Fran Fraschilla has been an ESPN analyst for longer than he was a college basketball head coach, and at age 58, he is quite content where he is.
“I’m going to do it as long as I can,” he said. “I’m blessed. Very few people get to have two careers, especially in something that they absolutely love. I know it’s a cliché, but in my case it’s so true: I’ve never worked a day in my life.”
Fraschilla is back in his home borough of Brooklyn this week calling games for ESPN in The Basketball Tournament, a nationwide event with a winner-take-all prize of $2 million.
But most of the time he works college basketball games at the network, for which he also is an expert on international players.
Not a bad gig, which Fraschilla has come to recognize and accept after some tumultuous times — in addition to some successful ones — at Manhattan College, St. John’s and New Mexico from 1992-2002.
“I transitioned into broadcasting in 2002 with the idea that I would take a couple of years off and it would be halftime for me,” he said. “I had two young sons at the time and I just decided to make a lifestyle change.
“In the words of Jimmy [Valvano]: Don’t mess with happy. There were times early on where your ego says: Go back to coaching. Bill Self [of Kansas] and Tom Izzo [of Michigan State], we were all peers at one time. But if you truly check your ego at the door and you understand you have a great job and don’t mess it up, then life becomes good.
“Honestly, I very rarely look back at my coaching career with any sense of sadness. I was blessed, and now I get to sit courtside every night and my toughest decision is after the game do we go to Outback or Applebee’s? I know it sounds corny, but it’s true. I don’t have the pressure on me that you do as a coach.”
Fraschilla recalled going to a Kansas practice to prepare for a game years ago and Self walking over to chat.
“I go, ‘How you doing?’ He goes, ‘Oh, man, I’m miserable.’ They were 21-2 at the time,” Fraschilla said. “That put it in perspective for me that coaching is one of those jobs where you’re never happy unless you’re unhappy. So I have a job where I’m rarely ever unhappy.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have the second career that I have. And I don’t take it for granted. I pour my heart and soul into this tournament like I would the Big 12 Tournament.”
Fraschilla said his goal as an analyst is to “explain the game to people without acting like I know it all, and I think that comes across well. I have a self-deprecating sense of humor.”
He considers himself a full-fledged “media person” now, a role that was tested in 2014 when he was courtside as Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury in a Team USA scrimmage.
“You have to be able to report the news,” Fraschilla said. “ESPN is good that way. For all the criticism they take, because they’re so big and have so many tentacles out there, I was taught early: Listen, we’re entertainment, but you also have to cover the news and be objective and say what’s on your mind and say what you think you’re seeing.
“I think they trained me well. But I get to stay close to a game I love and I don’t have to worry about somebody getting in trouble at 2 o’clock in the morning somewhere.”
He also hasn’t lost a game since 2002.
“It’s my favorite line,” he said. “On a daily basis someone asks me how I’m doing and I always say, ‘I’m undefeated,’ and I honestly have that kind of philosophy every day.”