Passages: Dr. Samuel “Sam” Freas, Age 73, Dies in Sleep

Sam Freas

Oklahoma Baptist Head Swim Coach, Sam Freas, passed away after celebrating his 73rd birthday last Saturday on March 23.

Freas attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated from Springfield College with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He did Ph.D. degree studies at Iowa before earning a doctor of education degree from California Western.

He coached the Republic of South Africa’s swim team in the Olympics, has been the head coach at Arkansas (84-14 duel meet record), Hawaii (40-0) and Louisiana State (61-9), SUNY-Potsdam and Allegheny College (64-12 dual meet record).

While at Arkansas, he was president of the College Swim Coaches Association, and a member of the US Olympic Committee. In 1982, he was selected to visit the Peoples Republic of China as “Swim Ambassador”.

Dr. Freas became President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 1989 and served in that capacity until 2004.

In 2011, Freas was named the first head coach of the newly-created Oklahoma Baptist swimming & diving program winning every NAIA men’s title while the women placed 2nd in 2012 and then won 3-straight titles thereafter.  Since then the team moved to Division II of the NCAA. In 2018 at the Division II NCAA Championships, the men’s and women’s programs both placed 5th in their debuts.

Freas is the author of many books and leaves his wife Rosemary, four children, and six grandchildren.


  1. avatar
    Jennifer Parks

    Sorry for your loss, family of Dr. Sam Freas! First met him and his Allegheny College team, at Hall of Fame pool, in the mid-70s. Also remember him, teaching the Arkansas “soui, soui,” later in his career. RIP, Sam!

  2. avatar
    Bill Shults

    So sad to hear this news and we will miss Sam tremendously! When he was the President of the College Swim Coaches Association in the 80’s he took my suggestion to create the Academic All-American for all 3 NCAA divisions and helped it to come to fruition!! Sam never let things get in the way of innovative ideas and was always looking for a new angle to improve results in swimming!! RIP Dr Sam and you will be fondly remembered by many!!

  3. avatar

    Sam, I love you and miss you more as the minutes go by.

    This was extremely devastating news to me, as I have known you since you taught me to swim at age 6. My grab start was my biggest weapon as a swimmer and you have made me into the man and coach I am today. You will always be misunderstood by those who never knew you, but you will always be my inspiration and a driving force in the person I am today.

    God Bless and you will never be forgotten.

  4. avatar
    Marc Williams

    After getting out of the Army in 1972, I read in the local paper that Allegheny College had a new swim coach. I recognized his name and photo from Bowdoin/Springfield meets and water polo games. We became fast friends and in two years he had me coaching the local YMCA team. Over the next 20 years I called on Sam many times for recommendations, referrals, and inspiration. He never let me down. He’ll be sorely missed. God Bless to Rosemary and the family.

    • avatar
      Kent Kirchner

      To my brother from another mother you brought me to Arkansas in 1979 then led me to the Lord. I’m very blessed because of that with my wife Cheryl and 3 boys Kale Kody and Kirby and daughter in-laws Jennifer and May and 4 Grandsons Evan Kamden Knox and Beckett for all he has done for our families I will miss him deeply God Speed my bother I Love You

  5. avatar

    Shocked and saddened to read this sad news, as I am sure everyone who knew Sam will be. Sam had a bigger than life personality and was one of the most creative coaches in America. Despite his high profile he would always generously find time for others.
    Last fall a young coach I know was moving from Columbus to California. I recommended she try to visit Sam on her trip west. She was able to contact Sam and, even though he had never met her, he spent a several hours talking with her about swimming, insisted she stay for dinner and then invited her to attend his practices.
    Sam Freas was genuinely interested in promoting the sport and helping others. He was always willing to share his “secrets” although he insisted there really aren’t any secrets; coaches really just need to sincerely care about people!
    When I found myself having questions about swimming, or just wanting honest conversation, Sam was among the first people I would reach out to. He always found time to talk and more often than not would spent an extensive amount of time talking swimming… and often several other topics as well.
    Occasionally, out of the blue, I would get a call from Sam and when I said “Hello” I would hear something like “What are you doing right now?” He would then proceed to talk, with tremendous enthusiasm, about something he was doing at practice or a new idea he had. He probably made calls like this to a lot of coaches but I always looked forward to those conversations and will really miss Sam’s unique perspective on just about everything.
    I have been blessed to coach several elite sprinters including Leigh Ann (Fetter) Witt and Josh Schneider, and Sam was a very significant influence in how I worked with them. Both Leigh Ann and Josh had unique, dynamic and somewhat non-traditional approaches to swimming, and without Sam’s influence it would have been a greater challenge to successfully embrace their “sprinter personality” on a daily basis. Sam, indirectly, was a significant contributor to both Leigh Ann and Josh’s successes (along with, of course, many, many more swimmers).

