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Conversation With Coach – John Franco, Tyrone

Written by: on Tuesday, October 1st, 2019


Tyrone Head Coach John Franco scans the field Photo credit ORANGE AND BLACK

Conversation With Coach – John Franco, Tyrone

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Tyrone football has not been what the faithful fans of the Golden Eagles were used to the past few years.  A champion was needed to revitalize the program.  From 1994 to 2011 John Franco was the face of Tyrone football leading them to three state title games, winning one in 1999.  But he had left.  Who out there could possibly turn the program around and be the darling of the local high school football fanatics who were aching to return to days gone by?

Enter stage right, Mr. Franco.  A group of former players paid him a visit and convinced him of good intentions and their plans to revitalize the program.  Franco was the center of those plans.  He accepted the offer and was subsequently hired as head coach for the 2019 season when the job became available.  He now begins his second tenure at Tyrone.

Franco has been a head coach for 32 years and has an overall record of 253-124-2 through six games in the current year.  He is 192-41 in eighteen plus years at Tyrone including the state championship at the AA classification against Mt. Carmel in 1999.  “I have no plans to go anywhere else.  This is my last stop,” he told me.

Franco attended and played football at Bishop Guilfoyle for four years, graduating in 1974.  He went on to play at IUP, majoring in Health and Phys Ed and Drivers Ed.  “I planned on coaching at IUP, but my old high school coach, Tom Irwin, offered me a job at Bishop Guilfoyle.  I thought I’d do it a year to help him out in 1978.  Forty-two years later I’m still coaching in high school,” he related.

Coach Franco has been married 33 years (soon to be 34) to his wife, Sue.  They have four children, two girls and two boys.  Kristen works for a government non-profit organization in Washington D.C.  Kimberly is a teacher and mom, having the Francos’ only two grandchildren to date.  John IV (Johnny) is the defensive coordinator for an Italian team in Europe, while younger brother Steve is playing for the same team.  That team is coached by Art Briles who had been the head coach at Baylor University.

Coach Franco back on the Tyrone sidelines Photo credit Terry McCaulley ORANGE AND BLACK

We talked for a lengthy time as Coach Franco was always quick to explain his answers with supportive reasoning or anecdotes.  We also chatted about a couple individuals we both have a common bond with.  More on one of them later.

PM: “How do you measure success?”

Franco: “If you can get the absolute best out of every kid on the team and get the team to perform to its ultimate best, then I’ve always felt like that was a championship team regardless of whether or not it actually achieved that goal.  I’ve had 10-1 teams that didn’t achieve that level.  The team I had at Penn Cambria last year went 4-6 and I got more out of that team than maybe any team I ever coached.  It was so much fun taking an 0-10 team from the year before to within 6 inches of making the playoffs.”

“I set goals for myself.  I always wanted to be a high school head coach.  I wanted to win a state championship.  I wanted to coach in the Big 33 game.  I wanted to run a quarterback camp.  Been able to run one now for the last 25 years.  Success is something that is different for every individual.  If I can get the most out of a kid, a team, and if I’ve done that regardless of the score or record, I think that’s pretty special.”

PM: “Any other thoughts?”

Franco: “Another reporter asked me one time, ‘What’s the biggest satisfaction you get out of coaching?’  I said that’s easy.  The biggest thrill I get out of coaching is when I see my players when they come back and tell me what a success they’ve been or that something we did in their football career helped them overcome an obstacle or achieve some success.”

Coach Franco told a story of a big, burly kid he’d kicked off the team while he was coaching at Altoona.  Many years later the guy showed up in Tyrone’s locker room after a game looking for Franco.  “I didn’t recognize him and after he told me who he was, I thought he might kill me.  I told him I hated doing that, but I had to and you needed that.  He said, ‘I know.  I did three tours in Afghanistan and one day, under fire, thinking I was done, I said a prayer to God that if you get me through this I’ll go back and thank Coach Franco for it was his program that gave me the strength to get through this.  I’ve got two sons and I’d like them to meet you if that’s okay.’  When he finished, I basically had a tear running down my cheek.  You never know what kind of impact you have on a kid in high school.  You don’t get to all of them, and I really hate that.  To help a lot of kids and have an impact on those kids, there’s nothing really better than that.”

PM: “What’s the toughest thing about coaching?”

Franco: “There are a couple tough things.  Dealing with parents is one.  I’ve been lucky there.  But, it’s the biggest problem in coaching and we’re losing coaches because of it.  Next is finding good assistant coaches.  It’s so difficult to find quality coaches, so combine that with dealing with some parents and that can be very difficult.

PM: “How does it make you feel with all the community support?”

Franco: “Our community thrives on football.  That’s the main reason I came back because so many people in the community when the position opened…(pause)…I had phone calls and visits.  I almost felt obligated to go back.  It’s really, really neat to see a community that just loves a sport, whether it’s football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, or whatever.”

