Southern Coach David Francis Retires
Students learned life lessons as well as sports
A grueling physical and mental introduction to the military.
Hell on earth for most. But not for Corey Deans. “It was easy. It was a piece of cake.” Huh? Why was it so much different for Deans, who went on to a 12-year career in the Army, reaching the rank of sergeant?
“I thought it was easy because of the training I got from Coach Francis. He always told us if we can endure his program, we can do anything in life. When I got to basic training, that’s all I was thinking about.”
“Coach Francis” is David Francis, who recently retired after 23 years as the head basketball coach at Southern University- Shreveport (SUSLA). Deans played point guard, “the only position that matters” for Francis from 2003-2005.
“Coach Francis was very demanding,” said Deans, who is in his fourth year as the head basketball coach at Captain Shreve High School. “He worked us hard. He told us if we could play for him, we could be successful at anything in life. That was the honest God’s truth. Every day, I thought about leaving, but that’s just not my makeup. I persevered. Everybody that stayed in that program two years, they’re doing something with their lives now … They’re doing something positive with their life.”
Francis, who is from Bossier City and played basketball at Airline High School, went 455-201 at SUSLA. He was named Junior College Coach of the Year 12 times and led his teams to 12 conference championships.
“It was a dream come true,” Francis said of his time at SUSLA. “I give all the credit to the Lord Christ. We had great kids. We had kids that came in and wanted to learn. They wanted to succeed and move on.”
But surely there were other reasons why was Francis so successful?
“A lot of times, when we think about X’s and O’s, we give these coaches ‘mad scientists’ and ‘genius’ type labels, and we miss out on the small things,” Deans said. “He was really good at doing the simple things – fundamentals. The basics. We worked on the basics every single day. That’s muscle memory. We won a lot of games. All we did was work on the basics and master the simple things. Come in on time. Running the correct rotations. He was a genius at that.”
But there was something else of which Francis was good. Something more important than basketball.
“I tried to be a father figure,” Francis said. “Most kids didn’t have a father in their homes … We had talks. We had hour talks about life skills. How to become a great father. How to become a great husband. How to serve Christ.”
Deans’ father was home but did shift work at a paper mill for 42 years.
“Coach Francis was a father away from home,” Deans remembered. “Anything I needed, I could go talk to him. He took care of me. He made sure we were doing our classwork. Everybody that stuck with him and listened to him graduated. He was about going to class. He would check with us on the weekends. Anything we needed, he took care of. I didn’t call my dad -- I don’t think I called my dad for anything while I was at Southern. Coach Francis took care of everything.”
Francis suffered a stroke in 2011 and has difficulty speaking clearly. But he didn’t let that stop him from coaching 10 more years.
“It slowed me down a little bit, but I kept pushing.”
It was always Francis’ plan to retire when he turned 65, which he did last January. So, for the first time in a long time, SUSLA is playing under a new coach. And Francis is finding other ways to spend his time.
“I got kids in the neighborhood – 9 and 10 years old,” Francis said. “I’m (coaching) football, basketball, baseball with a lot of those kids.”
But Deans thinks not being on the bench will be a big adjustment for his former coach.
“I think he’s going to be bored,” Deans said. “He’s going to have to find something to do. Basketball is all he talks about. Every conversation I’ve had with him, it starts and finishes with basketball.”
But as his former players know, there were – and are – a lot more to those conversations than basketball.