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Horsemen will miss Franklin

VAUGHT'S VIEWS:

August 03, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

He has coached at various high schools and the University of Kentucky, but Tony Franklin never did more coaching than he did last season with the Lexington Horsemen.

In his role as coach and general manager, he got to put together a new team to play in the National Indoor Football League. The team reached the playoffs and finished 9-5. More importantly, the Horsemen averaged a league-best 7,852 fans per game.

Yet Franklin will not be back as coach of the Horsemen next season.

"We just were not able to reach an agreement with Tony for the 2004 season," team president Ron Borkowski said Friday. "We'll honor his contract through Oct. 31, but we are looking for a new coach.

"I'm sorry it didn't work out with Tony. He brought a lot to us we were lucky to get a coach of Tony's caliber. He's not only a good coach, but he's honest with players and they respect that."

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That honesty is why Franklin, the former head coach at Mercer County High School, admitted he was "surprised and disappointed" that he would not be back. However, when the Horsemen wanted him to take a pay cut, he said no thanks.

"The only reason I'm leaving is a a business decision. It has nothing to do with the players," Franklin said. "The owners have the right to decide what they want to do. It's their money and their team.

"But I enjoyed this job more than any I've ever had. I appreciate the fact they gave me this opportunity. I'm just sorry it had to end."

A creative coach and persuasive recruiter

The Horsemen should be, too, because they will miss Franklin. He's a creative coach and persuasive recruiter. When he was at Kentucky, he brought many of the recent stars - Derek Smith, Artose Pinner, Derek Abney - to the Bluegrass. He was just as effective in persuading many former UK stars to sign with the Horsemen.

One of those was quarterback Dusty Bonner. He was one of the NIFL's stars last season. He came back to Lexington - remember he left UK for Valdosta State when Hal Mumme gave his starting job to Jared Lorenzen - to play for Franklin.

"There's no doubt he was our MVP (most valuable player) this year," Bonner said. "He brought everything together so quick, and all the players had so much respect for him. He made football fun for us all, which isn't easy to do.

"Most of the players, myself included, were involved with this team because he was the coach. I think that's why we are all disappointed. None of the players saw this coming. There's no way not having him as coach can be good for this team."

He wants players to be open-minded about next coach

Franklin appreciates that support, but he's encouraging players to remain open-minded about the next coach and not rush to make career judgments.

"If playing for the Horsemen is still the best option for a player, I want him to keep playing," Franklin said.

Borkowski says the Horsemen had "a great year" and that he wants the next coach to also focus on using players local fans will know like Franklin did. Franklin said keeping those local bonds is important.

"Fans like to watch the old favorites keep playing," Franklin said. "Having local guys is why we got people to come watch our product."

Borkowski said Franklin will remain as general manager through Oct. 31 even though he's "encouraging him to spend time on his other pursuits" as the Horsemen look for a new coach.

However, no matter where the Horsemen look, they are not going to find a better fit than Franklin.

"He's going to be missed by the Horsemen a lot more than some people apparently realize," Bonner said.

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