by Jim Riggs
November 15, 2008
Like Father, Like Son At SWCS
If you go back 30 years, talk about Southwestern football also included a Sirianni, Fran – Jay’s father. And when Fran was named the Trojans’ head coach on Aug. 10, 1976, he was also one of the youngest in the area at 29. And it happened rather quickly.
“Everything was going smooth and actually I was the line coach,” he recalled about his tenure as an assistant under Head Coach Dan Barren. “I never was a lineman, but that’s what he wanted so I coached the line. We were talking one day and no problem and the next day I drove down the street and there was a ‘For Sale’ sign in front of his house. I wondered what was going on and I stopped in and he said he’s leaving. My jaw dropped because it was late.”
It was late July and practice would start in less than a month. And Sirianni was faced with some questions.
“What do I do now? Am I ready to be a head coach? Am I too young? Do I have enough experience?,” he recalled were his thoughts. “I thought either do it now or I may never get the chance. I applied, I got it and went from there.”
Southwestern hadn’t had a winning season since 1972 when the Trojans were 5-2-1 under Barren and things didn’t look too good for 1976. But then something happened that one of Sirianni’s assistants said was “A gift from heaven.”
“I don’t think we had any size and we didn’t have any experienced kids coming back and all of a sudden Dan Fafinski showed up from Jamestown,” Fran said about the senior transfer.
During his junior year with the Red Raiders, Fafinski, a linebacker and fullback, had been named to the All-Western New York Team.
“He was a pretty good player,” Fran said with his tongue firmly planted in cheek. “We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know how good we were, how bad we were. We knew we had a good player in Dan, but how do we build a team around him?”
Southwestern opened with three straight losses to Salamanca, Olean and Dunkirk. Then Sirianni got his first win by a 13-0 margin over Springville as Fafinski scored both touchdowns.
“If I remember right, it was a rainy night and I think their quarterback got hurt in the first couple of carries or something like that and we took advantage of it,” Fran said. “It was kind of nice.”
After a loss to Fredonia, the Trojans won in the snow at Pioneer, 20-0, and it was their first victory on the road since 1972. Then Southwestern defeated Lake Shore, which was 6-0 and ranked fifth in the state, with Fafinski scoring the touchdown in an 8-6 win.
“I think we had a real good scouting report and they did some things that were predictable,” Sirianni said. “We had a pretty good defensive scheme and stopped them up pretty good.”
The season ended with a 25-0 loss in the snow to rival Falconer, which won its 25th straight game, to give the Trojans a 3-5 record.
And it was about the same for the next eight seasons.
“I don’t think we ever had a winning season,” Sirianni said. “We were always right there, one game shy.”
He’s right as Southwestern went on to have another 3-5 season, three at 4-4, two at 4-5, one at 2-5-1 and one at 2-6 in his nine years as the head coach.
The highlight of the 1984 season was a 13-6 win over Olean, which was ranked No. 1 in WNY. That was one of the biggest wins of Fran’s career, but he didn’t know his biggest victory was in the future off the field.
“Unfortunately, his career was cut short by illness,” Jay said. “I was eight years old when that happened. Who knows? He could have been coaching well into the ‘90s.”
It wasn’t just any illness, it was Hodgkin’s disease.
“I had to do a little battle with that and got over that,” Fran said.
When he returned to Southwestern, he served as a full-time athletic trainer for a while and continued to teach middle school science until he retired in 2003. He now teaches it part-time at Holy Family Catholic School. And he continued to coach Southwestern boys track and field (for 36 years) and some middle school basketball and football. But his nine seasons as the head varsity football coach were still special.
When asked to list some memorable games, Fran said, “The Lake Shore game, being that first big, big win. And I think the rivalry with Falconer. They won a couple, we won a couple. It was kind of back and forth and we had some great games. I think that was probably one of the biggest highlights.”
On the other side of the coin, he said, “Probably one of the biggest disappointments was that we were never able to beat Salamanca. We had them a couple of times, too. We had them right where we wanted them and somehow or another the game got away.”
That’s why Jay said, “I think the win at Salamanca this year was nice for him because I think he remembers all those years that Salamanca was a powerhouse and I think we beat them only twice in the last 30-some years until this year. I think that was a nice win for him to see.”
Fran saw it up close because he patrols the sidelines during his son’s games, just like Jay and his brothers, Nick and Mike (who are now college football coaches), did when he was coaching. But Fran says he’s only a spectator.
“A lot of people ask, ‘Do you give him advice?’ I tell everybody, No, I stay as far away from him as I can during the game,’” he said. “It’s his team and it needs to be his blueprint.”
And it’s a much different blueprint.
“It’s all very different,” Jay said. “The high school game has changed a lot since he was coaching.”
Fran said, “The knowledge of the game these guys have now we just didn’t have. From the weight room to the importance of the offseason. Football, as well as every other sport, is pretty much year-round. There’s video scouting now. I can remember in the old days when you’d go with a notebook and write down everything. Now they can videoscout. It’s just that knowledge and techniques we didn’t have.”
Coaching now at the middle school level is what Fran really enjoys.
“There’s not the pressure of the job and it’s not all-encompassing,” he said. “And it’s kind of nice working for my son now,”
He added, “When there’s a problem I say, ‘See the other Sirianni.’”
And when will he give that up?
“When Jay tells me it’s time to quit,” Fran said.
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