Photo by: Cassandria Alvarado | Staff Photographer

Living his dream

Near-fatal car accident gives Brad Franchione drive, new perspective on life

by Quixem Ramirez | October 11, 2015

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rad Franchione, interim defensive coordinator, remembers the date well, but that’s about the extent of his memory.

Aug. 1, 1991. That was the day Franchione’s life changed—for better or for worse.

The long and winding road

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ranchione left his girlfriend’s house that Thursday and hopped into his 1985 Ford Bronco truck and drove onto the highway. He left to go home and start packing for the state baseball tournament.

The road was under construction, which eliminated the shoulders on both sides.

Franchione’s margin for error was thin, but he tried to pass a car and veered out of control. His car turned over, rolling a few times before ejecting Franchione, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

Photo courtesy of Linda Solomon

“It was not a good situation,” Franchione said. “I don’t remember the pain. I don’t remember much. It was pretty devastating. It changed my life.”

His mother, Linda Solomon, received the call after Franchione had been taken to the hospital. She worked 30 miles away at Tech Tank and left immediately to console her son.

On her way to the hospital, Solomon drove by mounds of clothes on the highway. They belonged to Franchione, who had worn the clothing while taking high school senior photos the day before. There was no sign of Franchione’s truck, which had been removed from the highway earlier.

Solomon expected some minor bruises. Her main concern was Franchione’s senior season of football.

When she arrived, Solomon’s greatest fears were realized. Franchione’s life was teetering on the brink.

“It never occurred to me that it was this bad until we got there, and he had the traumatic head injury,” Solomon said.

Franchione’s brain was bruised and every bone in his head was broken, including his sinus cavities.

The bones in his head were shattered, but not displaced from their original locations.

“I saw the C.A.T. scan of his skull and his head looked like eggshells,” Solomon said.

Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do!

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ootball quickly became an afterthought. Franchione’s life was now at stake.

The doctors told Solomon to watch for the color behind his ears. Franchione’s ears turned black, which meant his brain was bleeding.

That night, with Franchione unconscious, Solomon watched over her son as he battled for his life.

Franchione remembers his mother’s presence at his bedside. He wanted to tell her that everything was going to be okay, but didn’t have the energy to muster up a complete thought.

His father, then head coach of Southwest Texas State, handed his son Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do!, written by Robert H. Schuller.

Schuller’s book provided Franchione with guidance as he began a new journey in his life.

“The title pretty much says it,” he said. “There’s a lot of anecdotes of people who faced tough times and made it into a positive.”

Eventually Franchione woke up.

“I had over 200 stitches above my Adam’s apple and over 200 below,” he said.

The athlete’s bones would need some time to heal, but his brain wasn’t swelling, which was a good sign. His dangerously low magnesium levels, though, worried doctors.

He had little magnesium in his body, because he had been lifting and the broken bones in his body depleted his magnesium levels even further.

“They weren’t sure he’d make it,” Solomon said. “It never occurred to me that I would lose him. Things were bad and I knew that—the thought of losing him never even occurred to me.”

Hospital stay

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he nature of his injury required a unique approach, since most of the severe damage occurred in his brain and not the body.

There was no surgery to assuage Franchione’s pain. Instead, the doctors gave him steroids to stop the brain fluids from flowing outside his skull. He needed to eat a minimum of 3,000 calories a day because his brain required extra energy to heal the injuries.

Franchione’s friends, family and football team visited him during his stay at the hospital.

Solomon said Franchione had always been a popular person. His likeability was undeniable because he showed a genuine interest in people. Case in point: Solomon had to go on television to stop people from calling her son.

“When this occurred, we had so many phone calls to the hospital that the hospital asked me to put out an announcement on TV to not call the hospital,” Solomon said.

In all, Franchione spent six days in the hospital before he received clearance from his neurosurgeon to return home.

There was just one problem. The doctors insisted he leave the hospital in a wheelchair.

Franchione refused. He wanted to leave on his own power, on his own terms. That was the Franchione way, after all.

A nurse settled on a compromise: the staff would wheel him to the door and he would walk the rest of the way.

“They wouldn’t let me walk out of the hospital,” Franchione said. “I fought with them for a long time. It felt like five or six hours. I wasn’t going to let them wheel me out of the hospital. I wanted to walk out on my own.”

Six days after his near-fatal car accident, Franchione left the hospital a different man. He had hundreds of stiches on his body—133 from his eyebrow to his hairline alone—a separated shoulder and a new perspective on life.

“We always laugh and say if the good Lord wanted me that day, he had his chance to take me,” Franchione said. “He must’ve left me here for a higher calling. That’s the fun part of being where I’m at now. There’s a lot of people that helped me to get to where I am now.”

The accident carved a different path for Franchione. Initially, he felt his goal was linear—play football in high school, then in college before joining the coaching ranks.

Instead, he was confronted with a fork in the road. The end result, however, remained the same.

“You have to rely on your path,” Brad Franchione said. “There’s always a way to achieve your goals and dreams. There’s always going to be some road blocks and detours, but if you just stay true to who you are and keep working hard, you can achieve your goals.”

“For a while he lost himself.”

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ranchione was not in the clear yet. Walking remained a problem and the accident had cost him his vision in his left eye, resulting in a permanent loss of depth perception.

His sinus cavities were broken, reducing his diet to milkshakes and pureed meals.

While other students worried about the end of their high school career, Franchione worked on the bare essentials: re-learning how to walk, eat and run.

Solomon remembers Franchione’s initial steps all too well. Her son would take short steps with his left foot and long steps with his right, in a galloping motion.

Solomon connected herself to her son with a rope and had him run along the football field’s lines to teach him how to run again. She added a metronome to give him a rhythm to follow.

