Tony Franklin’s college football coaching career has long defied conventional wisdom.
After the former Kentucky assistant wrote a tell-all book in 2000 about the dysfunction that helped doom the Hal Mumme coaching regime, the conventional wisdom was he would never work again in Division I football.
Instead, Franklin has since held coaching jobs at five different D-I schools.
When Franklin’s attempt to install the Air Raid offense at tradition-bound SEC titan Auburn ended with Tommy Tuberville firing him midseason in 2008, the conventional wisdom was that Franklin would never get another chance at a major-conference school.
Instead, he just wrapped up his third season successfully running the offense for Coach Sonny Dykes at California of the Pac-12.
Today, the conventional wisdom is no coach fortunate enough to work in one of the so-called power five conferences would ever give up that job to take the same position in a league farther down the college football food chain.
Instead, Franklin last month left his position as Cal’s offensive coordinator to take the same job at Middle Tennessee State.
Suffice to say, jaws dropped all around college football. Tweeted Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports: “Tony Franklin leaving Cal for OC job at Middle Tennessee is a shocker, but Tony is a different guy.”
Franklin laughed Thursday at the dumbfounded reaction to his latest career move. “Shocked everybody except those who really know me, huh?” he said.
The coach did not have to leave Berkeley, Calif., for Murfreesboro, Tenn. Renowned as a passing-game guru, Franklin’s Cal offense last season set school records of 37.9 points and 529.2 yards a game. Under Franklin, Cal quarterback Jared Goff developed into one of the top QBs in the country.
The former UK assistant loved the lifestyle in Cali. Franklin says his relationship with Dykes — their ties go back to the days when both worked for Mumme at Kentucky — “is good.”
So why leave?
The process that led to Franklin’s move began after California finished an 8-5 season by beating Air Force 55-36 in the Armed Forces Bowl. Franklin, 58, launched a tour of the country to re-connect with his closest relatives.
He went to Florida to see his oldest daughter, Chelsea, 31, and her family, which includes son Cooper. The coach went to Alabama to visit his youngest daughter, Caitlin, 26, and her family, including son, Ezra.
The football coach ventured to New York City where his middle daughter, 28-year-old Caroline, lives.
Franklin also came home to Kentucky. His parents, Robert and Patsy Franklin, both 81, still live in Princeton in Caldwell County. His wife Laura’s parents, Don and Carol Pinska, also both 81, live in Danville.
Even as Tony coached on the Left Coast, Laura Franklin had spent a lot of time in Danville caring for her younger sister, Nedra Boitnott, as she went through an ultimately fatal fight against cancer.
“Laura has had a yearning to get back to this part of the country for awhile now,” Franklin said. “After I saw my daughters, my grandsons, my parents, the feeling inside of me was ‘It’s time for us to make that move.’”
At first, the Franklins considered Tony leaving coaching altogether and moving back to Lexington. Then the job on Rick Stockstill’s staff at MTSU came open.
Franklin had spent the 2009 season as OC for Stockstill at Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders went 10-3 and beat Southern Mississippi in the New Orleans Bowl that year.
“I had enjoyed working for Rick, and we had parted on friendly terms,” Franklin said. “(MTSU) had the best year they’ve had since they became an FBS program (in 2009), so we both felt like (reuniting) could be a positive experience.”
Middle Tennessee went 7-6 last year, falling to Western Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl. Off that team, Franklin will inherit starting quarterback Brent Stockstill, the head coach’s son, who threw for 4,005 yards and 30 touchdowns. Star wide receiver Richie James, 108 receptions for 1,346 yards, is also back. Both players will be redshirt sophomores in 2016.
“I think I’m coming into a good situation and I see my role as trying to help it become great,” Franklin said.
Franklin knows most of his coaching peers would not even consider giving up a Pac-12 coordinator’s job for the same position in a league that carries far less prestige . “But, you know, I’m a little bit different in the way I look at things,” he says.
Last season, when Cal went to Texas and the Golden Bears offense lit up Charlie Strong’s defense for 548 yards in a 45-44 California victory, Franklin says he relished the whole experience.
“But I will get the same charge if we can do that at Middle Tennessee playing Florida International,” Franklin said. “For me, the thrill in coaching is getting your players to achieve excellence. For me, I can get that (gratification) wherever I am coaching.”