Franco’s stay at Altoona in question

Two years ago, John Franco came roaring back as football coach of the Altoona Area Mountain Lions.

Now it’s starting to look like Franco might be flying back to the Tyrone Golden Eagles.

Social media has been running wild over the weekend with reports that Franco would like to return to Tyrone, where he coached the football program to almost 200 wins and a PIAA championship in 1999. The reports have gone so far as to say the wheels are in motion for current Eagles coach Steve Guthoff to step aside to make way for Franco’s comeback.

While neither Franco nor Guthoff returned multiple messages from the Altoona Mirror on Sunday, it appears Franco isn’t firmly committed to return to the Altoona program.

“We had Johnny Franco in to talk to him at the conclusion of the football season and I asked him that question, if he was going to stay or what he was going to do,” Altoona Area School Board athletic council chairman Dick Lockard said. “He said he’d let me know the first of the year.”

Lockard, though, said he has yet to get an answer.

“I talked to him the other day. He said he’s going to get in touch with me as soon as possible,” Lockard said. “We’re going to see what he’s going to do.”

Rumors that Franco either was exploring a return to Tyrone or people in Tyrone were reaching out to gauge his interest in coming back have been floating around almost since the end of the 2012 season. However, things reached a fever pitch after a social media post made on Saturday drew almost 100 comments and was “liked” by nearly 150 people.

“Coach Franco wants to come back and now it is in the Boards hands. I can’t reveal my sources, but it is 100% legit. What u need to do is call, email and talk to board members in person. WHATEVER it takes to get the approval!! Please spread the word on here. Share my status. We must unite. GO!!!!,” the post read.

Among those who “liked” the post were several current and former Golden Eagle players, including Franco’s son, Steve, now a quarterback at IUP who led Tyrone to the state Class AA championship game in 2011.

On Sunday, the page included a link with names and contact information for Tyrone Area School Board members and urged people to reach out to them.

In addition, Kerry Naylor, who has covered Golden Eagle football for the Daily Herald newspaper and produces the team’s game programs, has joined the campaign on social media, giving out the dates for Tyrone School Board work sessions and meetings and encouraging community members to get involved.

However, just getting out to the meetings and contacting board members doesn’t seem likely to be enough to get something done immediately.

“We have no indication that our coach is resigning. In fact, the last I heard, he is staying. It would still have to be opened up for other people to apply if he resigned. At least that’s what I think,” said the Rev. Norman Huff, a member of the Tyrone School Board.

The board’s next meetings are Feb. 4 and Feb. 11.

A winner of 190 games at Tyrone between 1994 and 2011, Franco is 6-13 in his second stint at Altoona. Franco left Tyrone when the school couldn’t meet his desire for a full-time position, preferably in administration – he also cited the 17-mile drive from Altoona to Tyrone as a factor. Altoona gave Franco a four-year contract with a salary and stipend for running the weight room that amounted to almost $12,000 annually.

Franco also was made head of the health and physical education departments although he was a drivers’ education teacher. Franco is close to a retirement window, and the new positions would help boost his retirement benefits.

Franco did differ with the school between his first and second season – Franco openly called for the school to leave the WPIAL and either play an independent schedule or look to spearhead formation of a central Pennsylvania big-school league, saying the Lions had “no opportunity to win [the WPIAL].” The Lions went 2-7 in 2013, and Franco spent some of the year coaching from the pressbox because of a back ailment.

With the Mountain Lions out of the postseason, Franco scouted games for Tyrone during the 2013 playoffs. However, he also attended Friday’s Altoona boys basketball game at Hollidaysburg wearing Mountain Lion colors.

Lockard said he wouldn’t feel slighted if Franco left for Tyrone halfway through his contract.

“It’s John’s decision. Whatever he wants to do, I’ll respect it,” Lockard said.

Altoona athletic director Phil Riccio said Sunday that he had no knowledge Franco planned to leave.

“John told me that he’s our football coach,” Riccio said, “and I take him at his word.”

Pressed on when Franco told him that, Riccio said, “last week.”

Some speculation has Franco becoming the AD at Tyrone. Luke Rhodes currently is in his first year in that post.

“I don’t have any comment. Honestly, I don’t know anything, and I better not comment,” Rhodes said, adding that he hadn’t heard rumors of Franco looking to get back to Tyrone.

Lockard said he thought Franco has been doing a good job at Altoona and he would like for him to stay, but he’d also like to see the situation resolved soon.

“He’s supposed to give us a decision, because we’d like to know if he’d like to leave or retire, whatever it might be, that we can start advertising.”