Franks was born in 1910 at Loucks Hill, Leckrone, the son of Italian immigrant parents Rinaldo and Ermellini Francini. He graduated from German Township High School in 1928; he was captain of the 1927 team. Franks grabbed All-County honors for the Uhlans. He went on to play college football at Thiel College in Greenville, PA.
While at Thiel he teamed up with another future Pennsylvania coaching legend Pete Dimperio to form a great tackle combination for the Tomcats. He earned All-District honors playing for Coach Jack Stober. Franks was later named to the All-Time Thiel College Football Team.
“John “Bull” Karcis was probably the best fellow I ever played against,” Masontown Coach Gene Franks recalled in a 1946 article. “I doubt if he remembers me though because he was always going by me too fast to get a good look at me.”
Franks, who was a tackle on the Thiel eleven, played three years against Karcis who was known as the “Bull” because of the way he had of lowering his head when hitting the line.
Dimperio went on to coach at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh; he turned the Bulldogs into a perennial City League Power.
Franks graduated from Thiel in 1932 and coached one season at the former All-Saints School in Masontown, then moved to the Masontown High coaching position in 1934 and the rest is history.
During a 17-year reign at Masontown Franks piloted his Gunners to four WPIAL Class B football championships and compiled a record of 128-40-11.
His 1937 squad gave him his first WPIAL title, the
Gunners went 11-0 and capped off the season by swamping Sewickley 39-9. They became the first Fayette County Squad to capture a WPIAL football championship.
“I felt that my boys would come through,” Coach Franks said later. “I knew that I had a great team, but I didn’t want the boys to be over-confident as they went into the game. Did you ever see such charging? Sewickley had a good team but we were ‘up.’ I want the boys to have all the credit. They’re the one-s who fought out there on the playing field.”
The Gunners won another WPIAL title in 1940. The Gunners only surrendered six points that season and that came in their lone loss to Class A North Union. Masontown routed Millvale 28-0 to bring home the Class B championship.
In 1945 the Gunners were WPIAL runner-up to Chartiers in the WPIAL Class B race as they fell in the title contest 6-0.
Masontown got revenge against Chartiers posting an 18-6 win over the Bucs to nab the Class B championship in 1947. The Gunners only allowed a total of 13 points in the regular season and finished a 9-1 mark, the lone blemish a 7-0 loss to Class AA German.
Franks may have turned in his finest coaching job in 1950 when he led an underdog Masontown squad to a championship. The Gunners eked out four one-touchdown verdicts, were held to a tie by South Union and had their 25-game unbeaten streak snapped by German. His 1950 eleven wrapped up the B prize at Clairton, where Masontown upset favored Aspinwall, 12-6.
The Gunners won 43 games, lost only four and tied six in the 1946-47-48-49-50 seasons. The only losses were to German, 7-6 in 1947 and 7-6 in 1950, Point Marion, 7-6 in 1948, and to Carmichaels 13-7, also in 1948.
Franks stepped down as football coach after the 1950 season and became a school administrator at the new Albert Gallatin jointure. At the time he reflected on the great teams and his career.
„There have been many great teams and many outstanding players in the county since I started coaching in 1934.” Franks says it would take too long to name them all but like the good old days they won’t be forgotten.”
Franks had a keen sense of humor and could give the needle with the best of them. One story that has circulated over the years involved the Fayette County Coach of the Year Award. A contemporary print shop picked Uniontown Coach Bill Power as coach of the year. Franks called Power that night, “Is this Wild Bill?” he inquired. Assured that he was speaking with Power, he remarked. “I didn’t know that you had a bigger nose than I.” “What do you mean?” Power asked. “Oh nothing, except that the paper says you nosed me out for Coach of the Year and I always thought my nose was bigger than yours.”
Franks was a much sought after dinner speaker until his death in 1985 at the age of 75.
Donald “Doc” Franks followed in his father’s foot steps and had a very successful coaching career at Albert Gallatin.
“My father was a coach who always stressed that you do your best,” Doc Franks said. “When I was a player at Masontown after he had retired from coaching, he was the type of guy you heard about and who you wanted to try to be as a coach. I was very proud when I won that award and joined him in the Hall. It’s something you would always want to do as a coach and as a son, following in your
“He gave me great advice when I was a coach,” Franks said. “Always play the kids who want to actually play. A lot of my players’ fathers were themselves former players of my father, and he would say ‘I remember so and so, and I think his son would do well.’ He helped out with the team as a scout and so forth as well.”
Gene Sr. and Doc Franks are the only father/son combo in the Pennsylvania Coaches Hall of Fame.