As an undergraduate, Frank R. Coates was one of the "big men" in Lehigh athletics. He played guard for the 1889 Lehigh football team that claimed the championship of Pennsylvania and he held the intercollegiate records for the mile and half-mile walks. Coates was also president of the athletic association, captain of the track team, on the lacrosse team, a member of the Wish Bone Club and Photographer's Club, and a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. After earning a second degree in mining at Lehigh in 1891, Coates spent the next 21 years in increasingly important positions with railroad and engineering firms throughout the country. He became president of Toledo Railroad and Light Company in 1911.
His undergraduate interest in sports followed Coates throughout his career, and he later became the owner of the Toledo Mud Hens, one of the more notable of the International League AAA baseball farm teams. Coates also was a director of Cities Service Company, and his ability to motivate people is credited with playing a key role in the company's recovery from the 1929 stock crash. At the same time he served as Vice President of Henry L. Doherty & Co. Coates was also President of the American Electric Railway Association and a director of the American Petroleum Institute. As a Lehigh corporate trustee from 1930 to 1938, he served his alma mater during the lean financial years of the Great Depression.
Frank Coates died in 1938 and left a will establishing a lifetime trust for his wife, Julia. The trust came to Lehigh in 1980, upon the death of Helen, their daughter.