Gordon McClay, whose family was instrumental in the growth of the town’s youth soccer program and lobbied athletic director Jerry Leone and the Franklin school committee to offer soccer as a varsity sport, was in charge for the fall of 1970. The next year, Fran Bositis took over and, 50 years, nearly 500 wins, and nine Hockomock League titles later, he shows no signs of giving up his spot on the sidelines.
“I had hoped to coach football but Jerry Leone was coach and they were in the middle of a 32-game winning streak and he said he had nothing available on his staff,” Bositis explained. “He did say, ‘I do need a soccer coach. What do you know about soccer?’ I go, ‘Not a lot,’ and he said, ‘Well, if you want the job, it’s yours.’ And here I am 50 seasons later.”
Bositis was sitting at a table in front of the concession stand at Pisini Field, recalling how he started teaching phys ed at the middle school in the winter of 1971, how he was a standout lacrosse player who played for four years at UMass, and how his first season as soccer coach was less than perfect. “That first year, [Leone] had to talk me off the ledge a couple of times,” Bositis remembered. “He finally said to me one day, ‘You think you’re the only coach here who’s coaching a sport he’s never played before?’”
When asked if he could have imagined as a first-year coach in an unfamiliar sport that he would turn it into a 50-year career, the smile was obvious even with the mask he was wearing. He said, “It’s hard to believe that 50 years have gone by. I still get excited and I still get butterflies before games. I’m still excited to play every game.”
So, how does a coach not only stay in one job for half a century, but also maintain a high level of success over those five decades? Whether it was former players, fellow coaches, longtime friends and coworkers, or even league rivals, there was a common theme to the answers to that question.
“He’s just a great guy,” said Franklin boys lacrosse coach Lou Verrochi, who has known Bositis since the mid-70s and coached with him in both lacrosse and soccer for years. “I can’t say enough about him as a person. He’s so humble, he’s so sincere, it’s all about the kids.” Former Franklin athletic director Brad Sidwell echoed that sentiment, saying, “It’s absolutely unbelievable. You look at all the kids he’s affected, all the coaches that he’s worked with, all the sports that he’s coached, everything, he’s just a dignified and classy person.”
Canton boys soccer coach and athletic director Danny Erickson remarked, “He’s an unbelievable person. He is selfless, he is hard-working, inspirational. He’s everything I would want my kid to have as a coach.” Oliver Ames boys soccer coach John Barata added, “I consider him a friend. He’s just top class. It’s hard not to like him when he’s respectful, his sportsmanship is great, he’s dedicated.”
Franklin girls soccer coach Tom Geysen, who got his start in soccer as the boys JV coach in the late 70s and who has coached various sports in Franklin for more than 50 years, said, “He is able to engender confidence in all of his kids in themselves, in him, and consequently in the program. The bottom line is that his program is really important to him but from day one the kids have always been the most important and that hasn’t changed one bit in all those years.”
Program finds instant success
Being new to not just Franklin but also to the sport of soccer, Bositis had a steep learning curve and, unlike today where soccer is always on television, he didn’t have a lot of resources to call on. He received help from coaches in the area, including Dean College coach TJ Williams, who would spend nights explaining tactics using coins as players. Williams also got Bositis involved in working soccer camps and going to clinics organized by the national soccer coaches association.
“I loved the game once I started to get a feel for it,” Bositis explained. “Each year it got better and better and I’d say by my third year I was really comfortable and it was at that point when I did my first camp.” He volunteered at camps for a company called World Cup Sports, and got the chance to learn from nationally-renowned coaches like former national team coach Bobby Gansler and later with Duke University coach John Rennie.
“Franny is such a student of the game and treats it as something he needs to continue to learn now just like he did in the 70s when he was first learning it and that’s the only way he’s still going,” said Erickson, who, in addition to coaching against him for nearly three decades, joined Bositis on trips to national conferences for years.
Kurt Swanbeck, a captain on the 1976 team, added, “He used to fill up his car and we’d drive up to Dartmouth or we’d go over to Brown or go into BU and watch games. I’m sure he learned as much from them as we did but it was also his way for us to see college campuses and meet college coaches. He was fully invested at a time when that was needed.”
Despite his lack of a soccer background, the program was an instant success. Franklin made the state tournament for the first time in 1974, after an undefeated regular season. The Panthers were playing in the Norfolk County League, along with future Hockomock rivals like Sharon, King Philip, and Foxboro. In 1975, Franklin returned to the postseason and was beaten by Framingham in the quarterfinal. One year later, the Panthers had the program’s best season to date.
After beating Greater Lawrence in the preliminary round, Franklin rolled through Somerville, Wakefield, and Belmont to win the Eastern Mass. title and make the only state title game appearance in program history. Although the Panthers would lose to perennial power Ludlow in the title game on a controversial penalty, it was a remarkable year for the relatively new program and coach. Not that Bositis has completely gotten over that call in the final. “I can sit here today and I can still see the play,” Bositis said. “the wind is swirling in there (at BU’s Nickerson Field) and our kid was running out of the penalty box, the ball was bouncing, and it just hit him in the arm.”