We touched on my wife’s uncle, Ken Miles, who has to be one of the most enthusiastic high school football fans in the state.  “He is Tyrone’s number one fan!  I got him years ago to do the Texas A&M 12th man flag routine.  He raises the flag right before we come out of the locker room and gives a cheer to start and then we coming running out.  I don’t think I’ve ever run into a fan quite as passionate as Kenny,” Franco stated.

PM: “How were you able to build that winning tradition in Tyrone.”

Franco: “You don’t win without having good kids.  That’s number one!  We’ve had great assistant coaches.  We were able to have a good foundation with our Junior High and our elementary programs.”  (It should be noted that Franco has control and is very involved with the elementary or midget program).  “When you have success then everybody wants to be a part of it.  Then you get the kids out.  Success breeds success as the saying goes.”

“We tried to build the program around toughness, which mirrored the Tyrone community.  It’s a blue collar, hard-working community.  You had to meet the standards of physical and mental toughness.  We built that into every workout, every drill, every practice we did.  The result was 20 years of success averaging over 10 wins a year.  We won games with teams we had no business winning.  My last team at Tyrone before I left probably epitomizes what Tyrone football was all about more than any other team I ever had or ever coached.  That group of kids in 2011 had absolutely no business winning a district championship, let alone a western Pennsylvania championship and making it to the finals.  I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of any other group of kids I ever coached.  And they came within a whisker of beating Lancaster Catholic.”

PM: “What is the most important concept you try to teach the players.”

Franco: “Discipline.  I just don’t use the word I give each kid every year a poster.  I encourage them to put it somewhere in their house so they can read it every day.  It says, ‘Discipline is doing what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it every time.’  Then we teach it.”

“They have this idea that discipline is punishment if you don’t do something.  It’s a mindset where you have a priority of what you’re going to do.  From discipline comes accountability and personal responsibility and then you got to work as a team to use your talents in a common cause.  I was lucky because I learned that from college coaches I played for and coaches I’ve worked with like George Curry (the winningest high school coach in PA) of Berwick.  He was a close personal friend and a great mentor of mine.  Mike Pettine of Central Bucks West was like going to a masters degree class in coaching.”  He also mentioned Harold Price of Hollidaysburg, Tom Irwin, and Chuck Klausing.

“The final trait to teach is you’re not going to win every game.  You better learn how to pick yourself up when you get knocked down.  Put it behind you and learn from it and go on to do better the next time.”

PM: “If there was one coach who you’d love to pick his brain, who would it be?”

Franco: I’ve already done it.  George Curry, Mike Pettine, Chuck Klausing, Harold Price, Tom Irwin.  I’ve been incredibly lucky.  Anything that I’ve accomplished is a direct result of what I learned from every one of them.  I knew Joe Paterno.  Sat down and talked with him.  Was always amazed that a man of his status would take the time to sit there and talk with me individually.”

PM: “What motivates you to continue to coach?”

Franco: “I tried to retire and told my wife that once I’m retired, I could really help her organize her life and I have all these great plans for her.  So, she won’t let me retire.  She makes me keep taking all these jobs so I don’t have to be around the house and coach her.  I’m lucky enough to find a career that I don’t feel I’ve had to work any day in my life.  I enjoy it.”

PM: “Okay coach let’s do a few, what I call fun questions.  What do you like to do with your free time?”

Franco: “I love being around my family.  I still play a lot of basketball with my two sons.  My wife and I travel a little bit.  The more time I spend with my family, the better I feel.”

PM: “If you could go back in time, who would you like to meet?”

Franco: “Vince Lombardi.”

PM: “What is your favorite meal?”

Franco: “My mom’s homemade raviolis and her meatballs.”

PM: “What is your favorite dessert?”

Franco: “Any kind I’ll eat.  I would say, probably, oatmeal raisin cookies.”

PM: “What is your favorite movie?”

Franco: “I loved ‘Field of Dreams.’  I loved ‘Remember the Titans.’  I love ‘Saving Private Ryan.”

PM: “What do you want your legacy to be?”

Franco: “I really hadn’t thought about that.  It’s for other people to decide.  I just hope every player I coached I’ve had a positive influence on them.  Legacy, I’m kind of uncomfortable talking about that.”

PM: “Is it tougher to coach today than when you started?”

Franco: “It depends on where you’re at, it depends on the level of success you have.  A kid is a kid.  They had problems back in 1978 when I started.  They had problems in the 90s, in the 2000s, and they have problems today.  They’re just different problems.  I don’t think it’s more difficult, I just think it’s just different.  It was rare to get a kid on your team that didn’t come from a two-parent family.  And now you’re lucky to get half the team from a two-parent family.  You always had problems, there are just different problems today.”

PM: “What is one thing people may not know about you?”

Franco: “I am a reader of history.  I love history, especially anything dealing with World War II or the Civil War.  I’m also a big baseball fan.”

Coach Franco was affable and thoughtful.  It was an enjoyable experience to talk with him.  He obviously works tirelessly and is genuinely concerned about the kids.  I found him to be extremely interesting and very knowledgeable.  Nobody but the Good Lord knows what lies ahead, but for Coach Franco and the Tyrone community, it’s probably going to be rewarding.

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