"If you look back at some of the footage from those games, I'll bet you see me as a kid on the sidelines," Brad Franchione said.
The Citizens Bank Bowl matches Franchione's Blinn College Buccaneers (10-1), ranked No. 2 by the National Junior College Athletic Association, against No. 1-ranked Fort Scott Community College (11-0). The game kicks off at 1 p.m. Sunday in Pittsburg.
Another member of Blinn's staff also has ties to southeast Kansas. Offensive line coach Chris Jirgens was the head coach at Pleasanton High School from 1995-98.
"Brad playing high school football at Pittsburg High, me having coached at Pittsburg State where Brad is going to play for a national championship, it's special," Dennis Franchione said.
Brad was born in Miller, Mo., where his father coached high school ball. He grew up in Weir and played defensive back at Pittsburg High under coach Larry Garman, who has since retired and serves as a volunteer coach at Pittsburg State. The Purple Dragons won the Class 5A State title in 1990, giving the young Franchione his first taste of glory.
Brad's mother, Linda Solomon, still lives in Weir. She says Brad told her when he was about 15 years old that he wanted to be a coach.
"He has always been a student of the game," she said. "He was one of those kids who from about age 10 could tell you all the stats on a team."
Jerry Ross, Brad's cousin, witnessed his best friend's organizational skills at an early age, and says Brad will outwork anyone he goes up against. He recalls the planning that went into simple games on the empty lot behind Brad's house.
"It was never just a pickup game," Ross said. "Brad would mow and stripe that lot. We would have 12 kids to play six-on-six and it would be organized and prepared."
When he graduated high school in 1992, Brad chose to attend the University of New Mexico where he could continue his education and be a student coach for his father's team. After getting a Bachelor's of Science in Physical Education in 1996, he pursued a master's degree at Arkansas State University, where he was also a graduate assistant with the Red Wolves.
In 1998, he returned to Kansas to be the quarterbacks coach at FSCC under then head coach Kevin Gundy. After just a year in Fort Scott, Brad began building his resume: Defensive line coach at East Central University; linebackers coach at West Alabama and Tennessee-Martin; defensive coordinator at Bacone College; and defensive line coach at Texas A&M-Commerce.
In 2005, Blinn College offered Brad his first head coaching job, and it had the added benefit of positioning him just 44 miles away from his father, who was then coaching at Texas A&M University. In his second season, Brad led the Buccaneers to a national championship by beating Pearl River (Miss.) in the 2006 Pilgrim's Pride Bowl.
His father, currently a color commentator for ESPN Radio, beams with pride at his son's success, and says Brad is fortunate to be where he is, playing for a second national title.
"I sent him a text message the other day and I said 'Some people go to national championship games and some people go to win national championship games,'" Dennis Franchione said.
Dennis will rush from calling the Big 12 Championship game on Saturday in Arlington to see the Bucs play the Greyhounds on Sunday in Pittsburg. The stands will be filled with Blinn supporters even though their addresses are much closer to Fort Scott than Brenham. Brad's 84-year-old grandmother Mary Ann Wallace has a reserved seat in a sky box.
"It's fun for me because we have lots of friends and family," Solomon said. "Everybody that I've talked to is either planning to come to the game or trying to get to come."
"I know just based on the buzz around town, there's going to be a big crowd. Brad may have just as much of a crowd as Fort Scott," Ross said.
Jirgens' first head coaching job was at Marysville, Kan. He came to Pleasanton in 1995, during a time when the Blu-Jays were struggling from a transition from a successful eight-man football program to 11-man football. In his four season, Pleasanton won only four of 36 games and had consecutive winless seasons in 1996 and 1997.
His struggles at Pleasanton did not affect his potential, however, and he was able to move into a position at Dodge City Community College in 1998 where he coached the offensive line and served ar recruiting coordinator.
From 2000-2005, Jirgens served as offensive line coach at Butler in the first few years of current head coach Troy Morrell's tenure. The Grizzlies won five Jayhawk Conference titles and one national championship (2003) while Jirgens was there, going 62-9.
In 2006, Jirgens moved on to become offensive line coach and special teams coordinator at Northwest Mississippi Junior College. The Rangers, 1-7 the previous season, won the Mississippi conference's North Division championship and qualified for the state playoffs for the first time since 2000.
In 2007, Jirgens was offensive line coach, special teams coordinator, assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator at Garden City. The Broncbusters finished 7-3 that season.
Jirgens moved to Blinn prior to this season. In 10 years of position coaching at the junior college level, he has coached 16 All-American linemen and 30 of his former players have gone on to play at the levels of football currently know as the Football Bowl Subdivision (I-A) and Football Championship Subdivision (I-AA).