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Veteran OC retiring from "violent game"

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Major change is coming to the Middle Tennessee State University football program.

Veteran offensive coordinator Tony Franklin is stepping away from the Blue Raiders' program and retiring from football, Franklin confirmed to FootballScoop.

Franklin penned a retirement letter from his decades-long coaching career.

“Football is not a contact sport. It’s a violent game,” Franklin wrote. “If played the way it must be played to maximize success, you must mentally and physically condition a group of young boys, or men, to have little to no regards for their health, or the health of their opponents. You must swarm to the football and destroy everything on your pathway to reach it.

“Over the years I have been both the destroyer and the “destroyee” as a player and as a coach. I’ve witnessed and partaken in the splattering of brain cells and the breaking of bones. And on November 21, 2020 at the ripe young age of 63, I ended this violent experiment in an unexpected final game of the 2020 season at Troy University. It is time to discover what I want to do when I grow up.”

Franklin's been the MTSU play-caller a total of six seasons, including the last five in a row. He's also logged offensive coordinator stints at Troy, Auburn, Louisiana Tech and California – coaching eventual NFL Draft first overall pick Jared Goff during Franklin's time at Cal.

A Kentucky native who earned a pair of degrees from Murray State, Franklin established his coaching bona fides as a long-time successful high school coach for nearly two decades before breaking into the collegiate ranks at the University of Kentucky in the late 1990s.

“I’m not a “big-name” coach, though I’ve had my share of recognizable successes,” Franklin wrote. “I’ve been labeled an innovative offensive guru, as well as an epic failure. I’ve won championships and I’ve gone 1-11. I’ve been paid more money than anyone should be paid for coaching a game that some men would do for free. Most of my peers in my profession would recognize my name well enough to have a strong opinion as to whether I was worthy of accolades, hatred, or indifference.

“From 1981-1982 and from 1993-1995 I coached high school and middle school football with men who would form my football soul as a coach. Billy Mitchell was the football savant, Bill Taylor was the charismatic tough and loving guy, and Steve Aull was the quarterback guru with an entrepreneurial background. Joe and David Morris were the sons of a legend who would embrace me and make me part of a family I hadn’t earned the right to be associated with. And Paul Leahy would publicly and privately praise me to the point where I thought maybe I belonged in the discussions of being referred to as a “good coach”.

“These men made me fall in love with coaching because of a camaraderie and brotherhood that was rare. They spoiled me. We coached, drank, gambled, and worked as brothers who loved each other enough to always tell the truth. I’d discover over the next 39 years how unusual this camaraderie was. I never found it in college football or in any other phase of life outside of my relationships with my brother and two close coaching comrades and former teammates, Bruce Raley and David Barnes.”

Franklin carved a reputation as a strong developer of quarterbacks and offensive play-caller, with 16 seasons as an offensive coordinator at the collegiate level including an SEC stint as Auburn's play-caller in 2008.

Yet in his retirement letter, Franklin also took himself to task for an unspecified coaching incident early in Franklin's career at the high school level.

“Over my forty years in coaching I haven’t always said or done the right things,” Franklin explained in the letter. “At times I’ve allowed to much ego and false pride to serve as a pathway for poor decisions that have no doubt hurt some of the young men I’ve coached. Early in my career as a 26-year-old head coach I made a decision that would hurt a young man’s self-respect and make him feel less accepted by his peers, which in turn angered his parents and made them feel as if they should attack me. They did and they were right. Thirty-seven years later I made a journey to apologize. I was forgiven.”

Since averaging 39.7 points per game during their 8-5 2016 season, the Blue Raiders have declined dramatically in firepower. They've averaged 26 ppg or less in three of the last four years, including a low-mark this COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season of just 22.89 ppg.

Yet Franklin, through four decades of coaching, unabashedly penned that his last two squads at MTSU were his favorite teams to have coached.

“It’s the 2019 and 2020 MTSU Blue Raiders,” Franklin shared. “Never have I had a group of young men so disparaged by people who supposedly care about them. Never have I had a team compete as hard, or practice any better, or lead by example than these last two seasons. The toughness and courage to compete while being disparaged and told day after day that you’re not good enough, combined with the tenacity and love for each other to continue in the face of a worldwide deadly pandemic makes these guys easily my favorite group to have had the honor to coach.”

Franklin later added, “So in making this final decision of how to end this 40 year adventure in coaching, if I had to choose and could pick any group of men and be guaranteed to win a championship and score 50 points a game and be recognized and lauded…I’d have to say thanks, but no thanks. I’ll take the 2019 and 2020 Blue Raiders and be grateful that my final coaching experience was with young courageous talented men who just so happened to not score enough points to win as many games as some thought necessary to earn their conditional respect.

“But oh my God, they are winners. And man, oh man, will they make this world better than my generation left it.

“Thank you, football, but most of all thank you to the young men who gave me a 40-year football life full of competition, love, respect, friendships, and satisfaction. I can never repay you for this amazing journey you allowed me to live with you. I never loved this game, but I loved, respected, and cherished the young men courageous, talented, and empathetic enough to play it.”

The end of Franklin's winding football journey also means Rick Stockstill, the popular, folksy leader of the MTSU program who's stayed loyal to the Blue Raiders but won fewer and fewer games in recent seasons, now has a pair of key offensive openings on his staff. MTSU also is replacing Austin Silvoy after Silvoy's departure from MTSU in the fall to become the co-offensive coordinator on Scotty Walden's first staff at Austin Peay.