George Davis | New journey for a giant
Stephen 'Franno' Francis leaving MVP Track Club is like Berry Gordy leaving Motown after firmly establishing the label as the foremost hit-making entity in the world. And while Gordy never left what he built, Franno's departure from MVP is to be viewed in the same situational context.
Gordy's transition from a boxer, failed businessman and car assembly line worker to the position of number one record producer in American music history was marked by his success in 1960 with The Miracles, arguably soul and R&B music's most prolific hit-making group. The Miracles, led by the inimitable Smokey Robinson, included Claudette Robinson, Bob Rogers, Marv Tarplin, Ronnie White and Warren Moore. Together the group had 16 Billboard top 20 hits and advertised the genius of Gordy, their super producer.
I am not one for terminal statements, but without The Miracles, Motown may never have happened and Berry Gordy would have been just another face in the crowded field of music rather than a titan and a legend.
Stephen Francis' work at MVP can be mirrored with Gordy's work at Motown. Whereas Gordy had The Miracles, Franno had The Pioneers: Asafa Powell, Sherone Simpson, Michael Frater, Brigitte Foster-Hylton and Germaine Mason. Three sprinters, one sprint hurdler and a high jumper. All champion-calibre athletes who set world records, won individual titles or contributed to some of the greatest relay performances in the history of track and field.
Perhaps without them, the MVP built by Franno, his brother Paul, Bruce James and others may not have happened. And maybe Franno would today be packing a suitcase to go off to Washington to attend some seminar on accounting for his multinational company, rather than preparing to coach as a sole trader after a glittering career building champions for MVP and Jamaica.
ORDER OF JAMAICA CREW
Stephen Francis' designation as a member of the Order of Jamaica, joining other sporting luminaries such as Courtney Walsh, Clive Lloyd along with persons of the substance of Desmond Tutu and Fidel Castro, happened at the right time. The honour comes after a period of unprecedented achievement by the Francis-led MVP: 56 IAAF World Championships medals, 28 Olympic medals, 25 Jamaican national records, three Olympic records and five world records.
I say it's the right time because the honour didn't come after any traditional-media or social-media campaign for him to be recognised for his quality. It didn't come after he, in promoting himself, lambasted the authorities for not recognising his accomplishments. Nor was it necessary for any opportunistic parliamentary windbag to say that 'Franno' is among those prophets whom his country should honour while the sermon was still gripping.
Those who study track and field would probably nominate the likes of the late great New Zealander, Arthur Lydiard, and the late American, Bill Bowerman, as candidates for the title of greatest track and field coach of all time. Lydiard's theory of 'periodisation', where athletes are taken through various phases of training to allow them to peak for a specific race or championship, and his successful application of that theory into practice, probably puts him ahead in that race.
Bowerman's record of guiding the careers of a staggering number of Olympic athletes and NCAA champions, alongside his influence in the building of the Nike company, is cited by those who say he's the best. While Franno hasn't built athletic shoes like Bowerman or conceptualised and advanced a theory like Lydiard did, he has produced World and Olympic champions, along with world record holders, on a hard, sparsely grassed dirt track located at the back of a small university campus. He has built up some of the most powerful athletes of the last 17 years, using a gym that is smaller than the shoe closet at one of Floyd Mayweather's smaller houses. Pound for pound, you would be hard-pressed to submit one name that can rival the coaching achievements of Stephen Francis.
So now he moves on from MVP, leaving the Motown he has built. Will they still make hits without him? And how will Franno cope without Paul, Bruce and the team? What will MVP do now that their genius has left?
Time will tell.