by Pat McManamon '75
The next football coach at Saint Ignatius High School walks to work every day from his Ohio City apartment.
He is a coach’s son, his father the long-time and respected football and track coach at James Ford Rhodes High School in Cleveland. The son would peruse programs from his dad’s meets and marvel at individual achievements and excellence.
He’s an accomplished cook, especially Italian. He keeps the bills in his wallet in order and facing the same way. He enjoys reading biographies of coaches and their insight on leadership. He has a master’s degree in Theology and calls former Saint Ignatius President Rev. Robert Welsh S.J. ’54 “the fifth evangelist.”
Ryan Franzinger ’02 played for Chuck Kyle ’69 at Saint Ignatius, then for Jim Tressel at Ohio State, first as a walk-on, then with a scholarship his final year. Franzinger then coached for Kyle for 14 years at Saint Ignatius.
After this 2022 season, Kyle will pass the whistle to Franzinger as he winds down a 50-year career as a teacher and 40-year career as head coach. Franzinger will be the Associate Head Coach in 2022, and in 2023 will become the Wildcats’ next head coach. Franzinger also will give up the Assistant Principal for Discipline role to return to the classroom to teach Theology.
When the school announced the upcoming changes, Kyle remarked that Franzinger “gets what we are,” which means Franzinger is driven by winning games within the mission of the school.
“Chico (Kyle) in his book talked about winning being an earned blessing,” Franzinger says. ”To me the focus is on Ignatian excellence. If you do your best and use your gifts to the best of your ability, you’re likely to win more than you lose.”
One of the many texts Franzinger received when the news broke was from Tressel.
“So proud of you, my man,” the former Ohio State coach and current Youngstown State University president wrote. Franzinger’s response was a thank you, followed by four vital words: “With tradition comes responsibility.”
“I’m the steward of the program,” Franzinger says. “I’ll be the head coach, but it’s the school’s program. And it goes beyond that, because the school serves the church and the world.”
Those who know Franzinger speak as if this was meant to be, that his values and approach made the hire a natural. Athletic Director Rory Fitzpatrick ’88 believed that from the start, but to be sure he had a committee interview Franzinger. After 90 challenging minutes, the panel agreed.
“He embodies what Ignatius football is about,” says Brian Hoyer ’04, the former Cleveland Browns quarterback (now with the New England Patriots) who was two years behind Franzinger at Saint Ignatius. “Hard working. A leader. Tough. Cared about his teammates. Put the team first, which is what I always think Ignatius is about.
“When he joined the staff I immediately thought he would be the guy who follows Coach Kyle. I don’t know if you could get someone more capable.”
“In my mind, he’s the only person who would be right for the position,” says Bryan Massinen '98, who coached with Franzinger and Kyle for six years before joining LeCharles Bentley ’98 as Director of Operations for Bentley’s company, LB Brands (which includes AMDG Sports and AMDG Sports Performance). “He’s immersed in the school and the school’s tradition. He coaches the tradition.”
Franzinger can easily tick off a list of those who helped him on his path, and it includes Fr. Welsh and fellow coaches Dan Corrigan ’78, Nick Restifo Hon. ’19 and Marty Eynon. And of course there is Kyle, whose 11 state championships, 369 wins and record of coaching with class earned him universal respect and admiration, locally and nationally.
“His faith in me has encouraged me,” Franzinger says. “It doesn’t intimidate me to follow him because I’ve been so blessed to have known him and work with him.”
That does not mean Franzinger won’t put his mark on the team.
“You preserve the essence,” he says. “For Chico that’s been hard work, setting high goals and working hard toward them. Competing the right way. Chico’s sportsmanship is amazing. There’s not a single coach or player who could imagine a bad word to say about the guy.
“But as a Jesuit educator, reflection and evaluation has to be a big part of what we do.”
Franzinger was part of a state championship team in 2001 that finished the regular season 6-4. He was a captain and one of several leaders who gathered the team to say they were better than they had shown.
Those Wildcats then went on a playoff run that included wins over Solon, Warren Harding, Massillon and St. Xavier. In the championship game, Franzinger started at fullback and linebacker, and had a touchdown run.
Franzinger’s interest in Theology started as a high school student, and he credited teachers like Mike Pennock ’64, Jim Skerl ’74, Jim Brennan ’85 and Joe Ptak with planting the seeds. He went to the College of the Holy Cross intent on majoring in Theology or philosophy.
“When I started to discern my life and my future, I knew that faith should be the highest priority,” he says, “and I figured why wouldn’t I want to learn as much as I can about my faith?”
Franzinger transferred to The Ohio State University before his sophomore year and walked on for Tressel. Because Ohio State did not have a Theology program, he majored in Philosophy. In 2021, he earned his master’s from St. Mary’s Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in Wickliffe, Ohio.
“(Theology and football) both should produce Christian behavior in everybody’s life,” he says. “You can know all the books in the library and all the great writings, but if you’re not applying them and practicing the things Jesus has taught, then what value is it? At the same time a 15-0 or 16-0 football team that doesn’t behave like Ignatius men is not very valuable to me.”
How do Ignatius men behave?
“We want them to know, love and serve Jesus Christ,” he says. “That’s our mission. And we want them to be able to answer the question: What does God want from me?”
Franzinger’s statements show the balance required of a coach at a school where the mission is developing Men for Others, and where winning the right way matters as much as winning itself.
“Winning is the net result of honoring our calling to be a Man for Others,” Bentley says. “A true Man for Others understands and appreciates the details of the process, embraces challenges, overcomes challenges, stays adaptable, and isn’t willing to cheat others by doing less than their fair share. That’s how you win – on and off the field.”
“I feel I’m a better man, friend, husband, and father because of being in that program and learning those values at such a young age,” Hoyer says.
Adam Shibley ’17 was on the team when Franzinger became defensive coordinator.
“He was able to spark a new mindset, a new energy,” says Shibley, who is earning a graduate degree in Management at the University of Notre Dame after earning his undergraduate in Communication and Media at the University of Michigan. “My class gravitated toward his coaching. We wanted to make him proud.”
Franzinger’s hire? A “no-brainer,” Shibley says.
As linebackers coach, Franzinger showed his players a PowerPoint on the history of Saint Ignatius and its football teams. Before games he had linebackers do a precise march, in step, as a group, from the sideline to the hashmark and back. That stressed the importance of paying attention to detail and doing things the right way, core tenets Shibley says he carries with him.
Franzinger looks forward to coaching his first game with his parents, Tim and Clare, in the stands. His father’s experience in the Cleveland school system carries much meaning.
“He was the first one to introduce me to the concept of great student and great football player, and that’s what Ignatius expects,” he says.
Every year at Ohio State, Tressel held hour-long discussions with every player. The get-to-know-you one-on-one sessions covered topics like family and goals (long- and short-term), with random questions about the team.
Franzinger’s session was the last on his particular day, and the talk pushed past two hours. At that point, Tressel asked his walk-on a question he asked every player: What is the No. 1 key to beating Michigan?
Franzinger’s answer: Directed effort toward your passion. Those words certainly seem to apply to everything he is doing now at his Alma Mater.
“You don’t always get to choose your passions,” he says. “I believe that God places on your heart certain things that you’re going to be drawn toward.
“I feel that way about this program.”