By Steve Williams
Jeff Francis resigned as sideline reporter for the Vol Network in 2007 to spend more time with his family. Much of that time has been coaching his sons’ football teams.
This season was Francis’ ninth coaching youth football and it was highlighted by his West team of 11 year old players winning a championship in the Knox Metro Youth Football League.
My guess is that title win was just as exhilarating for Jeff as the time he led Tennessee to a Liberty Bowl win over Minnesota in 1986 and was named the game’s MVP as the Vols’ sophomore quarterback.
Drew Francis, Jeff’s youngest of three sons, was a linebacker, tight end and tackle on the West team, which defeated South-Doyle 18-0 in the Pee Wee NFC finals.
“He might be the first one in our family to play football with his hand on the ground,” said dad.
Francis’ oldest son, Christian, didn’t start playing youth football until around middle school age and was a three-year starter at quarterback for West High School. He’s now a biology major at UT.
Middle son Ryan also played QB and in the secondary at West and is a freshman safety for Virginia Military Institute this fall.
Daughter Keeghan, however, is the toughest of all.
“If I could make my boys as tough as her, they’d really be good football players,” said dad. “You can quote me, too”
Keeghan earned all-state honors in soccer this fall as a junior at West. She’ll have a chance to set the school’s career scoring record next season.
George Ewart has been Francis’ longtime assistant coach and still coaches even though his son, Alec, a good friend of Ryan’s, has grown out of the youth program.
One football season, about six or seven years ago, Francis coached two teams in the Cutter division (9 year old players).
“That pretty much wore us out,” said Francis.
“We had 40 some kids come out to play that season. That was too many for one team, so we split them up into A and B teams, We would practice together, but each team had its own schedule of games.”
Francis came to UT from Park Ridge, Ill., and was a three-year starter for Coach Johnny Majors. He guided the Vols to a 10-2-1 record and a Peach Bowl win over Indiana as a junior in 1987.
Francis passed for 5,867 career yards, which still ranks sixth on Tennesee’s all-time list, and 31 touchdown passes.
He was drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders in the 1989 draft and played briefly with the Cleveland Browns (1990-92).
Francis was the Vol Network’s sideline reporter for eight seasons (1999-2006). When he stepped down from that position, he didn’t leave football. Instead, he got closer to it. My guess is, his sons are glad he did, plus many other boys who have gotten to learn the game from a former Vol great.