116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Mims dedicates life to educating, mentoring Iowa’s athletes
Jun. 14, 2015 2:00 pm
IOWA CITY - Fred Mims' lifelong career in college athletics received a boost from an unlikely source two generations ago.
Mims, a longtime University of Iowa associate athletics director, was a vaunted two-sport athlete from Galesburg, Ill. Baseball was Mims' passion and for two years Chicago Cubs scout Bill Prince closely followed Mims' exploits. The Cubs drafted Mims in the fifth round, but Prince advised Mims toward another direction.
'He said to me, ‘Fred, go to college. Get your education. Pro ball will be there for you,'” Mims recalling the story for the first time publicly. '‘But if anybody ever asks you why you didn't sign with us, don't tell them what I told you.' I never forgot it.”
Mims, 65, first attended a junior college and later UI for baseball and basketball. He led the Hawkeyes to their only College World Series appearance in 1972. He was drafted multiple times, became a starter in the Pan-American Games and reached Triple-A in the Houston Astros' organization. An injury derailed his baseball career, a painful end to his childhood dreams. But it set the stage for a lifetime in instruction, which officially ends this month with his retirement.
His impact is profound. Local, regional and national boards have recognized his 38-year athletics career. He was honored by the African American Museum of Iowa in 2004 and served on the NCAA's certification committee's executive committee for four years. He considers himself a role model, and he voices strong opinions related to student-athlete welfare. Perhaps most important and often unnoticed, Mims mentors minority athletes, many of whom are from distant places and different cultures.
'Fred was always there to listen to them and to help them, and he also was a bit of reality point,” said recently retired UI faculty representative Betsy Altmaier. '‘You've come here, there's going to be some difficult times, but you have the ability to challenge yourself and get through those difficult times, and I'm here for you.' You also have to do some work. Fred both held their hands and kicked them in the butt. I think it was a great balance of both support and challenge.”
In 1977, Iowa athletics hired Mims as an academics counselor, assistant baseball coach and assistant summer camps director. Five years later, Mims established the department's student services office. He was encouraged to speak up, and he did. He bemoaned the lack of academic success by students and fought to improve it.
'The support system wasn't in existence,” Mims said. 'I saw a lot of cutting corners as far as getting a good education. It wasn't put out there as a premium. That wasn't my mind-set. I was oftentimes encouraged to speak up.”
Mims enacted changes, but they were gradual. When current football coach Kirk Ferentz arrived at Iowa as an assistant in 1981, he described the academic support system as borderline archaic when compared to today's learning centers. Ferentz said academic support consisted of was Mims, Sue Walker and 'lamps out on the table after dinner.”
'Probably the No. 1 thing I would say for Fred is any time a student needed help or needed some type of assistance, counseling, whatever it may be, he was always there to advocate for the players and be of help to the players,” Ferentz said. 'It's a real tribute to him, and it's neat that his whole career at Iowa began as a student-athlete and then what it blossomed into. He's had one heck of a career.”
Mims became an associate athletics director in 1989 and added compliance to his responsibilities. He was at the forefront of many national issues over the years and strongly supports lessening time demands on athletes. Mims also focuses on current events with athletes. He recently spoke to a group of students about the riots in Baltimore, football senior Tevaun Smith said. Mims pushes the athletes to understand issues and make informed decisions off the field.
As a youth, Mims' YMCA membership dues and camp fees were paid anonymously. He says his charge is to 'pass it forward.”
'It's part of my responsibility,” Mims said. 'Very few of us, Afro-American males, have reached the level that I've been able to attain in intercollegiate athletics, being as involved as I have at the national level, as well as the institutional level. Very few of us have gotten that opportunity. I take it very seriously that I am a role model. There's people who look up to me, look at me, there's a number of people I mentor and still mentor. That's an important role to take on.”
'Coming to Iowa and being an African-American, which is a minority around here, he helps you feel comfortable,” said Iowa senior Jordan Lomax, an academic all-Big Ten football player Jordan Lomax from Upper Marlboro, Md. 'Anything that you talk about (with Mims) just helps you get into the groove of school and how everything operates around here and helps you be able to cultivate yourself to the environment around here a lot better.”
Mims remains a popular figure in Iowa City circles and serves on several local boards. His wife, Susan, is an Iowa City council member. Iowa athletics plans two celebrations for him, including a major one this fall.
Mims ends his Iowa career on a high note. He oversaw a baseball team win its first NCAA tournament game since he took the field in 1972. Iowa's academics recorded a graduation success rate of 89 percent, the highest in school history.
'I'm advocate about doing things right,” he said. 'My understanding of what education is all about is you build a foundation for your life. That's what college athletics should do, provide opportunities for you. Let's make it a quality experience.”
