, Samara was the only Ivy League coach to win all three Heptagonal championships—in cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field—in the same year. In 35 years, no other coach managed it, while Samara did it 10 times. 

“I think that Princeton should always strive to be the best at everything we do,” said Samara. “Whether that’s in athletics, academics, how our campus looks, the cleanliness of campus, just everything. Everything. And that’s what I tell my team. We have to, we always strive to be the best you. You have to be the best person, you have to be the best teammate, you have to be the best student.”

This strive-for-the-best mentality is something that Samara has always believed in, and he encouraged his athletes to do the same, nourishing a culture of success in the program.

“Throughout my time at Princeton he was a constant source of inspiration and encouragement,” said Miller. “His passion and dedication to this team were unparalleled. No one cared more about the success of the program than Coach Samara.”

After 46 years of leading the men’s track and field team to victory after victory — including a fifth-place NCAA indoor championship finish in 2022 —the lasting legacy Samara leaves on the program and its athletes is undeniable.

“The togetherness of Princeton men’s track and field resembles more of a big family, rather than a track team, and at the center of it all is Coach,” said Shunneson. “He is a coaching genius and one of the all-time greats in our sport. It is difficult to imagine the program without Coach, so I was excited when he told me that he would still be around working out in Jadwin, even after his retirement.”

As he has assured his athletes, Samara’s plans for retirement involve returning to Princeton’s campus every day.

“Well, I’ll be around Princeton every day because I have a kind of a legendary workout scheme,” said Samara. “I work out every day, and I think that’s important for anybody to do when they get older. But, you know, [Princeton’s] such a big part of my life, and I don't want to leave it totally. So I’ll be around, and we’ll see what happens.”

After decades of striving for and achieving the best, Samara hopes retirement will allow for new adventures beyond athletics.

“Part of the reason why I retired is that I was at Penn for four years, and, before that, obviously in high school doing athletics, and then 46 years at Princeton,” said Samara. “ I just felt it was time to do something else, whatever that’s gonna be. It could be just being around the house and being with my family, which is fine, and then if there’s a new adventure, then great.”

Although his athletes will be thrilled to see Samara visit campus often, Princeton’s men’s track team will need a new head coach, and whoever takes over will have remarkably large shoes to fill.

Nishka Bahl is a head editor for the Sports section at the Prince.

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