By Jeremy Acree
E-mail to: Jeremy-Acree@utc.edu
CHATTANOOGA, TN (UTC/The Loop) – Upon first glance, it seems obvious why the Chattanooga softball team has been so successful in recent years. Jim Frost Field and the nearby indoor practice facility rival any Division I facility in the country, – they played host to the United States Olympic Team in 2000 – meaning UTC can show off one of the premier softball parks in the country to recruits from around the nation.
What isn’t so obvious is why the Lady Mocs are always up off their feet when one of their own is at bat or why they always have louder and more consistent chatter coming from the bench than their opponent. The secret to such team chemistry is Coach Frank Reed.
Reed’s family is currently close to 25 members deep. And 18 of them are girls that might fill up a cabinet or two with “No. 1 Dad” mugs for him if they weren’t economically challenged college students.
“He’s taken me in as one of his daughters,” Tara Tembey, an assistant coach and former player, said. “I’ve been a part of his family.”
Before a highly touted recruit sees the pristine ballpark, he preaches faith, family, academics and athletics, in that order.
“We sit them down and tell them that if you’re here to be a softball player 24/7, you’re in the wrong program,” Reed said.
After the initial shock of hearing about the family that is Chattanooga softball instead of the win-at-all-costs program that it’s not, most players – not to mention their parents – cannot wait to be a part of what Reed has to offer.
His method has proven to be successful, and not all of the results came with the Lady Mocs:
- Junior College Coach of the Year in 2001 at Chattanooga State
- 476-87 record in 10 years at Chattanooga State
- Three-time SoCon Coach of the Year at UTC
- Five-time SoCon Tournament Champion at UTC
- Member of National Softball Association Hall of Fame
The Reed experience is exemplified by Tembey, who was drawn from her home in California five years ago, and still lives 3,000 miles from her parents because she loves the game and the new relatives that came along with it.
“It’s like a home away from home,” Tembey said. “[Reed] is all about faith, family, academics, and athletics, and he really stands by it.”
Tembey changed her mind at the last minute when she decided to come to UTC.
“I had originally told them no,” she said. “But I decided to give them a chance… and this has been the most solid place that I’ve been in a long time.”
She came on an official visit on her birthday weekend, and Reed – who coincidentally shares the same birthday – told her to call as soon as she made a decision.
“I think it’s because we cared about her,” Reed said. “She called me at three in the morning and said coach Reed we’re going to spend our birthdays together for the next four years.”
While another assistant coach, Brad Irwin, joked that Reed can be too nice at times, there is no doubting the results.
Reed took over the coaching job in 2002, and in eight years at UTC, he has claimed six Southern Conference titles and five trips to the NCAA regional tournament.
“The most important aspect [of coaching] is being able to relate to your players,” Reed said.
There has been some adjustment in his theories since he began coaching, and the family mentality has certainly grown.
“It used to be all about the sport,” Reed said. “I was probably a tougher coach to play for [early on]. “I’m probably still a tough coach, but I spend more time communicating with players.”
“You have to have discipline to keep respect,” said Tembey, who thought for a while but could not come up with a flaw of her former coach and now boss.
Reed doesn’t want the title of father added to his job description, but he thinks there is middle ground between disciplinarian and push-over father.
“Maybe father/authority figure,” he said. “They know how far I’m willing to bend, but at some point you just can’t bend anymore.”
Along with managing his own role, Reed has been able to find a mix between talent on the field and strong character off it. And it all starts with the atmosphere he has established.
“We found out the kids that we’ve recruited that come in and do the faith and the family are going do well academically and are going do well on the softball team,” he said. “Our kids understand that at the end of the day, softball is important, but softball is not the thing that runs the ship.”
Having Jim Frost Field to boast about doesn’t hurt either.
The Chattanooga area is stocked full of talented softball players, but Irwin and Reed both acknowledged that getting those players through the door can be more challenging than some from the west coast.
“It’s just plain ol’ UTC,” said Irwin. But after comparing the playing conditions at schools hours away, a new light is shed on the home-town team.
There are eight players on the current roster from Chattanooga and the surrounding area, proving that Reed’s coaching style – which doubles as a recruiting tool – is effective near or far.
The players who visit Chattanooga are impressed by the facilities then sucked in by the coach that makes a softball practice feel like sitting down at the dinner table for a home cooked meal.
“They tell me that I am [too nice],” Reed said. “But can you be too nice and still be somebody they respect? I’d hope to think I could be.”