High School Sports

What coach John Franco ‘coming home’ to Tyrone means for Mountain League football

By his own admission Tyrone head coach John Franco is not a miracle worker.

But he is a myth buster.

“I can’t walk on water,’’ he laughed, no doubt surprising some of Tyrone’s faithful fans. “I’m not a magician. I don’t have a magic wand. We just want to outwork everyone. If you do that you always have a chance. At Tyrone we want to work as hard as we can.‘’

Franco is back at Tyrone this year, returning to the scene of his greatest accomplishments. He spent 18 years there before leaving for Altoona. During those 18 years his Golden Eagles went to the state finals three times, winning in 1999 and losing in 1996 and 2012. His record at Tyrone is190-37 and his overall coaching numbers are 251-120-12.

That’s a lot of hard work.

Franco is returning to a Mountain League that is even stronger than when he left it with Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Clearfield having reached the district playoffs last year and BEA winning the District 6-AAA title.

That’s changed from when Franco’s Golden Eagles dominated the field., especially the Centre County teams.

“From what I’ve seen over the years, things go in cycles,’’ he said. “The Centre County teams look really good. The Laurel Highlands Conference is strong but I think the Mountain League is stronger.’’

From what the county coaches are saying, the return of Franco to Tyrone is only going to make it stronger.

“He’ll help all of the teams in the conference get better,’’ said Penns Valley coach Martin Tobias. “He’ll force everyone to prepare for him. I think it’s great for high school football.’’

Bellefonte’s Shannon Manning agrees.

“I think it’s great for the league,’’ he said. “Any time you get a guy like that in the league it makes it better. I try to support anything that happens in the league.’’

Franco said he was happy at Penn Cambria where he took a team that was winless his first year there to a four-win season last year.

But voices from his past kept calling out to him.

“A couple of my former players (at Tyrone) came to speak to me,’’ he said. ”I was happy at Penn Cambria. I worked with some great people there. We had things headed in the right direction. I probably wouldn’t’ have applied to any other program except Tyrone.

“But I had so much invested in the program at Tyrone over the years. And when some of my former players approached me, I felt I needed to think about it. We lived there for so long and I have a lot of friends there. I always loved the people there.’’

And they loved him back, supporting his team like few communities do. Friday nights at Gray Memorial Field have an atmosphere all there own. It’s an atmosphere that was created when that orange T on the side of those white helmets was worth a win or two each year.

But last year some of the mojo was gone from the program as it won its first four games and lost the last six including road games at Penns Valley, Bellefonte and BEA.

BEA’s Jesse Nagle thinks Franco will restore some of that.

“It just adds another coach to the league who’s a legend,’’ he said. “It creates another challenge beyond the T on the helmet. Just their belief in him will make them better.’’

For P-O coach Brian McGonigal, it’s a chance to finally come face-to-face with a man he began following when he was in high school at Bald Eagle-Nittany.

“I followed him wherever he went’’ McGonigal said. “He’s always been successful. He’ll bring a lot of excitement to the Tyrone community. I think he will be a welcome addition to the Mountain League.’’

And even though he’s an Altoona native who graduated from Bishop Guilfoyle and did two coaching tours with the Mountain Lions, Franco’s feelings for Tyrone run deep.

“I’m really excited about gong back to Tyrone,’’ he said. ”We have a lot of work to do. But I can’t wait. I feel like I’m coming home.’’