On Monday afternoon, a few hours before the first practice of the season, Fred Francello was pumping air into basketballs inside the fieldhouse at Wilton High School.
“I want to make sure everything is ready,” said Francello. “This is the stuff you have to take care of as a coach.”
For much of his life, Francello has been a coach, at both the high school and college level. Now, following a long hiatus, he is back, as the head coach of the Wilton High girls basketball team.
Francello, a Wilton resident, was recently named to replace Rob Coloney, who left at the end of last season to become the director of career services at the University of Notre Dame.
“There are several things about coaching basketball that I love,” Francello said. “I love teaching the game. I love seeing the progression of the players. And I love the chess match with the other coach during a game.”
From 1977 through 2002, Francello was either an assistant coach or a head coach at high schools and colleges from Rhinebeck, N.Y., to Charleston, S.C., to West Point, N.Y. But after serving as an assistant coach for the Army women’s basketball team during the 2001-02 season, he stepped away from the sport to help his daughter and her husband with child care.
With those children getting older — his granddaughter, Emma Rothkopf, is a senior at Wilton High, where she set a goal-scoring record for the field hockey team this fall — Francello found himself facing free time and feeling a familiar pull.
“I thought maybe I’d like to get back into it,” Francello said about coaching. “I have followed the Wilton teams, so I knew they were looking for a girls basketball coach. I applied for the job and had a good meeting with (Wilton Athletic Director) Chris McDougal. It’s going to be great to be back inside the gym and on the sidelines.”
A 1966 graduate of Siena College, Francello began his coaching career at Rhinebeck (N.Y.) Central High School, serving as assistant junior varsity coach for the boys basketball team from 1977-1981. In 1981, Francello became the school’s head varsity coach, guiding Rhinebeck to the state sectional semifinals and a state ranking of 22nd in the 1983-84 season.
From there, Francello went to SUNY New Paltz, where he was the men’s head varsity assistant coach and junior varsity coach for five seasons. In 1989, Francello was named head women’s basketball coach at New Paltz, inheriting a team that had won only 36 games in 10 years. Under Francello, New Paltz won 41 games in four years, establishing a school record for wins in a season with 13 twice during his tenure. In 1992-93, Francello led New Paltz to a first-ever berth in the ECAC (Eastern College Athletic Conference) playoffs.
Francello then left New Paltz to become head coach of the Division I women’s basketball team at Charleston Southern. Taking over a program that had won only 79 games in the previous 18 years, Francello began a revitalization that resulted in 91 victories over eight seasons. Francello led Charleston Southern to its first winning season in school history in 1998-99 and then earned Big South Coach of the Year honors the following season.
Francello decided to resign as Charleston Southern’s head coach and move back East after getting a call from his daughter.
“She said she was having a baby, and I didn’t want her and her husband to have to send the child to daycare,” Francello said. “It was a tough decision and an easy one, at the same time.”
Francello spent one season (2001-02) as the head women’s assistant at Army before choosing to take an extended break from coaching.
As of this Monday, he’s back officially.
“When you are a coach for as long as I have been, it’s hard to stay away,” Francello said. “I’m glad this opportunity arose; I wasn’t sure if I would have the chance to coach again.”