    To Do Today: Make a point to read Sam’s books on Sprint Training, they are worth every minute you can spend with them.

    You were a good friend, a tremendous influence, a great coach, an outstanding human being, and a wonderful family man. As Sam would end every phone call… “God Bless.”

  6. avatar

    Such sad, sad news for me. I met Sam at the 1987 NCAA’s after the last relay when we passed LSU to move into 10th place. He came up to me and told me that he took a picture of the scoreboard before that event. We had a good laugh and he had some very nice things to say to me. A couple of summers later we teamed up to help run the Athletes In Action summer swim camp at Ft. Collins with Steve Garberson and Craig Harriman. We spent almost every afternoon in the pool trying out some of the things we were teaching our swimmers…I learned a lot that week. I later went to Hawaii to “carry his bag” for a week to learn about sprinting. (That’s where I met Nick Folker, who was swimming for him there. That’s another friendship that has continued to this day.) That week, I was at the pool at 6 am and spent most of every day with him. I never got on a surf board for the entire week. The result was a major change in our sprint program (but not in my surfing), aside from a deepening friendship.
    Sam certainly pushed the envelope in a number of ways. However, he was acutely aware of his weaknesses and was transparent about them to his real friends. Most importantly to me, Sam was an unapologetic Christian who was never ashamed to profess his faith whenever he spoke to groups. He never professed to be perfect, yet was secure in his faith…a conundrum to some, but not to those who loved him.
    My deepest condolences to Rosemary, his family, and all of the swimmers who swam for him.
    Sam, I will look forward to sharing some waves with you again.

  7. avatar
    Ivan Lambert

    What a sudden loss!
    When our son, David, called this morning to tell us the news, I could hear in his voice he was emotionally moved.
    Following the call, instantly I thought of Sam recruiting our son, David Lambert.
    We first met Sam at a swim meet, and in a few days Sam phoned and talked to me.
    Sam first promised our son would graduate; secondly he promised our son would swim faster.
    Sam came through on both promises; more importantly, Sam impacted our son for life.

    I will always recall after the D2 National meet concluded, sitting in a home with swim parents and his OBU team.
    Sam had us singing songs to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
    Sam was quite the coach, quite the teacher, quite the competitor, quite the salesman, quite the leader, quite the man.

    The swimming community has suddenly lost a great coach and influential leader.
    May God provide his grace to Sam’s family, as they mourn having to lose so suddenly Sam Freas, the husband, father, grandfather.

  8. avatar
    Elwood Cobey

    Sam and I were company mates during his time at West Point. Even as a young guy he was a larger than life character. We had some great times which generated some life long memories that still make me smile. Fortunately he came to our 50th class reunion last fall and all of us had a great time reliving those days. Seemed as if we been in touch all of those years. He will be missed by all of us were fortunate enough to have croosed paths with him.

  9. avatar

    I never met Sam, but I feel like I know him by reading his books. Truly a great Coach and an inspiration.

    Prayers to all his family, and also to those lucky people he coached and touched with his grace.

  10. avatar
    Bruce Kennard

    I met Sam when he came to Hawaii to coach in 1998. He turned the Hawaii program around his first year. He asked me to join his coaching staff( I was the Pool Manager) and it was a wonderful experience to learn at his side. He was a great recruiter and he truely cared about his swimmers.
    Sam was an ‘out of the box’ kind of guy and was so innovative in creating a great training and competing atmosphere. He gave me a great opportunity and he was a great friend. I love that guy! All the best to his wonderful family… with aloha, bruce

  11. avatar
    David Heon, MD

    What a fantastic coach and swimming mentor. Generosity and humility, as well as a great sense of humor always accompanied his vast knowledge. Our family owes Sam a lot. He was one of the truly great men that so rarely we get to have enter our lives and it was an honor to know him.

  12. avatar

    Such a great loss and has made this day very sad. I was just rereading his books (again) just a few days ago and thinking to myself that every time I read this book it gets better and he had so many things right in his coaching & training of a sprint swimmer and of the teaching to the whole person. Will miss my occasional phone calls to Sam, who always had a great and ingenious answer to my question. Still feel that there is much to be learned from his coaching. People’s post’s have been so emotional and heart felt and good for my soul. You will be missed Sam.

