FRA student managers find different routes to sports success

Friday, April 21, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 16
By John Glennon

It was nearly two decades ago that a couple of high school pals first chose to become student sports managers at Nashville’s Franklin Road Academy.

One of those youngsters, Will Wade, has followed his sports passion all the way to Baton Rouge as the newly named LSU’s men’s basketball coach.

But the other former FRA manager has crafted a pretty impressive sports resume, as well.

Tommy Francis spent four years as a manager for Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols at the University of Tennessee, then went on to work a variety of jobs for professional teams that included the Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Falcons.

The two friends still stay in touch, years after they helped motivate one another into lengthy sports careers as teenagers.

“We both ended up being managers for three different sports all four years at FRA,” Francis recalls.

“We were side by side, day in and day out, for many years. So even if we don’t see each other for a year or two now, we’re the kind of friends that can jump right back in step.”

It was Hillwood High athletic director Gary Clarke, the former defensive coordinator at FRA – and also a family friend of both Wade and Francis – who first encouraged the two boys to become managers for the football team.

They both took to their responsibilities, which in those days (the two graduated FRA in 2001) included tasks like securing headphone cords that ran from the sidelines all the way up to the press box.

“By the time Tommy and Will were seniors, they were like coaches to us,” Clarke says. “They were that valuable. We made them a set of keys because we trusted them so much. They were just good people.”

In the four years Francis worked as a student manager for Summitt, he saw the Lady Vols make four straight Final Four appearances. Those experiences were almost – but not quite – enough to tempt Francis to follow the kind of coaching path that Wade was planning.

“When you work with someone like Pat, you can’t help but be a sponge around a leader and basketball mind like that,” Francis says.

“A lot of the managers there have gone into coaching over the years and I toyed with that idea. But the equipment route was fun to me. I really enjoyed being a part of the team atmosphere, but not necessarily having to get into the Xs and Os – or the job security questions.”

Once out of college, Francis continued in a similar role, working as a staff assistant and assistant equipment manager for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers and WNBA’s Indiana Fever. He began to learn the business side of sports while working for the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, which eventually led to marketing and sales database positions with the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Falcons.

It was only months ago that Francis took a position with SSB Consulting, his first job not directly affiliated with a pro sports team.

“I miss actually working in an arena – the buzz and the excitement, not just for sports, but for the concerts or WWE or the circus or the rodeo,” Francis adds.

“It keeps you on your toes, and there’s always something fun and exciting going on. What I don’t miss is the 18-hour days.”

It sounds as if his new gig might give him a little more time to watch Wade, his fellow former manager at FRA, climb the coaching ladder.

“ As a friend, you always want the best for your friends,” Francis says. “(Wade) is hitting home runs these days. So I’m an LSU fan now, I guess.”

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