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By LARRY VAUGHT
No one should have a better idea what Kentucky’s new offensive coaching staff might do than Tony Franklin, the current offensive coordinator at California.
First, Franklin not only coached new UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown at Kentucky, but he also was coaching the same time new offensive line coach John Schlarman and new running backs coach Chad Scott were playing there. Second, Franklin brought Brown from Delaware to coach receivers when he took over as offensive coordinator in 2006. The next year he gave both Scott and Schlarman their first Division I coaching jobs.
“I couldn’t be happier it has worked out this way for all of them,” said Franklin, who has been offensive coordinator at Kentucky, Troy, Auburn, Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech. “However, when you go home, and they all are because even Chad considers Kentucky home, it is always hard. I would tell them to just make sure you don’t take things too seriously. Enjoy this and have a good time. Relax and don’t listen to anyone except those who matter.
“Everybody is going to tell you who is the greatest kid ever at that school. It’s easy when you are in California and Texas to say thanks but when you are back home where you grew up, know the coaches, maybe know the parents, know the boosters, it’s harder to say now. You’ve got to be nice and gracious but also look people in the eye and say no. You want to be a good guy and have fun, but the bottom line is your legacy is attached to whether you win games or not. Every decision has to be made based on is what I’m doing going to help me win games. If that means I will irritate some people and make some angry, you still have to do it because winning is what you are there to do.”
Franklin, a western Kentucky native and former Kentucky high school coach, still remembers the first time he walked into Commonwealth Stadium as a UK coach on game day.
“I just looked in the stands and thought, ‘How cool is this?’ For these guys to come back to Kentucky, it’s going to be the same way,” Franklin said. “It’s a dream come true for them all I know all three really want to be there. If all three could pick any place in the world to be, Kentucky is where they would want to be. That’s why my wife and I are ecstatic for them.”
Brown took over as offensive coordinator at Troy when Franklin left for Auburn and has been at Texas Tech running one of the nation’s most productive offenses the last three years. Franklin said Brown’s success is no surprise.
“I knew him first as a player at Kentucky. His memories of how good he was and mine differ a bit,” Franklin laughed and said. “But he was an overachiever. He was a guy who ran 4.7 (seconds in the 40-yard dash), but he knew how to set up routes. He didn’t play a lot for us, but I helped him when he wanted to leave after Guy (Morris) took over (from Hal Mumme) and had no role for him. I helped him get to Massachusetts and he helped them win.
“We had a good relationship and Neal worked my (offensive) camp. I watched him work and knew he had talent. He played for me on the Horsemen and was actually a lot better there than at Kentucky. We had a lot of fun that year. When I hired him I knew I was getting a coach’s son who was smart and an overachiever and a gym rat who wanted to outwork everybody. He was passionate about being a great coach.”
Brown, 32, came to Troy to work for what Franklin said “was almost nothing” even though he was getting ready to be married. Brown quickly showed Franklin he could accept criticism and move on.
“I like a guy who is not afraid to be bold but when you tell him no he will not back up and never come up with another idea,” Franklin said. “I told Neal no a lot.”
It didn’t deter Brown. Franklin said every week Brown made his own offensive game plan to give Franklin.
“He was practicing calling plays and practicing being and offensive coordinator,” Franklin said. “On game day he did not say a lot, but when he did say something you listened.”
That paid off in their first year at Troy when the team needed a win over Middle Tennessee to claim the Sun Belt Conference and earn a New Orleans Bowl bid. Franklin said the game came down to a late play that would win or lose the game and Brown came to him with a “creative idea” for a play.
“He said, ‘I swear if you call the play, it will score.’ I called the play. Somebody with that much confidence, and it’s not like he talked all the time … and it was the game of our lives. Here was a 24-year-old kid calling a play and swearing it would work. I called the play, we scored and the rest is history,” Franklin said.
Troy head coach Larry Blakeney heard that play call discussion on his headset along with others and when Franklin left later for Auburn, he confidently promoted Brown.
“When he hired Neal at such a young age he didn’t care what anyone else thought,” Franklin said. “I was the same way. I gave him a chance and he took off and outdid me. All those kids have outdone me. Neal and I still have a great relationship, too. He will call and ask my opinion. He will not do what I tell him, but he will listen. He’s smart, mature and not afraid to ask questions. He’ll do great.”
Next: Franklin on Scott and Schlarman.