The two repeated the exercises until the athlete found his footing—literally.

As he worked on his physical limitations, Franchione lost sight of who he was and who he used to be. A part of him died in the accident.

“I wake up with it every day,” Franchione said. “I’m not sure I ever got back to the person that I was before the injury.”

Solomon noticed the changes in her son firsthand. Franchione was typically affectionate, but he was “pushier” following the accident.

“For a while he lost himself,” Solomon said. “I’ve always said I was not me either. I went crazy for the first year after the accident. For the first six months we didn’t have Brad, then we began to see him coming back. He is the same person now.”

Back to football

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ranchione’s life was still intact, except that it wasn’t. Before the accident, his life was football and a neurosurgeon told him he would never be able to play the sport again.

“Brad was bugging me to tell (the surgeon), ‘No, no, no, we really want to play football,’” Solomon said.

That was not the end of that discussion—not in the slightest. The athlete pushed it further, until his dreams of playing high school football were in reach.

A C.A.T. scan revealed that his bones were healed, clearing him for non-contact drills.

So, Franchione returned to football practice, two weeks after bruising his brain and nearly losing his life.

One week later, he was cleared for full contact. Solomon was wary of her son suiting up and intentionally hitting other players in his physical state.

“It was probably worse for me than it was for him,” Solomon said. “I think I was nauseous the entire time.”

But Solomon knew there was nothing she could do to weaken the athlete’s desire to play.

Franchione played football, but on one condition: He had to wear a visor, which was not widely used in the ‘90s. At halftime, Franchione would toss his helmet to the sidelines and Solomon replaced his visor with another one suited for darkness.

The bottom line: Franchione’s love for football knows no bounds.

“It was a crazy year,” Solomon said.

“When I was sitting in class, I was thinking of what we were going to do in football practice that day.”

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s a child, Franchione had aspirations to be a mathematician and a firefighter. He was the valedictorian of his eighth grade class.

His father’s coaching experience exposed Franchione to football, but the sport was in the rearview mirror until he met his junior high school coach William Dunn.

Dunn instilled his “burning love” for football in his team. After that, Franchione was absolutely hooked. His new dream was to coach a football team at any level. The sport dominated his life, even in the classroom.

“When I was sitting in class, I was thinking of what we were going to do in football practice that day,” Franchione said. “I probably should’ve been more focused on my classes, but that was what I lived for.”

Franchione, a football player since the third grade, excelled as a quarterback at Southeast Cherokee high school during his freshman year.

“I enjoyed it,” Franchione said. “When you have a chance to play quarterback, you have a chance to see the game differently than a lot of other players on the field. That experience definitely helped me.”

He transferred to Pittsburg High School for his sophomore year, where he was no longer the big fish in a small pond.

At the request of his coaches, Franchione moved from quarterback to outside linebacker because the other players on the team were “faster” and “taller.”

The position shift called for a change in Franchione’s frame of mind as well. At outside linebacker, he was an emotional player. At quarterback, he was a cognitive player with the entire offense at his fingertips.

The sophomore only needed six games to claim a starting role on the team at his new position.

Part of Franchione’s willingness to change positions was in part because of his high school coach Larry Garman.

“I always knew they cared about people,” Franchione said. “The fact that they cared about me and had passion for the game of football. That was where I wanted to be.”

Two decades later, Franchione makes it a point to keep in contact with his coaches when he visits his hometown of Pittsburg, Kansas.

“At 18 years old, this is the dream that I had.”

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lthough the circumstances are unexpected, Franchione is finally at the helm of his own defense.

Franchione has spent the last five seasons as the linebackers’ coach and special teams coordinator at Texas State. His father, Dennis, is in his second stint as head coach at Texas State.

John Thompson resigned as defensive coordinator Sept. 27 following Texas State’s 59-14 loss to Houston. The Bobcats were last in the country in scoring defense and 127th in total defense under Thompson.

With a coaching vacancy, Dennis Franchione sought continuity and familiarity. Both boxes were checked off with his son, who nearly earned the job outright two years ago after Craig Naivar left the program to Kentucky.

“I felt like he’s the guy that’s most ready to orchestrate the things that we wanna do,” Dennis Franchione said. “We have a good rapport. He and I are on the same page on some of the things we need courage to change and fix.”

Unlike 24 years ago, Brad Franchione happened to be in the right place at the right time.

“There’s no way in the world I could have predicted that this was the way it was going to happen,” Brad Franchione said. “I saw it a lot of ways, but I never saw it happen this way.”

The task at hand for Brad Franchione is to mend one of the worst defenses in the country, at least statistically.

“At 18 years old, this is the dream that I had,” Brad Franchione said. “If you’ve ever had dreams before, mine came true. Am I ready? Yeah, I’m ready.”

College football has steadily gravitated toward the offensive side of the ball, with the rise of spread and up-tempo offense.

Offenses are cool nowadays. They are smarter, faster and pose more problems than ever before. Defense is decidedly less glamorous and, by extension, harder to execute.

“It’s difficult, but that’s the fun part,” Brad Franchione said. “Just to show that you can take those 11 pieces and manipulate them in such a way to whatever you do you have a chance to step them. I think we are working in the right direction. We aren’t where we are going to be but thank God we aren’t where we used to be.”

Brad Franchione’s job has been years in the making. Now that his time is here, he doesn’t want the opportunity to go to waste.

In football and in life, chances are few and far between.

“The Lord worked in his way in my life through a time that things were so bleak that I wasn’t going to be able to achieve that goal,” Brad Franchione said. “He showed me another path. I’ve had a chance to live out my dream and now I’m just trying to make sure it stays that way.”