Coach John Franco
Longest Tenured Coach in Tyrone History

By Kerry Naylor

John Franco, 2007: Win 10 games, your 10th season with double-digit wins; establish a new record at Tyrone for consecutive regular-season victories; win the MAC Nittany Division championship for the fourth time—one for each year the conference has been in existence; advance to the District 6 AA semifinals with a perfect record, despite playing the entire regular season without your best player—the second straight season at least one key player has missed significant time due to injury.

What a year for the man who has reshaped Tyrone into a regional power unlike any other before seen in Blair County or District 6.

Now entering his 15th season as the Golden Eagles’ head coach, Franco long ago re-wrote the record books at Tyrone Area High School. He surpassed legendary coach Steve Jacobs on the career wins list four seasons ago, and a year later took over Jacobs’ spot as the longest tenured coach in Tyrone football history.

He holds Tyrone’s record for single-season wins (15), career winning percentage (.837), playoff winning percentage (.733) and 10-win seasons (10).
Numbers like those assure that Franco will long be viewed as the most successful and influential coach in the program’s 87-year history, but it’s his work in the playoffs that has solidified Franco’s position as one of the top coaches in Pennsylvania.

It starts with the championship—that one his team earned almost a decade ago in Hershey with a 13-7 win over Mount Carmel. It allowed Franco to become the only coach from District 6 to win a PIAA title in what was his second trip to the Class AA finals with the Golden Eagles. Only one other coach from the District—Forest Hills Don Bailey—has played for a Pennsylvania state championship. Franco has taken teams to the Western Finals four times, most recently in 2004 in the now infamous Index Card Game, when Tyrone came within the width of an official’s pocket notes from playing in the PIAA title game for the third time.
For his team’s performance during the 1999 championship run, Franco was named the Associated Press Small School Coach of the Year, another feat unique to Franco among regional coaches.

What Franco has done on a District level is as impressive. Under his guidance, Tyrone has qualified for the post-season 14 straight times, advancing as far as the District semi-finals on 12 occasions. His teams at Tyrone have captured seven District 6 AA championships, including a string of five titles in six years from 1995-2000.

Beyond Districts, Franco-coached teams have posted a 7-6 record in the PIAA playoffs, including wins over such vaunted programs as Aliquippa, Wilmington, Seton LaSalle, and the aforementioned Red Tornadoes.

Before Franco landed in Tyrone in 1994, the Eagles’ football program was attempting to rise from the muck of the darkest years in school history. From 1989-1993, Tyrone had won only five games while grinding through four different coaches.

Franco’s arrival immediately provided stability and an offensive philosophy that has allowed individual players to flourish like at no other time in the program’s history. Of the 19 total 1,000-yard seasons posted by Tyrone rushers, 11 have come during Franco’s tenure. Of the 73 spots on All-State teams garnered by Tyrone players, 61 have come from teams coached by Franco.

In fact, since his arrival 15 seasons ago, Franco’s system has lead to a dramatic re-writing of the Tyrone football record book. Currently, 36 team and individual records have been established under his watch. Of the six coaching records on the books, Franco holds five, the lone exception being wins in a rookie season, which is shared by Max Cook and Chuck Hoover, who both led their teams to 10 wins in 1943 and 1987, respectively.

Franco has also seen his share of Golden Eagle alumni go on to success on the college level, including Doug Roseberry (2000), who went on to become the special teams captain at the University of Pittsburgh, Mark Wyland, who played at Bucknell, and Tyler Gillmen, now playing for St. Francis. His son Johnny, who graduated last season, is currently now a freshman on at Army.

Franco grew up in Altoona and attended Bishop Guilfoyle High School, graduating in 1974 before matriculating at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he played football and earned a B.S. in Education (1978) and a Masters in Health and Physical Education (1988).

He coached one season at IUP in 1977 before returning to BG in 1978. There, he was an associate head coach under Tom Irwin before taking over the reigns at Altoona Area High School in 1986.

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