A tribute to Tom Franklin

A tribute to Tom Franklin

While the University of Houston football team was looking towards its future with its Annual Red/White Spring Scrimmage this past Friday (April the 12th), many UH fans instead were thinking about the past as IMG Sports (in agreement with the University of Houston's athletics department)

decided not to renew the contract of Cougar football and basketball radio play-by-play man Tom Franklin this past weekend.

 

In Franklin’s own words, “Friday morning I received a call from Darren Dunn (the Athletics Department's Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Relations) to see if I could meet with them at noon regarding the radio broadcasts.  That meeting was attended by him, Mack Rhoades (UH Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics) and Pat Streko, the GM of the Houston IMG office. Mack did almost all of the talking, and said a joint decision by the Athletics Department and IMG determined that they would like to pursue a new direction with their radio broadcasts and that my contract would not be renewed. A decision on the future of Ted Pardee, Chuck Brown and Elvin Hayes would come at a later date, but they wanted to issue a release on my status later that afternoon. The meeting was non-confrontational and professional by all.”

 

The athletic department responded to Coogfans.com’s request for an official statement via an email sent by David Bassity (Houston’s Assistant Athletics Director for Communications), “We’d like to thank Tom for his contributions over the past nine years. He has certainly been a part of a number of amazing moments for Houston Athletics and we wish him the very best. While we cannot publicly discuss the exact reasoning behind personnel decisions, Houston Athletics and IMG College put great thought into this decision and considered many factors."

When asked if there was a time table on the new hire and if he will have any familiarity with UH athletics (such as being a prominent alumnus), Bassity responded with, “IMG College and the Houston Athletics Department have already started the process of finding a new Voice of Houston Athletics and have experienced great interest, both in the Houston market and from outside the Houston market. Certainly having familiarity with Houston Athletics can help a candidate, but we are focused on finding the best possible individual for this position." 

Tom was cordial enough to allow an interview during this struggling time as we discussed his professional career here in Houston (that has spanned more than 35 years) along with the factors in his personal life that have made him the man, we as Cougar fans have loved listening to over the years.

Franklin, 61, was born and raised in Lackawanna, NY (suburban Buffalo) and was a self professed ‘radio rat’ growing up, “My dad was always listening to ball games on the radio as that's all we had when I was growing up. There was only a ‘Game of the Week,’ and the only way to follow your teams was either on the radio or reading the games stories in the newspaper the following day. My friends and I would go to the old Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo to watch college basketball and minor league hockey games.  A lot of times, we would by tickets in the cheap seats, get a program and then do our own ‘broadcasts.’ My buddies always wanted to be the color guy, so I wound up doing the play-by-play. Baseball was my best competitive sport, and in my senior year of high school, I pitched against a kid who was drafted in the second round by the Mets. I beat him 2-1, the run I allowed was unearned, I had a no-hitter through 5-2/3 innings, wound up allowing just two hits, didn't walk anybody and struck out seven.  After the game, 13 scouts talked to him and his coach, and not one talked to me.  It was then I figured out that being a major league ball player probably wasn't going to work out, so I opted for the next best thing - describing the games, as opposed to playing in them.”

Franklin’s favorite athletes and teams growing up included Mickey Mantle, Johnny Unitas, Bob Cousy, The New York Yankees, The New York football Giants, the Buffalo Bills, the Boston Celtics, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo minor league baseball and hockey teams, (both nicknamed the Bison). The sports memories that stood out for the young Franklin were “How sad I felt when Bill Mazeroski hit the game-winning home run in the 1960 World Series. A 1964 AFL playoff game between the Bills and San Diego Chargers in Buffalo, where because of snow, the yard-lines were painted pink so they could be seen, (and) watching the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup in 1967 over the hated Montreal Canadiens.”

Tom then told me a humorous story about how a boy from Lackawanna, NY ended up in Houston, Texas, “I began delivering the Buffalo Courier-Express (the morning newspaper) when I started the 8th grade, and continued doing so until I graduated high school. It was door-to-door service, none of this driving down the street and throwing them out the window of the car like they do here in Houston. So I went from a boy who loved wintertime and snow at 13 to ‘get me the heck out of here’ at 18.  My parents said I could attend any college I wanted, as long as they could afford it.  So all the schools I applied to had to meet these criteria: 1.) be in a warm climate. 2.) Have great sports teams.  3.) Have good radio/TV departments.  4.) Fit Mom & Dad's budget. Oddly enough, the University of Florida was my first choice.  I was accepted there, but with the stipulation I begin in summer school. It seemed as though many northern students would spend more time on the beach than in the classroom, thus flunking out after one semester. That would leave the dorms half empty in the spring semester.  So they made northern students go to summer school, so this way the dorms would stay full for both the fall and spring semesters. I didn't want to start college a week after graduating from high school, so I opted for Houston instead, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

(Editor’s note: Tom’s story on how he chose the university reminded me of the recruitment of Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon back in the early 1980s; in that Houston was his choice mainly due to the warm climate. So basically two of UH’s most well respected alumni chose the university because of the weather. As they say - sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good).

