Dr. Phillips was 'instrumental' to track and field success

Sports Information Office
Dr. Phillips and friends in front of trail sign

Dr. Everett Phillips (center with arm around his wife Shirley) and Jim Ulrich and his wife Linda, to the right of Doc and Mrs. Phillips, take part in the 2016 dedication of the Phillips-Ulrich Community Trail on the Fredonia State campus.

Tributes to Fredonia State Hall of Fame coach and administrator Dr. Everett "Doc" J. Phillips poured in Sept. 18 after former student-athletes and colleagues learned of his death earlier in the day.

Dr. Phillips passed away at his home, leaving behind a legacy of success spanning three decades at Fredonia State. He was 90 years old.

Among those offering their tributes was Jim Ulrich, Fredonia State's Hall of Fame men's track & field coach. Together the two men produced 36 SUNYAC track & field championships, plus several state titles, fueled by a parade of All America student-athletes.

"Doc Phillips hired me in 1974 to be the head track and field coach at Fredonia State," Mr. Ulrich wrote after learning his colleague's passing. "Being a young coach -- just three years experience as track & field coach at Lockport (N.Y.) High School -- I found his knowledge and experience in the sport to be invaluable in my development. Having him as an assistant coach and mentor to all our middle distance and distance runners until his retirement was instrumental in the unmatched number of championships we had. He headed the department of Physical Education. During that period, Fredonia had its most competitive sports programs. His influence touched the lives of many athletes during his career and since."  

Historic run of championships

Their coaching partnership began when Dr. Phillips moved from head coach of men's track & field -- a post he held from 1972 to 1974 -- to assistant coach upon the hiring of Mr. Ulrich. The two men worked together until Dr. Phillips retired 1994. During that span, Fredonia State was in the midst of 20 straight SUNYAC outdoor track & field championships -- the longest championship streak by any team in SUNYAC history and among the longest conference championship streaks in NCAA Division III. The Blue Devils also won 16 SUNYAC indoor track & field titles during the same stretch.

Neil Moore, Fredonia State Class of 1980 and Hall of Fame distance runner, was a member of some of the earliest championship teams: "Dr. Phillips was a great friend and mentor," Mr. Moore wrote Friday "He had a profound impact on my life and the lives of countless others. The valuable life lessons that we learned from Doc are evident in each of us and I know that he was proud of his entire Fredonia family. He will be greatly missed."

"He had a profound impact on my life and the lives of countless others. The valuable life lessons that we learned from Doc are evident in each of us and I know that he was proud of his entire Fredonia family. He will be greatly missed." - Dr. Neil Moore, '80

Current Blue Devil head coach Tom Wilson, also an alumni of the program, said Dr. Phillips continued to preach a positive message long after his retirement. "The first thing that comes to mind about Doc is "determination," Coach Wilson wrote. "When I first met Doc he mentioned several times about being persistent in getting what you/he wanted for the better of his athletes. I use that every day as head coach. I think his first lecture to me was about finding a way, working outside of your comfort zone, and finishing everything you start.

"Doc was a man that always had a vision for the "finish line". He never left anything undone, he would hang it over your head to reach the "finish line." He will be missed by so many, I will miss seeing him walk around the complex he built for this university. Even at his age, he could not help himself when walking around the Fieldhouse to stop and correct one of my athletes. That always made me smile!"

Others offering tributes on Friday were two men who succeeded Dr. Phillips in the athletic director's chair.

Director of Athletics Emeritus and former men's basketball coach Greg Prechtl remembered his longtime colleague as a hard worker who was deeply loyal to Fredonia State Athletics. "Everett was an exceptional coach," Mr. Prechl wrote. "His accomplishments in track & field and cross country at Fredonia will never be duplicated. He led the Athletic Department through arguably its most successful period. He will be sadly missed by many former athletes, coaches, and colleagues. This is truly the end of an era."

