After a month of rumors flying around the community, the Tyrone Area School District made the hiring of John Franco returning as head football coach official at Tuesday evening’s school board meeting.
As previously reported in this past Friday’s edition of The Daily Herald, four candidates were reportedly under consideration for the job before the field was quickly narrowed to two.
Franco takes over for Jason Wilson, which held the job for the last five years. Wilson had a career record of 33-25 and won a District 6 championship in his first season in 2014.
Franco held the job from 1994-2011, where he led the Golden Eagles to a state championship in 1999, and two more trips to the state championship game in 1996 and 2011. He held a record of 190-37, with his teams winning eight district championships. The Golden Eagles had 14 seasons with 10 wins or more.
“Tyrone football has been the biggest part of my career,” said Franco in a phone interview with The Daily Herald on Tuesday. “I’m always interested in Tyrone football. When the opening occurred, I had a lot of my former players call me or stop by to see me and say, ‘Hey, we’d like you to apply.’ That really kind of solidified it for me. I’ve had a great relationship with most of my players throughout my career. It’s awfully difficult to say no when you have so many of them calling or stopping by to see you, and asking you to consider applying.”
“Tyrone football has always been very close to my heart, and I still tried to help out maybe in an advisory capacity since then. I’ve always had an interest in it. The only reason I left was it was a financial thing. It just wasn’t practical to stay, but now that’s not a concern anymore.
“I just felt like I could help, and that’s basically why I came back. And if I can do that, then it’s worthwhile.”
A new Facebook page, named Tyrone’s Impact of Athletics, was created earlier this month with the account’s first post supporting the return of Franco. In the post, the creator says that years ago, the Tyrone Area School District missed out on an opportunity to re-hire Franco. Also in the post, it is stated that the board now had the ability to vote yes to someone who is committed to building better students, better athletes, and overall better people. The post had numerous likes and shares.
“The community support for football is like no other in the area,” Franco said. “The community has become very close to me and my family. You definitely miss it. It’s like leaving home. You have to leave and go make your mark, but at the same time you have that nostalgia. You have that feeling that any time you get to come back home and visit, you do that, and I kind of felt the same way towards Tyrone.”
Franco, who is a retired health and drivers education teacher at Altoona High School, was the head coach for the Mountain Lions for four seasons from 2012-15, where he compiled a record of 17-22 while competing in one of the state’s toughest conferences in the WPIAL. After spending a year as an assistant coach at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy in 2016, Franco was hired to be the head coach at Penn Cambria in Cresson for the past two seasons.
While at Penn Cambria, he took over a program that had been struggling for the past several years. The Panthers were 0-10 in Franco’s first year in 2017, but they looked to be well on their way to a turnaround after going 4-6 this past season.
“Penn Cambria was great,” said Franco. “When the (Tyrone) job came open, I went to the superintendent, the principal and the athletic director, and I told them, ‘The only reason that I was applying was because it was Tyrone.’ And they all understood. They said, ‘If it was any other school, we would try to talk you out of it. But we understand your relationship with Tyrone over the years, and we can appreciate the fact that you’d want to go back.’”
While there will be some nostalgia with Franco’s return, it’s safe to say that he won’t be the only familiar face on the sidelines at Gray Field. Franco has already said his longtime assistants Dan Bender and John Gressler will also be coming with him to Tyrone, and he has also said there could be former Golden Eagle players joining the staff.
What probably won’t be a whole lot different are the offensive and defensive systems that Franco installed in his previous tenure with the Golden Eagles.
“The foundation will be similar,” said Franco. “The No. 1 priority is always our defense. The one thing we were always consistent with in the 18 years I was here was our defense dominated the area every year.
“Offensively we are going to run the football. That’s the foundation. When I left in 2012, I think we had nine of the top 10 passers in Tyrone history. When I came to Tyrone, I was accused of throwing the ball too much. We were able to throw at Tyrone because we could run the ball so well and our defense was so good. I’ve always prided myself on a balanced offense, but the foundation is still the running game.”
At this time of year, naturally high school football fans will be thinking about Week 1. And in the Tyrone community, there is arguably no other bigger week in the season than the first game with Bellwood-Antis.
Franco said that the Backyard Brawl was one of the biggest things he missed while being away from Tyrone.
“It was one of my favorite things of the year,” he said. “Since I’ve been gone, I’ve talked to (retired Bellwood-Antis head coach and athletic director) John Hayes quite a bit, and John and I really enjoy the game. We used to joke that the rivalry was so intense that the friendliest people in the Tyrone and Bellwood communities might have been the players on the field.
“I’ve missed that game. It was a lot of fun. It was so exciting. The other schools that I’ve been to really didn’t have a rivalry nearly as intense as Bellwood-Tyrone. I’m looking forward to that. I’ve missed it. I think it’s just great for area football. There’s just none better than that.”
Franco will officially start as head coach today, and will be hitting the ground running with offseason work.
“I’m really happy to be back. I’ve missed the community tremendously. I know my wife (Sue) is excited to be back in the community. My two boys (Johnny and Steve) that played for me, especially, are excited. I’m really excited. I’m anxious to get in as much work as possible and see what we can do.”