Tom on his arrival in Houston and how his career progressed, “I was a full-time student in the fall of 1970, fall of 1971, spring of 1973, and then a part-time student from summer 1973 through Spring 1977 (still a few hours short of my degree). My faculty adviser was Campbell Tichenor, and he was the one who told me to check out the campus radio station, if I was really interested in radio. At that time, KUHF-FM was a student-run radio station and not a professional station like it is today. The station's faculty adviser was Arvil Cochran, and he was the first one to notice that I might have some talent, and he gave me my first play-by-play job, doing UH Freshman football in 1971. Freshmen were not eligible for varsity sports until 1973, and KUHF had the rights to broadcast the freshmen football and basketball games. Our first road game was at LSU in Tiger Stadium and 30,000 people showed up for the freshman game, which I thought was insane. Our final road game was at North Texas in Denton on a Thursday night. UH's quarterback was Chuck Fairbanks, Jr. and at that time Chuck Sr. was the head coach at Oklahoma. After the Sooners' practice that afternoon, he came down to Denton to watch his son play and we got him to be our halftime guest, which I thought was pretty cool.”

As is the case with a lot of us, it was his wife (Suzanne Sparks whom he met in 1973 on campus and married in 75 in the A.D. Bruce Chapel) that encouraged him to pursue his dream as a full-time occupation, “In 1977, she steered me into radio full-time.  I had been pulling a weekend on-air disc jockey shift at the old KQUE-FM.  The legendary Paul Berlin gave me that job, my first paying radio gig, but I was also working full-time at the Al's Formal Wear headquarters store in downtown.  I had worked my way up to assistant manager, and one Thursday afternoon in August of 1977, the owner called me into his office to tell me he was making me the manager of their store at Northline Mall.  It was the third largest grossing store in Houston at that time, and the store managers received a bonus check of 1% of all the business done in addition to their salary.  That Sunday, the day before I was to report to the Northline store, Mr. Berlin called me and said his weekday midnight to 6 AM guy had just quit, and asked if I wanted the job.  Here I was facing the dilemma of good job with a nice pay raise with Al's, or really going into radio. Paul gave me an hour to make a decision, and it was my wife who said I would never forgive myself if I didn't try radio. I took her advice, and it seems to have worked out pretty well, until maybe last Friday.” They have one son, Kyle, who along with his wife Kelly have given Tom and Suzanne two grandchildren – the second just weeks ago (April 4th).

Tom then gave me his professional biography and some of his favorite memories,

1977-1981 - KQUE-FM - My boss and the guy who gave me a chance was Texas Radio Hall of Famer Paul Berlin.

1981-2001 - KTRH-AM Jerry Trupiano gave me my first sports radio job, and taught me so much about the business and how to prepare and call football and basketball games. He did a talk show with John Breen, who was the first general manager of the Oilers.  He was quite the character and had some marvelous stories.  Did countless Astros, Oilers and Rockets pre-and post game shows during that time. Most notable was the post-game show in 1986 after Mike Scott pitched the no-hitter over the Giants to clinch the NL West title.

1983-84 - I did color commentary for Rice University football. Dave South was my first play-by-play guy to work with.

1989-90 - I did play-by-play for Rice football and basketball.

1990-93 - I did play-by-play for the Houston Oilers. Bum Phillips was one of my color men.  We had a three-man booth all four years.  You can guess what the most memorable game was (Buffalo, 1/3/93)  But the playoff losses to Denver (John Elway) and Kansas City (Joe Montana) on either side of that Buffalo game were equally as heart-breaking.  On the good side, there was the Kansas City game in which Warren Moon passed for 529 yards, and a Christmas Day win over San Francisco at Candlestick Park.  And two pre-season games with the Cowboys, one in Dallas when Bucky Richardson threw a left-handed pass to keep a late 4th quarter drive alive and the other in 1992 which was played in the Tokyo Dome in Japan.

 1994-2001 - Back to Rice for color commentary and basketball play-by-play the first six years and play-by-play for football in 2001.

1995-97 - I did play-by-play for the Houston Hotshots of the Continental Indoor Soccer League. My color man the first year was Glenn Davis, who is now one of the foremost soccer broadcasters in the country.

2003-2009- Clear Channel Radio in Houston where I resumed doing Astros & Rockets pre and post game shows. Most notable was the 18-inning win over Atlanta in the NL Divisional series.

2004-2013 - UH football and basketball play-by-play. Biggest moments - 2006 Conference USA championship game win over Southern Miss before a sold out crowd at Robertson Stadium. 2008 win over Air Force in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl that was the Cougars first bowl game win since 1980.  2010 Conference USA basketball tournament championship run, which gave the Cougars their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1991.  The 2011 unbeaten regular season and the Ticket City Bowl win over Penn State.”

On where his future may take him, and if he thinks he’ll ever leave Houston (where he has called home for the past 43 years), “Not sure where I go from here.  I'll need to make some phone calls and talk to others about how I should proceed.  Leaving Houston is not an option, unless I want to be a bachelor.  My wife has always told me she will be living close to the grand kids, wherever that is, and right now they are five minutes away from our house. Working for a network, either radio or television, where could base out of Houston and travel to games on weekends or during the week is a definite option, if someone thinks I'm qualified.”

 

And finally, if this has indeed been his swan song as the Coogs radio broadcaster, how Tom wants to be remembered and a message to all of his supporters, “I would like to be remembered as a professional - a guy who came into each and every game well-prepared and who gave their absolute best each time they opened the microphone.  I hope that I was able to place each listener right there in the heat of the action, because that was always my goal.  If I was able to do that, then I did my job well.  I would just like to thank all the people who gave me the opportunity to be the ‘voice of the Cougars’ these past nine seasons, all those who listened and the many people I got to meet from ‘Cougar Nation,’ who regarded me as a friend, because they allowed me into their homes or cars or wherever they happened to be listening to the games.  I would also like to express my deepest gratitude to those who have taken to social media to voice their support for me, as well as those who have started and signed a petition to try and bring me back.  To know that I was able to affect their lives that deeply by doing something I true love, broadcasting games, is extremely humbling.”

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