Current Athletic Director Jerry Fisk got to know Dr. Phillips as the Fredonia State icon that he was. "Doc Phillips was a giant in the history of Fredonia State Athletics," Mr. Fisk wrote. "I quickly learned in my first meeting with Doc that he bled blue and loved not only Blue Devil Athletics, but our university. His tremendous success and leadership in the department and running programs has left an indelible mark. He is a foundational member of our story and will forever be a tremendous Blue Devil Hall of Fame member."

Rochester Hall of Fame inductee

Dr. Phillips was a 1953 graduate of Springfield College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in Physical Education (he later earned his master's degree from Springfield in 1964.) Named University of Rochester head coach of indoor track and field in 1960, he soon had his teams winning New York State track and field titles -- five straight from 1963 to 1968. He was voted 1966 NCAA Coach of the Year in his sport and was inducted into the Rochester Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016.

While at Rochester, he decided to pursue his doctorate in Physical Education Administration at the University of Oregon. While there, he worked alongside legendary coach Bill Bowerman, who won numerous national championships and coached many future Olympians. Dr. Phillips returned to U of R and started the university's cross country program in 1969. His left Rochester the next year when he was hired as chairman of the Fredonia State Health, Physical Education, Athletics and Dance Department on Aug. 27. 1970, 

After one year on campus, Dr. Phillips was assigned the role of men's cross country in August 1971. He inherited a program that was last in the SUNYAC yet before long was competing for -- and winning -- conference championships. Beginning in 1978, the Blue Devils won six straight SUNYAC titles, plus additional titles in 1988 and 1992. Fredonia State also won New York State Collegiate Track & Field Association titles in 1978, 1979, and 1981. His 1981 team -- which was voted into the Hall of Fame this past April as a Fredonia State Team of Distinction -- swept the SUNYAC and NYSCT&FA titles, finished second at the NCAA regional meet, and third at the national meet.

He also coached women's cross country from 1992-94 and returned as interim coach for one season in the early 2000's.

Oversaw Steele Hall construction

In addition to his administrative and coaching duties, Dr. Philips taught numerous physical education activity and coaching certification classes. He also served four years as president of the New York State Track & Field Association. Perhaps his most tangible legacy was completion of the Steele Hall Fieldhouse, a project he oversaw from start to finish. He was inducted into the Fredonia State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000.

Former student-athletes have made significant financial donations over the year to support The Phillips Cross Country and Track & Field Endowment and in 2016 the Phillips-Ulrich Community Trail was completed on campus through generous financial support by many alumni. Both former coaches attended the dedication ceremony.

Dr. Phillips served as a member of the Fredonia State Athletics Hall of Fame committee for many years and took part in the meetings this past spring, which were conducted virtually. Despite the pandemic, friends and family helped him celebrate his 90th birthday this past April 19 with a drive-by parade outside his home in Dunkirk.

Fredonia State men's hockey coach Jeff Meredith, the department's longest tenured coach, was hired by Dr. Phillips and remained a friend over the years. Dr. Phillips was at fixture at Blue Devil hockey games right up to the most recent season.

"He loved Fredonia so much," Coach Meredith wrote. "He cared about the student-athletes and he cared about the coaches. His alumni tree is the largest ever. He had people all around the world whom he touched. He had a great career. ... When he moved his family across the country to Oregon to work with Bill Bowerman, it was because he wanted to learn from the best. He was a great person."

Tentative funeral arrangements

Dr. Phillips is survived by his wife Shirley and four children: Everett Phillips Jr., Karen Phillips, Brett (Jen) Christy, and Brian (Diana) Christy. He is also survived by three grandchildren, Tristan Phillips, Hannah Christy, and Alex Christy. Dr. Phillips was predeceased by his son, Mark, and his first wife, Mary, who is also a member of the Fredonia State Athletics Hall of Fame for her contributions to the Athletic Department.

Funeral arrangements are by the Larson-Timko Funeral Home in Fredonia. Calling hours are tentatively scheduled for Fri., Oct. 2, with a Mass of Christian Burial scheduled at noon on Sat., Oct. 3, at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Dunkirk. Complete arrangements will be announced later this weekend.

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