For Swanbeck, who was a standout tennis player until Bositis convinced him to start playing soccer again in his junior year and became an All-American in 1976, and the Franklin players, the Eastern Mass. title was the pinnacle, and he joked that they were shocked when Bositis told them that they had another game to play.
“That was pretty wild,” he reflected. “For a young kid, it was just everything that the school was focused on at the time. I had an English teacher say to me once during that run in the fall, and this was a tribute to Coach’s (we still call him coach) influence on us, she remarked, ‘It’s such a business for you guys. You come to school, you leave school to go and play in these big games and you go and do your job.’ We were that competitive, that serious, and it was just what we’re supposed to do. Every bit of it comes from him.”
Bositis recalled, “Those kids were just hard-nosed, tough kids who just worked really hard. Somehow that culture has managed to stay with us. They just kind of buy into it.”
As he thought about the 1976 team and the only EMass title that the program has won, Bositis admitted, “It was absolutely unbelievable and my biggest regret was I don’t think I savored it enough because I thought it would be easy to get back and it was not. It was not easy to get back.”
The Panthers continued to be one of the top teams in Eastern Mass. even without the silverware. Franklin made the tournament every year in the 1980s and missed it only once in the 90s. In 2000, the Panthers reached the Div. 2 South final only to lose a hard-fought game with Duxbury. Erickson said, “If you were around the Hockomock or Eastern Mass. soccer in the 70s and 80s, it was Foxboro and Franklin and nobody else.”
Hockomock League soccer began in 1980 and three years later the Panthers finished in a first-place tie with Foxboro to win the first of nine Hock titles. After more than a decade in the job, Bositis had built a culture of winning and stamped his personality on the program.
“It’s a mindset,” said Joe Gruseck, a senior on the first Hock championship team in 1983 and currently the head coach at Dover-Sherborn. “He pushed buttons but it was a standard that you were going to be in shape and you were going to make the commitment and dedication. He taught you what commitment is.”
Gruseck added, “Coach was always one of those guys who as a kid you always looked up to and respected because he kind of embodied what Franklin soccer was.”
Rich Frongillo, another member of the first league championship team, who also went on to a long career in coaching at the club and youth levels, noted, “The main ingredient I think is paramount is that he’s a fine role model for young men. He’s composed, he’s thoughtful, caring, and the love he has for his players is not every day demonstrative but it’s heartfelt and it’s clear to the players.”
Frongillo has seen Bositis at work as a player, as a fellow coach, and as the father of two sons who have also played varsity soccer at Franklin. “He’s a man of integrity and that comes through,” Frongillo explained. “He puts the program above individuals and that leads to the loyalty, the care, the attention to detail. People want to work hard for him. He didn’t have to demand respect, he just commanded it.”
Change is inevitable. Anyone who has coached for a while, certainly someone who has coached for 50 years, will have to adapt to the way that the game has changed on and off the field. But, a coach can still impart their personality on a program, developing a culture that stands the test of time. As players come and go and talent levels ebb and flow, Franklin continues to be known as an organized, hard-working team, whether they’re winning four straight league titles (as they did from 2011-14) or during rare periods when results aren’t going their way.
“You know what you get with Franny, consistency, work rate, absolute domination of the mental side of the game. They don’t give you an inch,” said Barata. Erickson added, “They’re just consistently organized, purposeful, and classy. Consistently, year-in, year-out, you know it doesn’t really matter how good my Canton team is that year and how good his Franklin team is, you know you’re going to truly be in for a test when you play against Franny’s teams.”
When asked about the culture of the team, Bositis credited the town’s youth program for developing talent and the players’ willingness to buy into his expectations. “I think we’ve just been fortunate that that culture has carried over from year to year,” he said. “The town has changed but the kids are still great. They really are great.”
50 years and counting
This is a season unlike any other. Modified rules, a truncated schedule, no state tournament to play for, but his excitement of being at practice and working with the players is still evident. Fifty years is a remarkable milestone, but that doesn’t mean it is the end of the line. No one who spoke about Bositis for this story expects him to give up a job he loves anytime soon.
“He just loves the sport and he loves coaching,” says Verrochi. “He loves the kids and wants to be around the kids. He’s probably one of the best role models I’ve been associated with. He’s helped so many kids in so many ways.”
Geysen added, “You want the best for your kids, so you work really hard so they get the most success they can get and I think that’s how he approaches things and he’s always team-first.”
Swanbeck, who went on to play soccer professionally and has coached at multiple levels including his current role at Hebron Academy (Maine), noted that Bositis’ care for his players extended beyond their four years at Franklin High and beyond the confines of the pitch. He explained, “Coach would travel all the way to upstate New York to watch my college team at Columbia play. He’s fully invested and it made all the difference in the world not just in who I was as a player but who I became as a coach and certainly as a man. I was one of many, there were so many great players that went through there and he helped nurture.”
