Next Monday, Jason Franci will walk into the office of Montgomery athletic director Dean Haskins and tell Haskins whether he's coming back this fall as the school's football coach. As tough decisions go, he's carrying this one like it's an anvil on his back.
"I didn't sleep at all last night," Franci said Tuesday. "How do you walk away from something you love?"
Franci has never waited this long to decide. For 32 seasons the answer always has been early and yes. For 32 seasons Franci inhaled the job, the kids, the game. For 32 seasons Franci was Montgomery football. The man never wanted to be considered an institution, but a 229-118-10 record has made it impossible for people to ignore his impact on the program.
"I have been very fortunate," Franci said. "I have fulfilled everything I wanted to fulfill."
Yet, sooner or later, every coach in every sport at every level has to walk away. Some are given no choice, like the Raiders' Hue Jackson. Others are granted the freedom to pick the time, given their resume. Exiting is never easy and one can make a good argument that someone at a place for three decades faces a much more difficult time of adjustment than someone bounced after only one season, like Jackson.
And it doesn't matter if that place was at a high school instead of an NFL team. It's sweat equity and you can't just wash away the sweat just-like-that, not after 32 years of accumulation.
"When I was 10 years old," Franci said of his time growing up in Point Arena, "I knew I wanted to stay in sports all my life. And I have ... for 57 years."
In 1970, Franci worked as a yard man at a Santa Rosa lumber company. It was his only year away from playing, coaching or making a living at sports. That's a lot of sweat equity and, he's pleased to announce, Franci has made no attempt at drying himself off.
"One day I feel one way," Franci said, "and the next day I feel the other way."
One day Franci will remember Montgomery's three NCS titles (1996, 2000, 2004). He'll remember players like Koa Misi, Marcus Ezeff and Scott Ware. He'll remember the nine NBL championships. He'll remember what winning felt like.
"It's the feeling of euphoria you get," Franci said.
Does it equal the euphoria he felt as a player?
That's not an insignificant question. Franci was a tight end with the Denver Broncos in 1966 and then played for Saskatchewan of the Canadian Football League for two more years. No one who has ever played professional football can ever forget the buzz and the spotlight. Or would want to.
So does coaching equal player euphoria?
"To me it does," Franci said. "When everything comes together in a game, when all the pieces fit the puzzle, you can't replace that high."
Whether it's the player or the coach experiencing it.
That's what Franci feels on one day. Then the next day he will remember the energy needed to run a successful program. He'll be 69 in October. He admits his Parkinson's — diagnosed eight years ago — doesn't make him as spry as he would like. He knows high school football, like most prep sports, is close to a 12-month activity, a factor he admits he pushed along.