By John Cirillo
Joe Frager may small in stature by basketball standards, but the Fairfield University head women’s hoops coach is a heavyweight in his chosen profession.
An avid boxing fan – Frager can rattle off the top contenders in virtually every division – he has a knockout of his own in the women’s college ranks, sort of the Smokin’ Joe of this division.
In his ninth season at the helm of the Stags, Frager has glistened! He is the only coach in the 35-year history of the MAAC to register eight consecutive winning season to begin a career.
Averaging 19.5 wins a campaign under Frager’s tutelage, Fairfield has vaulted to National post-season play in four of those seasons.
Frager’s 249-119 career head coaching record and 67.7 % win percentage is ultra impressive.
“Joe has shown each of the qualities of a head coach that I look for; qualities that reach far beyond the court, but into the classroom and community,” Director of Athletics Gene Doris says. “He has made great strides in restoring the legacy of our women’s basketball program and has it well on the way to writing new chapters in that story.”
This columnist has had the distinct pleasure of enjoying a night at the fights at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center with Smokin’ Joe, and he is as fine a gentleman as he is a coach. Joe’s son joined my boxing aficionado neighbor Rich Coleman (another zealot), and former student now financial whiz Dan Reilly; we had a whale of a time!
More on Smokin’ Joe and the Stags: During his eight-year stretch, Frager and the Stags have been a model of consistency, finishing in the top-third of the conference in seven years and averaging 19.5 wins per season. The Stags have also reached the MAAC Championship final twice and have appeared on the national stage in four national postseason tournaments.
The most emphasized facet of a Coach Frager team is locking down their opponents on the defensive side. Frager has connected the words ‘defense’ and ‘effort’ through his coaching style, and each team has rallied behind that mindset. Since coming to the Stags in 2007, Frager’s teams own the top-five spots in program history, including a school record 51.2 points allowed in 2010-11. That squad led the country in fewest points allowed per game for the majority of the season. The Stags would finish fourth in the nation in that category.
In order to have that success on the defensive side of the ball, each individual must play inside their role and fit together as a single unit. With his coaching philosophy, this has been true every year, with several players experiencing breakthrough success. Under his tutelage, 17 Stags have been named to an All-MAAC squad after experiencing gradual improvements in front of our very eyes. Two-time All-MAAC First team performer Taryn Johnson started her career averaging 9.2 minutes per game during her freshman season and would evolve her game and would later score 1,185 points in her career, a number in the top-20 in program history. Alexys Vasquez (the program’s all-time leader in 3-point percentage) netted just eight long range shots in her first season as a Stag, and would go on to hit 229 during her final three seasons.
Other Stags who have experienced a learning growth such as these include: Katie Cizynski and Brittany Obi-Tabot, who were both named to an All-MAAC squad and who both took their skills by signing overseas. In total, Frager has coached nine players who have been able sign a professional contract after graduation.
Besides their effort on the defensive side of the ball, the Stags have shown their team cohesiveness through a disciplined and unselfish offense. Four year point guard contributors Desiree Pina and Felicia DaCruz both dished over 340 assists in their careers and currently rank in the top-15 in program history in those categories.
The Stags have given their fans a front-row seat to how successful they are when their defense, teamwork, and strategic offense work as a strong cohesive unit. Over his eight seasons, Frager is 57-17 at Alumni Hall, with a .770 winning percentage. The Stags made history on January 9, 2015, winning their 250th on campus at Alumni Hall. Entering 2015-16, the Stags are 253-81 (.757) at Alumni Hall, the 26th best winning percentage in the country among home venues.
In total, 21 Stags have been named to the MAAC All-Academic Team, a number that doubles the total amount from the previous 22 years.
Frager’s success at Fairfield is not a surprise, after coming to the Stags as one of the nation’s most successful and upcoming coaches after winning the 2007 Division II National Championship with the Southern Connecticut State Owls and posting a record of 189-83 during his nine-year stint. After that championship run, Frager was named the Molton/Women’s D-II Bulleting National Coach of the Year.
Frager was rewarded for his success in Connecticut with Fairfield, Southern Connecticut State, and Seymour High School by being inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame and the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Frager graduated from Uconn in 1984 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and earned his Master’s Degree in Social Sciences from SCSU. He currently resides with his wife Shirley in Southbury, Conn. The couple have two sons, Kevin and Brendan, who is currently a junior at Fairfield.