Carl Franks would like to be a college head football coach someday, but he wants to make sure he’s ready.
That’s why he’s been working his way through the assistant coaching ranks, gathering knowledge and experience with the short-term goal of becoming a defensive coordinator somewhere.
If the trail eventually leads back to the University of Montana, that would be even better.
Right now someday is Macomb, Ill., where Franks has been for one year and one football season as the defensive backs coach at Western Illinois.
Franks heard about the job and met with Western defensive coordinator Tom Casey at the annual coaching convention in early 2009.
“It was something I wanted to add to my resume,” the Stockton, Calif. native said. “You want to do as much as you can to further your career and get more knowledge of the game overall. I’ve learned a lot from the coaches I’ve worked with in the past and the coaches I’m working with now.”
The move broke a long connection with the University of Montana, where he was an all-Big Sky Conference safety in 1993 and a two-time winner of the Golden Helmet Award as the team’s hardest hitter.
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Much of that connection was with Jerome Souers, Montana’s defensive coordinator when Franks played in Missoula who later hired him at Northern Arizona.
In between, Franks was an assistant to former UM player and head coach Mick Dennehy at Utah State.
“It was really hard to leave (NAU),” Franks admitted. “Jerome has been great to me. He hired me when I was out of work and trusted me to come in and do a good job for him. I can’t say enough good things about Jerome because he’s been a mentor for me.”
Following a tryout with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League that didn’t go as well as he had hoped, Franks - with a sociology degree from UM - landed a job with Missoula Youth Homes.
“During college and even before I always enjoyed working with kids and giving back,” Franks said. “That was a rewarding job for me.”
But Franks couldn’t get football out of his system. So when Souers called him in 1997 to see if he would be interested in hooking on with the UM staff, Franks jumped at the opportunity.
“I’ve pretty much been borderline obsessed with football since I was a kid,” Franks noted. “When I got out of the game I felt like I was missing something. I pretty much said, ‘yes,” before he (Souers) could ask me the question.”
For the first year of his coaching career Franks continued to work for Youth Homes. What made it especially tough was that he was working the graveyard shift, so sleep was hard to come by.
“I was a walking zombie, basically,” Franks said, adding that he became full-time special teams coordinator for the Grizzlies when Souers left to take the NAU job.
When Dennehy left for Utah State in 2000 Franks went along, again as special teams coordinator. His resume began to swell a bit in 2002 when he also took on duties with the secondary and linebackers.
When things soured at USU Franks found himself out of work, but it didn’t take long for him to reconnect with Souers, who brought him on board in 2003 when one of NAU’s defensive coaches left for another job.
Franks immediately began working with NAU corners while maintaining his special teams ties. His success there was more than enough to catch the eye of coaches at Western Illinois.
Franks believes his sociology degree is helping him in coaching almost as much as it did at Missoula Youth Homes.
“It’s glorified babysitting,” Frank said. “You’re constantly managing the kids and trying to show them right from wrong, keeping them organized, being there when they need someone to talk to.
“It’s like being a parent,” Franks went on, “and it’s part of the reason why I like this profession. You get to help young people mature. Someone did that for me.”
Asked what he likes best about coaching, Franks was pressed to single anything out, although when pushed he said game day and preparing for individual opponents ranked at the top.
“The whole strategy of the game is the one thing I really enjoy the most,” Franks admitted. “Everything else is just icing on the cake.”
What he dislikes most about coaching is the time spent away from his family during recruiting.
Speaking of being a parent, Franks really is one. He married the former Lindsay Thomson in 1999, and they have a 7-year-old daughter, Kyah, and an almost-5-year-old son, Macyeo.
Former Griz teammate and new UM assistant coach Shalon Baker introduced the pair - Thomson played women’s tennis at Montana - in 1992.
“I always admired her from afar,” Franks said, “and he got tired of me talking about her, so he went over and grabbed her and brought her over and introduced me. We pretty much clicked, and saw each other every day after that up until now.”
Macyeo is heavy into football or whatever sport is in season, and Michael Jackson (“he has the moves”), while Kyah, Franks says, is “a complete girly girl” who enjoys dancing and Barbie dolls.
“They definitely take their own path,” Franks said of his kids. “If they want to try something, we sign them up for it. If they’re not interested, we don’t force it on them.”
Lindsay, an elementary school teacher, has adapted well to Carl’s profession.
“Before we got married we had the talk about it,” Frank said. “She understood what the business was like, and she’s hanging in there. It’s not easy, (but) she’s a trooper.”
Franks didn’t play much football until his senior year in high school. That, coupled with his weight of “150 pounds soaking wet,” didn’t help him attract much attention from college recruiters.
After graduating from high school Franks actually went to work to help his mother support the family. He eventually wound up at Delta Junior College in Stockton, having “a couple of good seasons” there.
The man he credits with changing his life is Robin Pflugrad, Montana’s new head coach. Back then Pflugrad was Don Read’s assistant and recruited California for the Grizzlies. He called Franks and asked if they could visit.
“That day pretty much changed my whole life, my whole career, everything about me,” Franks said. “I came on a visit, I loved it, I committed, and the rest is history.”
The Grizzlies went 16-7 the two years Franks played, winning the last five in a row in 1992 and going 10-2 in 1993, including that remarkable come-from-behind win over South Dakota State.
Franks said there were a lot of things he liked about Missoula.
“Obviously the people were great,” Frank noted. “I try to get my family back there because we still know people. They remember who you are. Don Read was awesome to play for. The fans, the professors. If I had it to do all over again, I’d be back in Missoula.”
Franks not only didn’t know anybody who had gone to UM before him, he didn’t know anything about Montana, period. His recruiting visit was the first time he had seen snow.
Franks said coaching against the Grizzlies when he was at Northern Arizona was tough, especially the first time he returned to Missoula in 2004, his second season in Flagstaff.
“It was just weird,” Franks recalled. “You’re used to being on the other sideline. The memories just start hitting you. People call your name from the stands and wave at you. It was a good feeling, but weird.”
The Griz were 6-0 against NAU during Franks’ time in Flagstaff.
Franks didn’t take long to return to being a Griz fan once he left NAU. He went to the national championship game in Chattanooga in December. And he continues to be amazed at how the UM football program has grown over time.
“I talk to (former Griz teammate) Bruce Dotson quite a bit,” Franks said. “We always joke, ‘oh, yeah, we got the train started, we got the ball rolling in ’93.’ But I had no idea that it would get to where it is today. It’s absolutely amazing there.”
Western Illinois is coming off a 1-10 season, so Franks knows 2010 has to be different. They play in the Missouri Valley Conference that includes the likes of Northern Iowa, North and South Dakota State, Southern Illinois and Youngstown State.
“We will turn it around,” he stated. “We have some tough kids here. They come to work, and I’m very impressed with the attitude and the leadership of the guys we have.”
Franks also has taken on the duties of recruiting coordinator for the Leathernecks and has had to refocus his sites away from the West Coast and Rocky Mountains to the Midwest.
But he likes the kind of athletes that are available in the area.
Franks believes strongly that the base he established during his years of playing and coaching football at the University of Montana will help him succeed.
“Before I went there, I didn’t have much going on,” Franks admitted. “I was kind of floating, unsure of my life. The people and the coaches I met through those times have made me who I am today.
“I’m forever grateful for those guys and the University of Montana.”