"The point was," said Craig White, a recent Williams graduate, that "everyone believed those rumors about Frye. That was the kind of man he was. There were vestiges of fanaticism about him. When he played basketball he took more pleasure in knocking you over than in going around you. But still, I was fascinated by him. You had to accept him for what he was because if you thought about it, that would ruin him for you."
Frye could not be removed without sufficient cause, but school officials found that. In the spring of 1969, black citizens in Burlington rioted and a good deal of their anger was over the fact that Williams High would not have a single black cheerleader during the following football season. Later that year a black citizens' committee demanded that upon the full integration of Williams, a black head coach should be appointed for one of the school's three major sports. The superintendent of schools, Dr. Brank Proffitt, saw in this demand an opportunity not only to satisfy the town's 8,000 blacks, but also the whites clamoring for Frye's dismissal. Early in 1970 Proffitt called Frye to his office and informed him that he was being elevated to the administrative position of athletic director of the Burlington senior high schools. Frye accepted Proffitt's offer, but privately he remained determined to fight what amounted to his dismissal as Williams' football coach.
The school superintendent was relieved. He felt the success or failure of the integration of the Williams team would directly affect the mood of the town. "And I decided we needed a black man as coach," said Dr. Proffitt. "One who was controlled and disciplined. Jerome Evans was constructive and not bitchin' about the past sins of whites. He had a sense of what the long haul was. Although Frye believed he was a just man, I knew justice wasn't only a matter of black and white. There was a lot of gray in it, and Frye never could see gray in any situation. He was too simplistic."
When news hit Burlington that Frye had been removed as coach, a number of his supporters threatened to call a town meeting to get him reinstated. Two hundred white students walked out of classes at Williams in support of Frye. They were led by a number of football players. After several tense hours, during which the blacks threatened a counterdemonstration, the situation was resolved. Frye called off his supporters on being warned by Dr. Proffitt that if Burlington had another riot his credibility as a coach would be seriously jeopardized throughout the state.
The football players returned meekly to classes the following day and Frye dropped out of sight until midsummer, when it was announced he had accepted the post of football coach and athletic director at small Gibsonville High School, only 10 miles west of Burlington. "I wish he had gone to Florida as he threatened," said Dr. Proffitt, "rather than hanging like a shadow over the town and Jerome Evans."
When Evans started football practice in late August he did not have to prove anything to the black players who had known him at Sellers and would now be playing for Williams. His challenge lay with the team's whites. "I worried about how I should treat those boys who had supported Frye," said Evans. "Then I decided to make believe nothing had happened and treat everyone fair. I wasn't very forceful at first because I didn't want to scare anyone off. The whites had to be shown that all the things they'd been brought up to believe about blacks were false. And to build their confidence in me, and my own in myself, I had to show them a black coach could win games. The Williams 4-A conference was supposedly a lot tougher than the 3-A conference that Sellers had played in, but I found it wasn't. After we won a few games I could afford to get tougher with some of the white boys."
Evans' white players and white assistant coaches began accepting him, at least superficially. They did not see, however, that his fairness was tipped in their favor, since he showed more tolerance for the failures of white players than he did of the blacks, many of whom thought the coach was "a man possessed this year."
"When Evans first came to Williams," said Mike Pierce, "I thought he wouldn't even look at guys like me who had walked out in support of Frye. But the first time I met him he gave me a big smile and shook my hand and told me he was relying on me, and after that I knocked myself out liking him. All us whites did. But it wasn't real. We were always wondering when we'd get shafted for one of his blacks. Soon it occurred to us that maybe we wouldn't. If Evans had been an emotional type of guy, like Frye, we never would have relaxed. Another problem was that it was always there in the back of our minds that maybe Evans wasn't as good a coach as Frye. We never admitted it, probably not even to ourselves, but maybe it was because he was a black man. After we won a few games we accepted him more. I guess it's a shame that before we did, he had to prove he could win in this conference. If he was white he would have been accepted first, but because he's black he's accepted only for what he does, not for what he is."
Pierce and other whites were surprised by the cool way Evans handled situations that would have had Frye's neck deep red. One day while Evans was giving orders to his offensive team a white player, William Whitley, was staring off into space.
"If Frye caught anyone daydreaming like that," said Pierce, "the guy would still be picking Frye's cleats out of his mouth. But Evans just gave Whitley that pained smile of his and said, 'William Whitley, whatever am I gonna do with you, boy?' I guess Whitley wouldn't even be on the team if Frye was coaching. Frye had no patience for dreamers, quitters or anyone, really. If Frye doesn't like someone they don't exist anymore so far as he's concerned. Evans is the opposite. He's very decent to people he doesn't like, maybe even more decent than to people he does Like."