SI Vault
The Man Who Was Cut Out for the Job
Pat Jordan
October 11, 1971
Burlington, N.C. is a city of 40,000 set in the gentle hills and thick pines of the Piedmont, where the clay is the color of a Temple orange. There, a year ago, Cicero A. Frye, the white head football coach at Walter M. Williams High School, was forced out of his job, one he had held for 10 years, and replaced by a black man. Frye's teams had a state-wide reputation; quite a few of his players had gone on to Chapel Hill and Duke. His successor was Jerome Evans, the coach at Jordan Sellers, an all-black school across town that was being closed. Evans would be the first black head football coach at a major predominantly white high school in the South. The author has written a book entitled "Black Coach" (to be published next month by Dodd, Mead & Company) on Evans' first season. The following is an adaptation.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 11, 1971

The Man Who Was Cut Out For The Job

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

The players assured him they would be in the thick of such a fight. And when Frye asked if any of those niggers had made a move toward his daughter (a Williams senior) they told him that he didn't have to worry about that. They would make sure she was safe. Frye smiled and nodded.

"You know, we probably would have gone on to the state championship if you were still our coach," said one boy.

"We would not have lost a game," maintained a second.

Shortly before one p.m. the players said they had to leave. They were no longer drunk and were beginning to feel the unpleasant effects of a hangover.

"Ya all come back," said Frye as they piled into their cars. They said they would. "And watch out for my Cathy," Frye added, cementing the bond. "I need you guys."

"Don't you worry, coach," said a player, and they drove off. They felt satisfied at first and then less so, and by the time they reached Burlington they had begun to feel guilty, as if they had been a party to some unmanly act, had perpetrated some deceit, not only against Jerome Evans, whom they had befriended during the year, but also against C. A. Frye, in whom they had helped sustain an illusion of something that no longer existed. They were bewildered. Their visit to Frye had not simplified things after all. Far from it. They had returned to familiar ground only to find that ground no longer familiar, and now they were not sure where to turn.

The next Friday Williams won its final game, ending its season with an 8-2 record—the school's best performance in 10 years. Shortly after that last game Mike Pierce talked about Coach Evans: "You don't have much to say to him outside of football. I feel sorry for him now that the season is over. Who'll talk to him? I never know what to say to him. I can't get into him. Whenever I get close he gives me that little smile of his, like a spider's web tightening. The best he's got from whites in Burlington is a kind of acceptance and indifference. If he got fired tomorrow, people'd say, 'That's too bad. The nigger was a pretty good coach, wasn't he? I wonder who'll get his job. Maybe we'll get Frye back.' "

Dr. Proffitt substantially agreed. "I doubt if whites will ever feel emotionally committed to Jerome Evans as they were to Frye," he said. "But that's his strength. I wanted a pragmatist at Williams, not a flag-waver. Evans would need to be a wonderfully sophisticated organism to perform the type of job he's done and still attract people emotionally. His job wasn't to deal with people on a personal level but as a representative of the blacks. What annoyed me was that everyone talked all year about how much more appealing Frye was than Evans. But damn it, style isn't as important as substance. A person's charisma is frequently irrelevant to his ability to get a job done. So Frye was charismatic. Did people think this would get us safely through the year in this town? Shoot, I removed Frye not because he cussed a little but because I was afraid he would use his ability to get people emotionally committed to him in a cold and ruthless way—just as he tried to get his players to leave school for him without any thought to the boys' futures."


Jerome Evans and I are driving along Highway 85 toward Durham. It is a stiflingly hot Saturday, but in his new station wagon, with its humming air conditioner, it is chilly. Evans reaches over and pushes a button on the car radio. A man's voice is saying: "If you're 6 foot 8 and black, you don't have to play basketball in order to go to college anymore. You can obtain a student loan from North Carolina Mutual.... " Evans looks at me with a sly grin. "This is a black car," he says. "You ever ride in a black car before?"

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7