Mark Fannin

Franklin head football coach Mark Fannin, center, embraces nephews Will Fannin (24) and Andrew Fannin (34) after a playoff game during the Lions’ run to the Class 3A Division II state title game in 2015, when the eldest Fannin was offensive coordinator.

You don’t just replace a legend — you have to work hard at it.

Franklin native Mike Hedrick coached three decades before he returned home to build on the legacy started by his father, Joe Hedrick. When Mike Hedrick retired in December, the Lions thought about hiring an outsider, but they didn’t think long. That’s because they had the best candidate in house. Mark Fannin had been the team’s offensive coordinator since 2014 and head baseball coach since 2013. Lastly, and maybe most important, he’s from Franklin.

“If we didn’t feel like that we were going to be able to find a guy that could definitely come in and move us forward more than we know Mark was going to continue to move us forward, then we were going to go with Mark,” Franklin superintendent Bret Lowry said. “He was already in the program, our kids know him, our staff knows him, our community knows him. I suspect that’s worth a lot.”

Fannin’s ultimate goal was to be a head football coach, but he also loves baseball and bleeds Lion green, so he was content.

“I would have worked for [Hedrick] another 20 years if he wanted to stay in the business,” Fannin said. “He never mentioned retirement, ever. But about a couple of weeks after the football season he pulled me in the office and said, ‘I think I’m going to give it up.’

“That just hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me? I mean, seriously?’ You know, he never even mentioned it since I’ve been here, not one word of retirement has ever come out of his mouth. But he said it was his time, and his time to move on. He obviously was very successful in what he’s done. And he obviously deserves some whatever-he-wants-to-do time.”

Hedrick’s decision to spend more time with his wife and three grandchildren helped Fannin land the job he’s coveted since childhood.

The only time Fannin was outside Robertson County was attending Sam Houston State and after graduating in 2004 working as a junior high coach in Center.

“I didn’t want to come back to my hometown first,” Fannin said. “I kind of wanted to experience another place.”

Fannin spent three years at Center, but jumped at the chance to be coach special teams for Hedrick along with being junior varsity boys basketball coach and assistant baseball coach.

“I was ready to get back home,” Fannin said. “It’s been an absolute dream of mine since I was a little kid to be the head football coach here in Franklin, even when coach [Kenner] Reinhardt was my coach. I always looked up to Coach Reinhardt. Then when Coach Mike got the job, I’ve always wanted that job, and now it’s been presented to me. And you know following a legend like Coach Mike, is obviously going to be a difficult task, but I’m up for it. I’ve been around these kids for 14 years, they know how I handle business. It’s not going to be much change from what Coach Mike has been doing. It’s going to be a lot of stuff that he’s done and a lot of stuff I’ve learned from him.”

Franklin will have a new head coach in 2020, but the team’s approach probably won’t look much different than Lion teams of the past seven decades — run, run and run some more — traced to Joe Hedrick’s Wing T offense.

“I’m a big-time, run-heavy guy,” Fannin said. “I love that smash-mouth football that I’ve always [been around] even when I went to high school in Franklin. We ran under center, and we always played Leon, and Coach Mike was there and he was just that old-type coach. And that was just something I idolized out of him, the way he coached the game and how he got his kids to play. He always didn’t have the best athletes out there, but every year, year-in and year-out he was winning 10-plus football games. I learned a lot from him.”

Mike Hedrick was 129-40 in 14 seasons, winning nine district championships, and was the Class 3A Division II state runner-up in 2015.

“He’s one of those guys who is passionate about what he does and obviously is well-respected around the state and is somebody who I just got on his shirt tail, and ever since I got here in 2007, I’ve just been right behind him,” Fannin said. “If he went right, I went right behind him, and if he went left, I went right behind him. He was just somebody that I was very, very fortunate to have here and learn from.”

Fannin also won 112 baseball games. The Lions reached the regional quarterfinals last year and in 2017 lost a hard fought regional semifinal series to top-ranked Nacogdoches Central Heights, which went on to win state.

Franklin promoted longtime assistant and former Lion pitcher Matthew Anderson to replace Fannin.

“It’s different,” Fannin said. “I haven’t watched a high school baseball game on the other side of the fence since 2004. It’s definitely something that’s always going to be a piece of me. I truly am going to miss it.”

In addition to being the baseball coach, Fannin held the title of girls coordinator the last 18 months.

“I don’t think our team or our program is going to take a step back, not under Mark’s leadership,” Lowry said “Mark’s been calling offense for about 10 years, which has been averaging about 40 points a game. As far as the head coach in football, the differences there are going to be more administrative in a sense that he’ll manage the coaching staff, scheduling, the whole program, budget, things like that.”

Lowry and the school district were pleased with Fannin’s work with the baseball program.

