Padecky: Montgomery's Jason Franci far from forgotten
Jason Franci didn't ask for any of it, as he settled into the first row of the Montgomery stands. He wanted to slip in, unnoticed, "incognito" was the way he put it. He would pick a road game to do it, thus increasing his chances of anonymity. So Franci decided to go to Maria Carrillo on Nov. 1 and there he sat with his buddy, Todd Vehmeyer, trying to be inconspicuous.
And there's a hoot right there. Jason Franci. Inconspicuous. Elvis is in the building and how do you hide that? Jason Franci, the winningest football coach in the Empire, was going to his first Montgomery game since he retired last season after 33 years as Monty's head coach.
"I didn't expect anything," said Franci, 70. "They are playing so well. I just wanted to sit and watch."
Things were developing as he anticipated until five minutes before kickoff. A Montgomery coach spied Franci, told one of the players and, there you have it, the gold rush was on.
"One of us moved in his direction," said tight end Colton Silvers, "and then we just followed each other, one after another."
It was time for tribute to be paid.
Franci sat there, a little bit like a deer in the headlights. He never saw this coming. One by one the players came to Franci. One by one they reached out a hand and thanked the man. One by one, all 35 of them, looked at him straight in the eye because that's what Franci taught them.
"I felt like I was Pope Benedict receiving visitors," Franci said.
Did you let them kiss your ring? I asked.
"Of course I did," said Franci, who doesn't lack the lighter side.
Being fawned over, however, Franci doesn't much like that. He would never make a politician. He's very much the accidental celebrity.
"I told Logan (Francavilla) and (Etienne) Ezeff to get back on the field, they had a football game to play," said Franci, trying to deflect the poignancy of the moment.
It didn't work. Franci may look like nails but he is a sponge. By the time Silvers arrived, the senior captain saw the effect on his former coach.
"He probably is not going to like me saying this," Silvers said, "but the man was crying."
Jason Franci was back home. Finally. The people were waiting for him, "wondering" when he would return was the way Francavilla put it. How much time would Franci need to become a spectator? How much time would it take for Franci to feel the proper distance had been reached between what he did and what Dean Haskins, the new coach, was doing?
"A long time ago I attended a clinic by John Wooden," Franci said of the legendary UCLA basketball coach. "Wooden said the one thing he regretted in his life was going to UCLA games after he retired. He wasn't being fair to the new coach.
"I never wanted to do that to Dean. I didn't want to be a distraction."