“He’s been humble,” Gruseck remarked. “When the team has success, he doesn’t want the limelight. He gets that little grin and rolls his eyes and says, ‘I don’t want to go there. Don’t make it about me.’”
When asked how he felt after coaching for 50 years and what his future holds, Bositis shared a conversation he had with his friend and former lacrosse teammate at UMass, Walter Alessi, when Alessi retired after 30 years of coaching soccer at MIT. “He said, you’ll know when it’s time,” Bositis explained. “I’ll take it one-by-one, year-by-year, but I know at some point it’s going to end. If I get to the point where I feel like I can’t learn anymore then it’s time for me to get out. Then it’s time for me to leave.”
Would he have a message for that young teacher who 50 years ago was just starting his coaching career?
“I would just say that you’ve really got to enjoy each moment and treasure every team,” he said. “I still hate to lose but I realized that especially in soccer you can play a great game and still lose. It’s more about the effort that the kids put in and as long as they don’t quit and are doing their best then I feel I don’t have anything more I can ask of them.”
“I think everyone can learn from a longtime coach who cares about kids and he’s always trying to find teachable moments for kids and obviously they’ve had a ton of success and that’s because of his coaching. I love hearing the story that he was a football player and a football guy and he was kind of thrown into the soccer program and just adapted and made it his own, which is awesome. It says a lot about him as a teacher. He’s a role model. You look at him and he looks fantastic. I’ve always enjoyed the athletic discussion with him, not just about soccer, about how it all works and how Franklin has worked. He’s been on the courts and the lacrosse field, he’s a three-sport guy, and he’s recognizable as the face of the Franklin coaching staff no matter what season.” – Brad Sidwell, former Franklin Athletic Director
“Unprecedented is used too often, but it’s gotta be unprecedented for local Massachusetts soccer. He started coaching Franklin the year that I was born and I’m a pretty old guy. I’ve been active in the Hockomock League coaching for three decades and it’s just unbelievable to think he’s done that for that long. He’s been a mentor for me for 30 years. We’ve had some great battles over the years but when all is said and done he is just a true sportsman, as far as a gentleman of the game. He’s one of those people who it’s really, really, really hard, if not impossible to find someone who will utter a negative word about him.” – Danny Erickson, Canton Head Coach
“Here I am, 54 years old, and I don’t call him Fran, I still call him Coach. I remember when I started coaching, JV at D-S in 1990, it was one of those things that was a measuring stick. When will I know that I’ve made it at the varsity level? One measuring stick for me was when my former players come back and still call you coach, then you’ve made an impact on that player. I always admired how many people held him in that regard.” – Joe Gruseck, Class of ’84/Dover-Sherborn Head Coach
“Listen, Franklin is well-organized. They’re structured, they’re routine-oriented, they’re hungry, they’re well-coached, they’ve got this desire to succeed. Even if they don’t think they can, they push through it. There have been years where we’ve been the far better team but we still couldn’t break through. You have to earn your time and your respect there. That’s a tribute to the coach. He keeps his style throughout the seasons and has been successful.” – John Barata, Oliver Ames Head Coach
“As a high school teacher/coach, the staff wants someone who is that type of personality. The Xs and Os of soccer he works at and that’s almost secondary to just being a good person. As a consequence, he has a long-term relationship with a lot of players. Not just a ‘How you doing?’ relationship, but a ‘Hey, how’s the family? How’s Jimmy, Sally?’ He remembers people after they graduate. He has a good memory for seasons, players, and as a parent you get a lot of confidence in the type of man he is. Having my sons work with him was very comforting because I know they’re in good hands.” – Rich Frongillo, Class of ’85
“Part of the reason that I ended up as the girls coach was because of him and the way that he jumps in with both feet and he does give you everything he has every time you go out there. The girls job opened up and I said, ‘Franny the girls job is open and I was thinking about applying but I don’t think I have enough experience or knowledge.’ He said, ‘The only way to get it is to do it. If you don’t take the opportunity, it’s never going to be there again.’ That’s him in life. He’s so meticulous about everything he does. He has those kids in his charge and he wants them to have every opportunity at success that they can possibly have.” – Tom Geysen, Franklin Girls Soccer Head Coach
“I will always walk the same path with expectations for players, which is follow the rules, here are the guidelines. The character piece I can’t preach hard enough. I would sacrifice wins over a lesson in character and Franny was very much like that. That was the backbone of what his way was and what he expected from you. It was all about the team and not about the individual. Many of us have coached or are out there still coaching and that’s been a part of our fiber because it was instilled in us by him. That’s his disposition as a human being. It just resonates.” – Kurt Swanbeck, Team Captain 1976