By Jim Henry
Sunday afternoon’s Citizens Bank Bowl doubles as a homecoming for Blinn College head coach Brad Franchione.
Franchione’s No. 2-ranked Buccaneers battle No. 1 Fort Scott to determine the junior college national championship at Carnie Smith Stadium — the stadium where his father, Dennis Franchione, coached for five years.
“It’s really special for me, being around people I grew up with there,” Brad Franchione said. “I’m going to have a large contingent of family at the game who would not normally get to see our team play at the stadium where my father coached for five years.
“It’s definitely a special feeling to have the opportunity to play on this stage in front of family and friends I grew up with.”
Dennis Franchione, who posted a 53-6 record as Pittsburg State’s head coach from 1985-89, plans to fly to Pittsburg on Sunday morning. He’ll be in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday night as part of ESPN Radio’s broadcast of the Big 12 Conference championship game.
“I spent a lot of great days on that field and on that sideline,” Dennis Franchione said. “Pitt State is my school and has a lot of special memories for me It’s pretty cool for Brad to be coaching in a game of this magnitude on that field in that stadium. And I’ll be there.”
Brad’s mother, Linda Solomon, lives in Weir, Kan., and also will be there. His sister, Tammy Ponce, lives in Webb City.
“It’s fun for me because we have lots of friends and family,” Solomon said. “Everybody that I’ve talked to is either planning to come to the game or trying to get to come.”
“I know just based on the buzz around town, there’s going to be a big crowd,” said Jerry Ross, Brad’s cousin, best friend and manager of Triple-T Foods in Frontenac, Kan. “Brad may have just as much of a crowd as Fort Scott.”
And, the Blinn team is well aware of their coach’s roots.
“There are so many reasons why we feel we need to win this game,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “We know Coach Franchione is from Kansas and will be in front of his home crowd. That’s an added dimension we’re playing for.”
Brad Franchione, born in Miller, Mo., when his father was head coach there, is a 1992 graduate of Pittsburg High School. He played three seasons and started his junior and senior years at outside linebacker for the Purple Dragons. The Dragons won the Class 5A state championship his junior year.
“He was a tough kid, a good player,” said Larry Garman, former PHS head coach and now an assistant coach at Pittsburg State. “Football was real important to him of course. He was with some good players, and we had some good teams.
“Brad wanted to coach. You could tell. He watched a lot of film. Being Dennis’ son, he had been around that. And Brad always said he wanted to be a coach. I visited several times with him about being a coach.”
“When Brad was about 15 he came to me and said ‘Mom, I’m probably going to be a coach,’ ” Solomon said. “He has always been a student of the game. He was one of those kids who from about age 10 could tell you all the stats on a team.”
Ross, former all-conference tight end at Pittsburg State, played in pickup games orchestrated by Franchione.
“There was an empty lot behind his house,” Ross said. “It was never just a pickup game. Brad would mow and stripe that lot. We would have 12 kids to play 6-on-6, and it would be organized and prepared.”
Franchione, who received his bachelor’s degree from New Mexico in 1996 and his master’s from Arkansas State in 1998, began his coaching career as a student coach for his father at New Mexico in 1992. He was a graduate at Arkansas State, then an assistant at Fort Scott Community College, East Central (Okla.), West Alabama, Tennessee-Martin, Bacone and Texas A&M-Commerce; before becoming Blinn’s head coach in 2005.
Blinn is preparing for its second national championship game under Franchione. The Buccaneers went 12-0 and won the title in 2006.
“He has done this through hard work and effort,” Ross said. “He’s going to outwork anyone he goes up against.”
“I’m just proud of Brad, what he’s done and how he’s done it,” Dennis Franchione said. “He has a bunch of good kids on his team. He’s built the team the right way. He’s coached hard and developed his players in a lot of different ways, not just as football players.
“He’s fortunate to be in this position twice. You don’t get in this position often, so make the best of it when you’re there. I’ll be disappointed for him if he doesn’t win Sunday, but I think for some just to get there is a fine accomplishment. But I told him this week, ‘Some people go to national championship games, and some people go to win national championship games.’”