  13. avatar
    Martin Smith

    You don’t ever think that our larger than life characters will ever leave! I’m crushed and my heart aches for the loss of Sam Freas. To his wife Rosemary, kids Sammy, Sarah, Steven, and Sydney, and his grandkids, my heart goes out to you. Sam was the reason for me coming to the States to swim and get a college degree as a Razorback at the University of Arkansas. He treated me like one of his own kids, mentored me, tested me, challenged me, made me laugh, gave me money when I didn’t have any, fed me when I needed to eat, and truly made me feel like I was one of his family. Rosemary was my Mom away from my Mom. Sam and Rosemary were a team, with nothing but love and care for any athlete that ever came their way. “Innovative” does not even come close to describing Sam as a coach. It went beyond innovative. His ideas were amazing, cutting edge, never afraid to try something new, And never afraid to take a risk. He raised a lot of eyebrows, but he made men and women swim fast, faster than we all ever dreamed. Most importantly, he cared about his athletes with unconditional love, and he built a loyalty which is to be admired. I will be forever indebted to you Sam for giving me the opportunities you did, and for giving me your trust. Swimming lost one of the all time great coaches yesterday, and an amazing human being. God speed Sam! You may have departed, but your spirit will never leave.

    • avatar
      Drew Texada

      Martin, It was good to read your and Kent’s heartfelt messages about Sam. They brought back a lot of very happy memories about a very special person in our lives. It’s been over 40 years ago now, but my experience with Sam and everyone else during those first two years at Arkansas have only increased in importance in my life.

  14. avatar
    Ray Bosse '77

    “And when our work is done,
    Our course on earth is run,
    May it be said, “Well done”
    Be thou at peace.” ….exert from West Point Alma Mater

    No doubt we can say well done. RIP Sam!

    • avatar

      Sam was my brother from another mother. He led me to the Lord in the summer of 79 by bringing me to Arkansas. I and my family are so blessed to have that opportunity wife Cheryl and 3 sons Kale, Kody, Kirby, 2 daughter-in-laws Jennifer and May and 4 grandsons Evan, Kamden, Knox, and Beckett. The Lord brings people into your life for a reason and his love for us is unsurpassed. God Speed Sam I love you. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

  15. avatar
    Fernando J Canales

    Blessings Coach !

    Thank you for teaching….always teaching….always looking for an answer….you taught us so much….thank you so much…..Blessings Coach!
    Gloriously RIP

    Always looking for a different more efficient way within the way
    Fernando J Canales

  16. avatar
    Hugh Keough, Esq.

    I met Sam while we both were swimming lengths in our Forest Ridge, Davie, FL community pool, just back and forth, no lane lines. I remarked that I was out of my North Wildwood Beach Patrol swimming shape. Sam told me that he was also a lifeguard in Wildwood, NJ. We talked a bit and after the swim he drove away in his MG Sports Car.
    Later my cousin, Bill Holmes, told me that Sam swam around the entire island of Wildwood which few had done.
    Rest In Peace Sam.
    Hugh Keough

    • avatar
      Bill Dobbins

      Sam will be missed by all who knew him. I worked with Sam as an Ocean Lifeguard on the Wildwood NJ Beach Patrol . Sam also gave me my WSI certification back in the dayand I have kept in touch since. God Bless Rose and his family.

      • avatar
        Hugh Keough

        Billy: As I said, I only met him a few times and did not realize that you were also friends with him. So sorry for the loss of your friend. He really lead a dynamic life and was committed to swimming, something all threee of us love.
        – Hugh

  17. avatar
    Mike H

    I barely knew Coach Freas or Sam to his athletes. He coached my son for the last 1.5 years on the swim dive team at OBU. He is responsible for my son Noah being there and Sams passing has hit hard for the loss of an extremely motivating Godly Coach and mentor to those currently on his team. Reading his bio alone has blown my mind but even greater than all of it was his impact on so many young people. My son dearly loved the man and his wonderful wife Rosemary who was a second mom to many on the team! Prayers for all who knew him for God took a good one home that all will miss!! May we all strive to impact others as Sam did!
    May God bless and comfort his family and extended swim family.

  18. avatar

    Sam and I became stand partners and soul mates in 1967 as ocean guards in Wildwood NJ. I’m eternally grateful for the the relationship and bond we’ve shared since then. You never forget someone like Sam who influenced your thinking and beliefs, a life coach to be better, and when looking back has made such a positive contribution to your development as as man. Sam was an OG lifeguard, an amazing mentor, father, husband, friend, believer, coach and healer. My best man. There’s a hole in our hearts but we need to celebrate what a great life he contributed.

  19. avatar
    William F. Fox

    Mr. Sam Freas CONSIDERABLY raised the professional standards of Ocean lifeguarding !!! Sam knew EXACTLY how to influence and stoke your appreciation of the “OCEANSIDE” way of life as well as educate you (patiently) in first-aid,C.P.R. and lifeguarding skills. There was a distinct tone of reverence for Life,prevention,safety and instilling the desire for his students,(count me “IN” there) to acquire E.M.T. and Paramedic certifications.A”MAN” with a wonderful and infectious spirit that permiated the room.Thank you Sam,……There’s a tear here and my heart is sinking a bit.Everyone loved you