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Fred Davis, BYU’s most successful wrestling coach, dies in Oklahoma

A former NCAA champion and national coach of the year, Fred Davis helped BYU wrestling dominate the WAC in the 1960s and ’70s. He was 86 when he died.

Fred Davis
Courtesy BYU Athletics

PROVO — Former BYU wrestling coach Fred Paul Davis, one of the most successful coaches in BYU history, died July 24 at the age 86 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Davis piloted BYU’s wrestling programs to national prominence in the early 1970s and was named the NCAA Coach of the Year in 1972. His steady train of All-Americans and conference champions included former athletic director Rondo Fehlberg.

Davis was a disciplinarian and old-school coach who was demanding yet fostered great love and loyalty from his athletes. Their level of dedication to him and his ideals remains his greatest legacy.

Davis was born in Waldo, Arkansas, on Feb. 16, 1934, to Fred Paul Davis and Emma Lucille Wyman.

While at Oklahoma A&M, Davis was a three-time All-American from 1954-56. In addition, he captured the individual NCAA wrestling championship in 1955, finishing second in 1956, and fourth in 1954.

After he closed out his successful collegiate career, he began teaching and helped open McLain High in Tulsa, where he started the wrestling program.

In 1964, Davis left his home state of Oklahoma to assume the head coaching position at BYU. He spent 20 years at the helm of the Cougars wrestling program, where he coached 18 All-Americans and 59 Western Athletic Conference champions. BYU claimed the conference championship in 15 of his 20 seasons, and finished runner-up four times.

BYU wrestling had its best finish in program history in 1973 when Davis guided the Cougars to fourth place at the NCAA championships. He was honored as the NCAA Coach of the Year for his efforts. That same year he served as president of the National Wrestling Coaches Association.

BYU finished sixth in 1978, its only other top-10 finish in school history. Davis resigned from the BYU program in 1984 so that he could return to Tulsa and spend time with his aging mother.

He returned to teaching and took over the wrestling program at Bishop Kelley High in 1984. Davis coached five state champions during his tenure at Bishop Kelley and led the Red Comets to a state runner-up finish in 1986. Davis retired from coaching and teaching in 1999.

In 2003 he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Davis was preceded in death by his parents, sisters and a stepdaughter. He is survived by Deon, his wife of 36 years, and 7 children.