LONG BEACH — The face had thinned a bit; the waistline maybe a bit more pronounced. Yet, 13 years after he had been asked to continue the winning basketball tradition at Long Beach City College, there was no mistaking Bill Fraser.
On this dreary, overcast winter day, as he has done for more than 25 years, Fraser had taken his interests indoors to the team group of the moment, this year's edition of the Viking basketball team. The sounds of basketballs being bounced in the Vikings' empty gymnasium echoed throughout the building as the master teacher went to work.
He had met the pressure of the years, the challenge to succeed time and time again, and now he was on the threshold of a record-breaking performance as the best basketball coach the city of Long Beach has ever seen.
Tied With a Legend
According figures compiled by The Times in conjunction with the First Interstate Bank Athletic Foundation, only local legend Charlie Church stands with Fraser on the list of victorious high school and college varsity basketball coaches. Before last night's Metropolitan Conference opener with Pierce College, Fraser had tied Church with 438 career wins. The Church mark includes 203 victories in 14 non-contiguous seasons at Poly High (1931-1948) and 235 wins at Long Beach (1948-1959). Fraser's total includes 143 victories in nine seasons at Wilson High.
The study was begun two years ago, after Fraser surpassed the 24-year-old city college mark held by Church. Fraser is also five wins short of his 300th community college victory.
And don't look for Fraser, 58, to hang it up soon.
Said LBCC assistant Gary Anderson, a former Viking All-American and member of the school's 1971 state championship team, who has spent a total of 13 seasons at both Wilson High and Long Beach City College under Fraser: "That's a record that will be hard to beat. He will probably go another five or six more years" before he considers retirement, he said.
If he maintains his college average of 23 wins a year, Fraser could finish with more than 600 career victories on the varsity level.
The winning basketball tradition at Long Beach City College has been instilled from the school's beginning. Its first coach, Bert Smith, worked just two years (1927-29), but he was 25-3.
The Vikings four community college state titles are more than any other school in the state. The school has advanced to the final game eight times. It has won 21 league titles and finished second 10 times. In 55 years of competition, Long Beach has won more than 70% of its games.
Church retired after winning back-to-back state titles in 1958 and '59. The list of coaches also includes Chuck Kane (1964-68), now president of Riverside City College and a member of the state Commission on Athletics. Kane went 11-17 in his first season, then finished with years of 31-2, 29-2 and 22-5.
University of Arizona Coach Lute Olson (1970-73), was at the helm in 1971 when the Vikings won the state title. Olson posted records of 25-6, 27-5, 24-4 and 27-7. His winning percentage of 82.4% is a school record.
Into this was thrust the unflappable Fraser, once dubbed "Mr. Personality" by an Orange County sportswriter for his lack of emotion on the court.
When he was hired in 1973, many doubted that the Canadian-born coach, with his quiet manner and lack of obvious emotion, could get the job done. He had a modest record of 143-98 at Wilson and had been chosen for one of the area's more prestigious coaching jobs over many younger, upwardly mobile coaches. During one point in the selection process, Del Walker, then Long Beach athletic director, delayed an announcement about Olson's replacement, saying he had to reassess the candidates. At the time, the move irked Fraser and he contemplated pulling his name from the list.
But Fraser got the job and silenced his critics in quick fashion, guiding Long Beach to a 28-6 record, a Metropolitan Conference title and into the championship game of the California Community College playoffs in his first year. He has directed teams that have won five Metropolitan Conference titles and finished second three times. He has taken teams to the community college playoffs eight times and into the "final four" five times. A decade ago Fraser won the state title. Five times he has been named Metro basketball Coach of the Year. Twice he was named the league's best overall coach (1974 and '76), and in 1977 he was chosen as state community college Coach of the Year.
Not bad for a guy who came to Long Beach in 1953 with a business degree from Michigan State University, no job and no clue as to what he wanted to do.
Has success spoiled the man? Not likely. Fraser's greatest asset is his ability to remain constant. Someone once asked: "Has Fraser mellowed?" The Answer: "Mellowed from what?" If there is one trait that has set his tenure apart from the rest, it is his mild-mannered demeanor.