Before his about-face, Franco ought to call audible

I’ve been privileged to have followed John Franco’s coaching career and would consider him a friend.

From the days when he was the associate head coach under Tom Irwin at Bishop Guilfoyle, to his first head coaching job that Altoona Area High School gave him in 1986 to his state-championship run at Tyrone and then his return to the Mountain Lions two years ago, it’s been a pleasure to watch Franco pursue his life’s work.

Until now.

The wheels apparently are in motion for him to reverse field and head back to Tyrone, where Franco won 190 games from 1994-2011, led the Golden Eagles to the 1999 PIAA Class AA championship and built a resume that included enshrinement to the Pennsylvania State Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Tyrone coach and former Franco assistant Steve Guthoff has resigned his position, and the Tyrone Area school board is expected to accept it Tuesday night. It could begin advertising for Guthoff’s replacement at the next scheduled meeting a week later.

Most expect Franco to leave, and he might as well: He’s clearly not enjoying his tenure at Altoona as he’s made known his dissatisfaction with the WPIAL, or at least its playoff format, almost from the minute he arrived back at Mansion Park.

There are many reasons Altoona may never regain the football glory it enjoyed under Earl Strohm and even Ed Dalton, but one of them, from this view, isn’t its WPIAL affiliation. In fact, if the league hears Franco whine long enough and jabs the Lions off the plank, they will be in a whole lot worse shape trying to piece together a Quad-A schedule than they are today.

Further, from the messages Franco has sent, you have to wonder how the negative tone from the top has adversely affected the team and discouraged participation.

Two years ago, I was surprised but glad to see Franco accept the challenge of trying to fix the Altoona program, and I’m disappointed that he appears to be running from the more significant challenge of the Quad-A level.

Franco went 40-45-2 in his first Altoona tenure and just 6-13 in the two years of his return. He’s obviously lost his patience, but he also lost some patience and was dissatisfied with the arrangements at Tyrone when he left there in 2012.

It’s not that easy to come home – again – and while the orange-and-black face-painted throng of Tyrone will no doubt welcome him back, Franco would be naive to think that everyone will hail his return. Surely he remembers when some of the Tyrone fans booed him, and his son (Johnny), a few years ago when things were unraveling in the playoffs.

Franco was a strong leader at Tyrone, but strong leaders don’t surrender after just two years.

And it’s not necessary: Franco, if he’s willing, could be part of the solution toward a needed rebuild at Altoona.

With the recently-announced alignment by the WPIAL, in which Altoona’s schedule has traded powerhouses Gateway and Central Catholic for Butler and Plum, the Lions, under further Franco tutelage, could be poised for a decided improvement these next couple of years.

Never mind that it’s common knowledge that Franco and Altoona athletic director Phil Riccio don’t play chess together.

Sticking with the job he started and going .500, 6-4, 7-3 and maybe better eventually – at a place that committed itself to his expertise, that gave him his first real break and deserves better – is more commendable than whatever he accomplishes during round two at Tyrone.

In fact, the more success he enjoys if he goes to Tyrone again – and don’t expect it to match the last time around – the more it will be qualified by how it ended with Altoona.

Records aren’t the only measure of greatness.

Someone ought to convince Franco to call an audible since, remember, he is a Hall of Fame coach – one of only several in Blair County history. The others – Earl Strohm (Altoona), Harry Clarke (Central), Harold Price (Hollidaysburg) and Tom Irwin (BG) – are local legends.

So, too, is Franco – in Tyrone – but this move is not reflective of a legend, and his legacy will undoubtedly be tarnished.

And as a longtime admirer of John Franco, I think that’s too bad.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or You can also follow him on Twitter@neilrudel.