Franco returns as Tyrone’s head coach

Mirror file photo John Franco will be patrolling the Tyrone sidelines again, like he did during the successful 2011 season.

The Tyrone Area School Board approved John Franco as the school’s newest football coach Tuesday night in a 9-0 unanimous vote.

The hiring culminated a cat-and-mouse game between the school and Franco since he left Tyrone in 2012 following the 2011 football season in which the Golden Eagles made it to the state championship game.

“I spent most of my career there, and really the community itself is such a great football community,” Franco said. “I’ve had so many former players the past couple weeks calling me and asking me to apply when the job came open. Honestly, it was special.”

Franco, who will be paid $7,000, went 190-37 in 18 years at Tyrone and got the Golden Eagles into the state finals three times, winning one championship in 1999 over Mount Carmel.

“John presented the best opportunity to move the program in the direction we want it to go,” Tyrone board member Randy Miles said. “I think generally speaking, this is really what the community was looking for without a doubt.”

This isn’t the first offseason Franco, who has been coaching at Penn Cambria the past two seasons, was connected to the Tyrone job since he left for Altoona in February of 2012.

“When (former Tyrone coach) Steve Guthoff was leaving (five years ago), he was trying to get me to come back,” Franco said. “It almost worked out, but there were too many problems, so I backed away. I really missed it, because Tyrone has the roots of my coaching family. I really have been looking forward to coming back in some capacity, and I’m excited to try and get this turned around.”

Franco has spent the last couple years turning around Penn Cambria, which went from 0-10 in 2017 to 4-6 last season. The Panthers nearly defeated Forest Hills in their final game, which would have earned them the last playoff spot in the District 6 Class 3A field over Huntingdon and Tyrone. Even then, Franco’s mind was on the Golden Eagles.

“I liked trying to beat out Huntingdon, because I was trying to do that for so many years at Tyrone,” Franco said. “But being in a position to beat out Tyrone kind of felt weird.”

Franco cited travel as being one of the reasons he left Tyrone originally for his four-year return to Altoona during which he went 17-22, but he expanded on those reasons Tuesday.

“The main issue was Altoona offered me a contract I couldn’t turn down, and as a public school teacher, it was so vital for my pension,” Franco said. “I knew (Tyrone) couldn’t afford to match it. A lot of people in town were trying to get them to give me a job, or create a job for me. I talked to (former Tyrone superintendent) Dr. (William) Miller, but I knew they couldn’t meet Altoona’s price range, and I couldn’t turn it down.

“It worked out, and financially it was a big help, but I always missed Tyrone. It was always difficult to leave after 18 years and all the success, and I kept a close eye on them.”

Overall, Franco is 251-120-2 in 32 years as a head coach.

“We are excited to have Coach Franco return to Tyrone,” Tyrone Superintendent Cathy Harlow said. “The decision to hire Franco was based on his prior coaching experience and ability to build a competitive football program. I look forward to working with Coach Franco to provide a positive learning experience for our athletes.”

Tyrone athletic director Luke Rhoades, who also played for Franco, said he expects the coach to transform the program from top to bottom.

“We’re excited to have Coach Franco back,” Rhoades said. “His football knowledge and structure that he brings to the program from junior high to the youth programs is important, and it will be exciting for players to play for someone with his expertise and someone with his knowledge of the game.”

Franco said he met with his Penn Cambria players on Monday to tell them he was leaving.

“That was tough, because I loved working for the three guys I worked for, Chuck Terek, Bill Marshall and Jim Abbott,” Franco said. “If you are a coach, you want to work for them. We were getting things turned around. They asked me when I was hired, ‘will you leave for the first job you are offered?’ and I said the only place I would leave for is a situation in Tyrone. So I didn’t, but whenever I got a call from Tyrone, I told them the next day. They understood, we were both up front.”

A call to Terek, the Penn Cambria athletic director, for details on Penn Cambria’s open position was not returned Tuesday.

Franco said he hopes to stay put this time.

“I would love this to be my last stop,” Franco said. “I don’t want to coach anywhere but Tyrone. I’d like to get some former players back in the program and then eventually turn it over to them. That’s the long-range goal.”

One of those former players with coaching experience is Tyrone’s most recent coach, Jason Wilson. Wilson, who was removed as head coach by the board earlier this year, was a defensive coordinator late in Franco’s first tenure. Wilson went 33-25 in five years and won a district championship.

“Jason is one of my former players and coaches,” Franco said. “I helped him a lot along the way, and I think he did a heck of a job and has a great future. I know he’ll land on his feet. He’s a young coach in coaching years and as intelligent as he his, he’ll land on his feet.”

Though he hasn’t coached at the school for seven years, Franco doesn’t think the program is that different from the one he left.

“I know they’ve had a couple losing seasons, but other than that, they’ve had the same number of kids,” Franco said. “I’ve been told a couple kids that could have helped didn’t come out, and we have to get them to come out. When I was there for 18 years, we always got the kids out. So I think that’s a small difference.”

Franco is already working on putting together a coaching staff.

“When I was there before, my coaching staff was consistent,” Franco said. “We had three different coaching staffs in 18 years, and when you look at the way things are, that’s very little turnover. All had success in their eras, and I’m working on talking to a lot of coaches to put a good staff together and keep them together and develop that consistency, which is extremely important for a football program.”