“When Mark took that job, we were barely getting into the playoffs,” Lowry said. “He’s developed that staff and that program and built success. He’s not new to [being in charge]. Probably in Mike’s last five years, Mark has taken more of a leadership role in that program. Our defensive coordinator is returning, so we feel confident there.”

Fannin appreciates the stability that comes with a coaching staff that, like him, bleeds Franklin green.

“My personal philosophy is [reward] hometown guys,” Fannin said. “They take their job a little bit more serious, because they’ve got a little bit more pride than somebody who’s not from Franklin. I’ve got seven coaches on staff right now that are from Franklin and that’s including me. I think that’s kind of unique, seven out of 11 are from Franklin. I’ve always liked and taken pride in getting hometown guys back here. Because they do take a little more pride in their job, and it just means something a little bit better because they are already a Franklin Lion.”

Fannin had a solid high school career. The football team went 26-9, making three straight playoff appearances from 1996-98. The 6-foot, 195-pound two-year starter at offensive tackle earned first-team 24-2A all-district honors his senior season, which was Franklin’s last district championship until 2007.

Current Bremond head football coach Jeff Kasowski watched Fannin evolve. The Bremond native was head baseball coach and assistant football coach for six years at Franklin, arriving when Fannin entered the seventh grade.

“He’s just a great guy,” said Kasowski. “I’m glad they hired him, because he’ll stay. When you’re from a town, like I am and like he is, you have a lot of pride in the program, so he’ll do a great job in that he’s been there and he’s from there. I think that’s good for Franklin.”

Fannin isn’t planning on making drastic changes, but he will be his own man.

“I’ve been an offensive coordinator here under Coach Mike since 2013, but I’m going to be a little more flexible with the offense,” Fannin said. “I’m still going to preach 3.3 yards a carry, but I do want to be able — and it’s something we’re working toward is throwing the ball more successfully when we need to. Because there’s times when obviously you’re going to have to throw the ball. So in that aspect, I am going to be a little more flexible in my offense.”

Fannin wants to be a tweaker, not an innovator.

“We’re not going to go out there and go empty and do that fancy [stuff] that other people do,” he said. “First of all, I don’t know that much about it, and I’m just not a big fan of that. But people have run with it and been very successful it. I will get in some different packages [but] we’re going to run the football first and then pass when needed and hopefully we can get a little bit better being successful at that.”

Fannin takes over a team that was 7-4, advancing to the Class 3A Division I area playoffs. The Lions return 13 players who earned first- or second-team all-district led by sophomore running back Bobby Washington, who was 11-3A Division I’s offensive newcomer of the year, and freshman back Bryson Washington, who was the district’s defensive newcomer of the year. Other returning first-teamers are junior running back Seth Spiller, junior offensive lineman Keegan Wilson, junior defensive lineman Ashlton Ferguson and sophomore defensive back Malcolm Murphy.

“We played a lot of sophomores,” Fannin said. “We do have a good, young group of talent coming through. We’ve got a really good incoming freshman group coming in, and obviously some varsity returners who got a lot of playing time this year and got a lot of experience. I feel like we’ve got the talent and it’s going to be our job as coaches to get ‘em out there and perform and do well.”

Some believe it’s a no-win situation following a legend, but there is one huge advantage.

“I think a lot of times, people get into leadership roles and they’re not successful because they don’t know what success looks like, and Mark does,” Lowry said. “He knows what success looks like, he knows what we’ve done the last 14-15 years under Mike that has been successful. So he’s going to have that base to work off of, and then he’ll be himself in the sense he’ll probably have some different formations he may do some things out of. But I can tell you he probably won’t get far from what we already have had the last 14-15 years.”

Fannin will be only the seventh coach Franklin has had since 1948. The Hedricks, Reinhardt and Fannin all are from Franklin. Joe Hedrick started the tradition of hiring former Lion players which included Robert Hailey, Bubba Phillips, Steve Schultz and Reinhardt. Mike Hedrick is glad he was able to continue that tradition, and now it’s Fannin’s turn.

“I thought basically, they should stay in house,” Hedrick said. “I think Mark will do a good job.”

LION LEADERS

Mark Fannin takes over a storied program from coach Mike Hedrick in 2020. Here the head football coaches Franklin High School and their records since 1939.

Warren E. Weathers             1939-41               11-13-2

Curry Davis                          1942                       1-6-0

Dana D. Prince                   1943-44                   7-11-1

Ernie Laurence                    1945-47                  17-11-2

Joe Hedrick                      1948-1984             240-121-15

Bob Cahill                            1968                          1-9

Kenner Reinhardt               1985-2000             88-75-4

Rusty Robinson                   2001-05                 18-34-0

Mike Hedrick                      2006-19                 129-40-0

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