by Scott Kindberg
May 31, 2015
Sirianni's Impact At SWCS Will Be Felt Forever
If Fran has taped one ankle, he's taped thousands upon thousands in a coaching career that began during Nixon's first term in office. So with all his focus on doing the job just right in the run-up to the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Track & Field Championships, he hears a voice from behind ask a simple question:
"Do you need an 800 runner?"
Fran begins to turn around to engage a wannabe "distance runner" in conversation, but eye contact is hardly necessary.
"I recognized his voice," Fran says, "and I lost it."
Soon, the waterworks in his eyes are erupting and words are hard to come by. All he can do is sit on a bench near the timer's tent at the finish line, dab at his corneas and shake his head in disbelief.
Meanwhile, Nick, who 24 hours earlier was on the West Coast serving as the quarterbacks coach for the San Diego Chargers of the NFL, sits next to his dad and is unable to wipe the smile off his face. He knows that he and his older brothers, Mike and Jay, have successfully executed the ultimate end-around in order to surprise their father on his final day coaching the Trojans' boys track and field team.
It's only 9:30 a.m., but Fran is already having one of the best days of his life.
It's about to get even better.
Fran grew up in Kane, Pa. and was recently inducted into the Clarion University Sports Hall of Fame, but there's no doubt where he considers home. A middle-school teacher at Southwestern for 36 years and a coach of football, basketball and track there for an astonishing 45, his heart is firmly connected to the campus on the corner of Hunt Road and Southwestern Drive in West Ellicott.
"He bleeds blue and red," his wife, Amy, said with a smile.
It's that love for his school and the school's love for him, in fact, that brought Southwestern students, alumni, faculty and administrators to the 50-yard line of the football field prior to the CCAA meet. For nearly 20 minutes, Fran's accomplishments as a coach and teacher were broadcast over the public-address system, photos were taken and a resolution was read from the Southwestern Central School District Board of Education authorizing the name of the district's athletic complex as the Fran Sirianni Athletic Complex.
"It's a special day" said oldest son Mike, who lives in suburban Pittsburgh and is the head football coach at Washington & Jefferson University where he has a 111-26 record. "It's about him. Nowadays, people don't stay at the same place for 45 years. That's pretty special and unique, and it deserves to be honored."
Jay, who recently stepped down as the Southwestern football coach after compiling a 101-26 record and two state championships in 12 seasons, said his father is the reason he and his brothers went into coaching in the first place.
"He's the best," Jay said. "He's not only the best dad you could ask for, but he's also the best role model you could ask for, too. It's a great tribute to him and a legacy that he has built here at Southwestern. We just hope as his sons that we can be half the man he is. If we are, we'll be OK."
Dictionary.com defines "surprise" as "to strike or occur to with a sudden feeling of wonder or astonishment, as through unexpectedness."
Clearly, the Southwestern administration and faculty did an awesome job of keeping the news from Fran, who was so overwhelmed that he, at times, had difficulty speaking.
When asked if he would mind answering questions about the honor that had been bestowed upon him, he looked at the inquisitor, looked at the field turf and said, "I don't know if I can, but I'll try." He did try, although his emotions were always close to the surface.
Asked what he believed was his legacy over nearly half a century, he pointed in the direction of three men standing 20 yards away.
Mike, Jay and Nick.
Like father, like sons.