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The Curious Case of ESPN Analyst Fran Fraschilla

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With the Texas A&M head coaching position opening up, the name of ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla is once again being floated out as a candidate. It’s easy to forgot now that Fraschilla was once a rising star in the profession. We look back on his abrupt exit from the game and whether he’ll ever return.

Fran Fraschilla has done a good job transitioning from the sidelines to the announcer’s table.

In fact, it seems like he’s a different person.

Fraschilla, 52, has become a mild-mannered, enthusiastic color man who doesn’t have any gimmicks.

As a coach, Fraschilla was the fiery Brooklyn native that was on the fast track to stardom after leading Manhattan to two NCAA tournaments and landing the job at St. John’s in 1996 at the age of just 38.

Leading the Johnnies to the NCAA tournament in his second year, huge things were expected from Fraschilla with a talented freshman phenom named Ron Artest in the line-up and two more talented recruits in Erick Barkley and Bootsy Thornton on the way.

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But then, completely out of the blue, Fraschilla was fired in May of 1998.

So what happened? A 1998 story from the New York Daily News detailed accusations against Fraschilla that reportedly led to his termination, citing the parents of St. John’s players Tarik Turner and Tyrone Grant, who were unsatisfied with the coach’s behavior. It should be pointed out that both players were benched that season.

An example of Fraschilla’s behavior, according to the Daily News, he allegedly dropped his pants during practice and screamed,  “You can kiss my (butt) if you think we are going to win!”

Does that sound like the likable Fran who is broadcast into your living rooms? Not exactly.

The Daily News also said Fraschilla could have been fired for talking to Arizona State about their head coaching position.

But do any of those warrant getting rid of a coach coming off a 22-win season and the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in five years? Absolutely not.

To this day, Fraschilla’s firing at St. John’s largely remains a mystery.

Fraschilla’s next job at New Mexico ended abruptly as well after three disappointing NIT appearances. He then left coaching, entered the broadcasting world and hasn’t looked back.

In a 2008 interview with The Big Lead, Fraschilla addressed a return to the sideline.

“I left coaching with the idea that I wanted to be the best college basketball analyst I could be for as long as I could be. Like coaching, I spend the entire off-season preparing for the next season but I don’t have the same pressures that I did.”

He then delivered a canned line about wanting to spend more time with his family. It just seems as if Fraschilla is leaving something out.

So, we’ll let his former players do the talking.

“Without coach Fran Fraschilla giving us the opportunity to do what we did this year, I wouldn’t be able to be here,” former St. John’s star Felipe Lopez, who was accepting an award, told the Daily News in ‘98.

Tarik Thacker, his former player at Manhattan, called him demanding - but in a good way. “Isn’t that what you want from a coach?” he asked.

Another former Manhattan player pinned the blame on the players at St. John’s rather than Fraschilla.

“When Fran was a bit abrasive, we could handle it,” he told the Daily News. “The egos at St. John’s are a different situation.”

So, maybe, Fraschilla has found a niche in the broadcasting, a job in which he doesn’t have to unleash his fiery side or face tons of pressure.

In fact, he seems passionate about his television work, even covering the NBA draft and its foreign prospects with particular fervor.

So, does it bother him that Mike Jarvis took over his players at St. John’s and went to the Elite Eight?

Probably, but it seems as if he’s content with where he’s at in his career, though the pull of his old job is always there.

“I do get two or three offers every spring to coach and if I ever get bored with what I am doing at ESPN or, if I feel or, if my bosses feel, that I have reached my ceiling as an analyst, then you’ll see me back on the sidelines,” he told The Big Lead.

One of those offers didn’t come from Rutgers, at which Fraschilla was a candidate for its opening before Mike Rice landed the position.

“I’m closer to going back to coaching than I’ve been,” Fraschilla told the New York Post last year.

“In this area over the last two years, any time there’s a - not so much St. John’s or Seton Hall - but any really good mid-major job opens up, I usually get a phone call or a feeler, and in the past it’s been not right now. I’m more ready to go back.”

The other big question is whether the stigma around Fraschilla has faded away after nearly a decade out of the game.

Wrote the Albuquerque Tribune about his hiring at New Mexico: “This temperamental coach was billed as a wild cannon, a hothead, a control freak, a calculating manipulator of people and words.”

Not exactly a glowing endorsement.

Now the two big questions are whether Texas A&M is willing to take a chance on a once-hot coaching name and if Fraschilla is actually willing to head back to the bench. We’ll soon find out.

 
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