Franco staying at Altoona

If Altoona Area School District was putting together a list of prospects to be its next head football coach, it looks like it can file that away for at least a couple of years.

John Franco, who was linked to the Tyrone job he left to return to Altoona two years ago, told WTAJ-TV sports director K.C. Kantz on Tuesday that he was staying with the Mountain Lions, ending more than a month of uncertainty about Franco’s future, as well as that of the two Blair County programs. Kantz first reported the news on social media.

A voicemail left at Franco’s home by the Mirror on Tuesday afternoon went unreturned, but Franco told WJAC-TV’s Matt Maisel the same thing he told Kantz.

According to Maisel’s report, Franco said he had interest in the Tyrone vacancy – Franco’s successor there, Steve Guthoff, approached Franco about coming back before he stepped down as Golden Eagles coach earlier this month – but, despite a public campaign in the community to bring him back, that school district never made him an offer. Instead, Franco was told he would have to apply for the position, which was officially opened last week.

“I felt like I had to listen to Tyrone out of my respect for them,” Franco told Maisel. “[It] would have needed to be worth my while [to leave Altoona].”

Altoona athletic director Phil Riccio said that he had not gotten a confirmation that Franco was staying. Neither did AASD athletic committee chair Dick Lockard, but Lockard said he’d spoken to Franco about his future at the Altoona/Bishop Guilfoyle basketball game last week, and Franco said he was leaning toward remaining with the Mountain Lions.

“He told me he thought he was going to stay at Altoona,” Lockard said. “I told him I’d like him to stay, but it was up to him. He told me he’d get back to me with his decision soon.

“I’m glad to hear that he wants to stay.”

Lockard said Franco, who just completed the second year of a four-year contract that brought him nearly $12,000 per year in stipends and made him head of Altoona’s health and physical education department although he teaches driver’s education, has been running the Mountain Lions’ offseason weightlifting and conditioning program.

“I think he’s excited about [the season],” Lockard said.

Lockard said that he thought Franco and the Mountain Lions had a good chance to improve in the realigned Foothills Conference of the WPIAL, which no longer includes perennial favorite Gateway. Altoona has been 6-13 since Franco came back from an 18-year stay at Tyrone that included a PIAA championship in 1999.

Franco went public last year with his desire to leave the WPIAL to either compete as an independent or form a central Pennsylvania league in the interest of being more competitive. However, comments Franco made to Maisel made it appear he’s changed his stance about that and is now eager to accept that challenge.

“I want to see if we can get this moving,” Franco said. “We’re going in the right direction. We can become a major factor again.”

Buck Frank contributed to this story.