Tony Franklin, a Caldwell County native and noted college football coach, announced his retirement from coaching with a nighttime post on Facebook on New Year’s Day.
One of the bright stars in collegiate coaching as an offensive coordinator, Franklin coached at the college and high school level for 40 years.
“I don’t remember ever loving this game,” he said in his Facebook post. “I do remember loving my teammates in the 12 years I played organized football and loving and respecting the young boys and men I would coach for 40 seasons.
“…(O)n November 21, 2020, at the ripe young age of 63, I ended this violent experiment in an unexpected final game of the 2020 season at Troy University. It is time to discover what I want to do when I grow up.”
Franklin said that career path would lead him to writing books and entering private business.
“I’ve had a business I’ve run for 20 years now where I have taught high schools all over the country the offensive system that I use and other things to do with being successful as a coach,” he told The Times Leader. “I’ll continue to do that as well as begin to write quite a bit more. That’s one of my goals, is to try to write a book a year.”
The Caldwell County High School graduate and 1975 Courier Journal first-team all-state player for the Tigers earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Murray State University and began his coaching career in western Kentucky.
“Actually, my first job was at Murray High as a football coach in 1979; I coached running backs,” Franklin said. “I came back in 1983 and was the head coach there for three years.”
Franklin also coached at Owensboro Catholic, Daviess County, Calloway County, Mayfield and Mercer County high schools.
“The biggest thing is that being a high school coach for 16 years and moving from place to place with every place being uniquely different and every place having different types of kids gave me a good background for having to be adaptable,” he said. “I think that I have been a part of almost every type of offense that you could imagine.
“Then, when I came to Kentucky, the system of throwing the ball around a bunch wasn’t that cool back in those days. We did it and did it pretty well.”
Franklin’s up-tempo style of football caught on as he advanced to Troy, Auburn, MTSU, Louisiana Tech and Cal.
“It kind of caught fire and gave me a chance to have a good career,” he said. “It’s just a little bit of this and that: some years good, some years bad, some years in between. That’s usually the life of a coach.”
Franklin looked back on his years at Caldwell County High School and credited his playing career to helping him get started as a coach. He encouraged students who want to be coaches to follow the lead of the coaches who influenced his playing career.
“The great thing about Caldwell County is the great history of coaches that have been through there,” he said. “The ones that played such a dramatic role in my life — Coach (Al) Giordano and then David Barnes being my best friend for many years. All they have to do is to emulate those two men — and then, Will Barnes, who is there now and will be as good as Coach G and David.
“When you want to get into coaching, the most important thing is to find somebody that does it the right way that you respect and that they understand that if you’re a high school football coach, the most important thing in the world is to make a positive difference in young men’s lives.”
Franklin added that there is more to coaching than knowing the X’s and O’s of football.
“I think the No. 1 thing to me to be successful as a coach is that it’s being a good teacher,” he said. “The scheme is the most overrated part of coaching, and the most underrated part of coaching is teaching the basic fundamentals and details.
“The one thing that I always felt like I was as good as anybody was in teaching details and paying attention to the little and things and never letting something that people would consider small to ever let it slide. If you do the details right, then you’re probably going
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to have the chance to be the best that you can ever be.”
In 1997, Franklin got the call to coach at the University of Kentucky, first as a running backs coach (1997-99), then serving as the offensive coordinator in the 2000 season.
Franklin built his business, The Tony Franklin System, from 2001 to 2006. He sold it to partners in 2006 because of NCAA rules prohibiting coaches from participating in a clinic on campus premises, but regained control of the business after leaving Auburn in 2008.
More information about the Tony Franklin System can be found at coachtf.com.
In the 2003 season, Franklin became the head coach and general manager of the Lexington Horsemen, an expansion team in the National Indoor Football League, where he guided the team to the playoffs in its inaugural season.
In 2006, he returned to the collegiate sidelines, serving as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Troy University for two seasons.
In December 2007, Franklin was hired by Auburn to serve as its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He bolstered the Tigers to the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl title, beating Clemson 23-20. He served at Auburn through the 2008 season.
He served his first tour of duty at Middle Tennessee in the 2009 season as the Blue Raiders’ offensive coordinator before taking a similar job at Louisiana Tech (2010-12).
In the 2012 season at Ruston, the Bulldogs’ scoring offense ranked first in NCAA Division I, and it led the Western Athletic Conference in every offensive category, including scoring, total yards, rushing yards and passing yards.
“We averaged 52 points a game,” Franklin said. “We were marked by some people as the second-best offense in the history of college football. We were 9-1 playing Utah, and if we win, we were going to go to the Orange Bowl. We lost in double-overtime.
“Just from a football standpoint, that was probably the most memorable (achievement of his career) because of how good we were and all the things that we accomplished for a non-Power 5 school. We won at Houston, at Illinois, at Virginia and then lost to Texas A&M 59-57.”
Franklin became the offensive coordinator for the University of California for the 2013 through 2015 seasons. In his final season with the Golden Bears, the passing offense ranked third nationally and the total offense ranked eighth in the nation.
In 2016, Franklin returned to MTSU, where he remained until announcing his retirement.
Franklin and his wife, Laura, will move to Raleigh, North Carolina, to be close to one of their daughters and grandchildren. Their other children are Chelsea and Caitlin.