ANECDOTES WITH FRED MIMS
After injuries forced him out of professional baseball, Mims had the chance to remain in his sport of choice. However, he was too hurt emotionally to continue as a scout or minor league coach when friends and contemporaries like J.R. Richard and Mike Easler still were playing baseball.
'Staying in professional sports wasn't for me because I was a talent better than many guys who were playing,” Mims said. 'I had to divorce myself from that. For a few years I wouldn't even watch it on TV, I wouldn't go to any games. My former teammates would call me, ‘Come to Chicago, come to St. Louis and see me.' I couldn't do it until I got it out of my system.”
Chicago Cubs scout Bill Prince remained a major influence in Mims' life well after the scout recommended Mims go to college and not sign with the Cubs.
'I'll never forget this man,” Mims said. 'When I came to Iowa my first year, I'd been doing real well. One of the top hitters in the country. The scouts were calling me at night. We played Ohio State, I'll never forget this. In between games, the first game I hit a home run and made a catch against the wall. Between games, I was walking toward the restroom and Bill Prince came up to me. He said, ‘Fred, a lot of people are interested and you're doing real well, but get your degree. Pro ball can wait. He reminded me of that again.
'I played in the Pan-Am games that summer and made the USA team. I got drafted by San Diego and they didn't give me an offer, so I stayed with the Pan-Am team during the course of the summer.
'My mom had called me and told me Bill had died. He had a heart attack that summer. I never forgot that, and I made sure I got my degree before I signed.”
Mims has worked with and alongside headstrong and successful coaches from Lute Olson and Hayden Fry to current leaders Kirk Ferentz and Fran McCaffery. He has worked under athletic directors Bump Elliott, Bob Bowlsby and now Gary Barta.
'I've been fortunate to have been involved with a number of outstanding coaches and people,” Mims said. 'We didn't agree on everything, but the bottom line was respecting one another when everything was said and done.
'Talk about Bill Snyder and Bob Stoops. Hayden Fry and George Raveling. Tom Davis. You can go on and on and on and then I've had great relationships with those folks. We didn't always see eye-to-eye. ‘Maybe this way is better. Maybe this isn't the best way.'
'As long as they understood that I cared for the student, and I wasn't try to put their program down but we did have a win-win situation to come out of this thing. Very few times did we have outside intervention to help us resolve the situation. Once they know you and what you're about and the message you convey and your values, they're fine with it. We've been fortunate here.”
He also earned respect from those coaches and administrators, too.
'We are going to miss Fred,” McCaffery said. 'I'm going to miss him. I've been in this a long time, and I've met very few people who care more about our student-athletes than Fred Mims. He always advocating for them. Anytime we were in a situation where we needed help, he was there. We've made great progress and he is very much a part of that. He's been a great friend to me.
'It's an amazing story and an amazing career,” Barta said. 'There aren't many people who started as a student-athlete, and then he got the opportunity to stay with the school that he competed for, and then to have a long career where you stay at the same place for the whole time in our business. He always represents what's best for the student-athlete. If we're sitting around in a meeting and we're going to do a budget thing or we're going to make a decision, he's the guy in the room that will raise his hand and say, ‘Is this going to affect the student-athlete? Is this going to make it better for the student-athlete?' That's the way he is.”
Mims is a strong advocate for minorities and feels a responsibility to be a role model. He experienced prejudice as a college athlete and heard comments about his skin tone while standing in the outfield.
'There are mindsets that people have about certain things where there's nothing wrong,” Mims said. 'They hadn't stepped out to look at things. They haven't put themselves out and look at another perspective because everything's flowing well. I've experienced biases. I've experienced people yelling at me, walking from a football stadium where we have some certain expectations and academic standards for our student-athletes and we lose a game and people start yelling something. I just chuckle and keep walking. ‘Are you happy Mims?'
'I've had people who approach me and ask me, ‘What are you doing about those athletes over there?' They're referring to the Afro-Americans, who get their pictures in the paper for doing something wrong. They approach me like they're my kids. I should be knowing what they're doing at all times. It's just association and people react.
'I have a rule, don't let things bother you longer than 24 hours.”
So what was his favorite moment? Mims goes back to the Pan-Am Games in the early 1970s when he roomed with future Major League all-star Fred Lynn.
'I guess the one proudest moment is when I got invited to Miami to try out for the USA team,” he said. 'You finally realize that you're the elite of the elite when you've made that team and starting on that team and batting fourth and fifth on that team with people who played in the Major Leagues. I guess that was the probably best moments of my life, not just for me, what it did do was bring recognition to my family. That's something as a youngster I put first and foremost was to do things so the family would be proud of me and get recognition. Those were the proudest moments.”
l Comments: (319) 339-3169; email@example.com