- Frantic Francis: How One Coach’s Madness Changed Football
In Frantic Francis, author Brett Perkins presents the story of one of college football’s innovative coaches of the past; one of many men in the gridiron sport’s history who have been generally forgotten today despite their contributions to the game’s styles of play. The coach examined in this fairly lengthy biography is Francis Schmidt, who headed the football programs of several schools from 1919–1942 and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
A standout athlete in high school, Schmidt attended the University of Nebraska where he played football with some distinction, along with basketball and baseball. Always hard working and obsessively busy, the amazing thing about his college days is that he completed his undergraduate studies and earned a law degree, all in just three years, culminating with his graduation in 1907. Intending to pursue a career as an attorney, Schmidt temporarily put his plans on hold in order to return to his parents’ home in Arkansas City, Kansas, in order to help with the care of his mother who had become very ill.
While in Arkansas City, Schmidt began to coach the football and basketball teams of the local high school on a volunteer basis, which soon led to his becoming the school’s athletic director. After experiencing considerable success as a high school coach, he was eventually offered, and accepted, a coaching position at little Henry Kendall College in Oklahoma in 1916. After a two-year stint in the Army during World War I, Schmidt returned to Kendall for the 1919 football season and over the next two years he began to garner a reputation for running up whopping scores over out-manned opponents, a situation that bothered him not the least. The author states that Schmidt—never a modest individual—viewed running up outrageous scores as providing “tangible proof of his unique cunning” (p. 30).
It was at Kendall that one of Schmidt’s behavioral problems began to manifest itself, as on the practice field he had become notorious for his “appalling” (p. 32) amount of cursing and vulgarity. The author speculates that Schmidt may possibly have been dismissed because the school had tired of his antics, in particular his swearing. Whatever the reason for his departure, Schmidt soon ended up at the University of Arkansas as head coach of both football and basketball, handling both jobs through seven school years. He then turned up as the two-sport coach at Texas Christian University in the fall of 1929, where he guided the football team to two Southwest Conference (SWC) titles during his [End Page 521] five seasons there. One of the disappointing aspects of Frantic Francis is that the author essentially skins through the twelve years that Schmidt spent coaching in the increasingly prestigious SWC, offering readers little in the way of new information.
Schmidt moved on to Ohio State to become head football coach as of the 1934 season, one of the most ambitious gridiron programs in the Big Ten, the country’s top gridiron conference at the time. The author then provides the reader with more Ohio State game-by-game detail for each of the next seven seasons than is really needed. Yet it is here that we also learn the most detail about Schmidt’s personal and football personalities, always erratic at best. He was seemingly in perpetual motion, talking rapidly, was always intense, always frenzied in his thoughts and actions, autocratic, and caustic. Relatively early on the author describes Schmidt as “a hypomanic” (p. 111), a diagnosis we are constantly reminded of throughout the book.
The author begins this book with the premise that as a football coach Schmidt was “a truly influential strategist” (p. xiv), mainly it appears on the basis of the hundreds of supposedly unique plays that the coach was constantly diagramming while in meetings, eating, or even driving his car. Along the way the author also describes Schmidt...