‘One of the best’: Ron Franklin’s booming voice gave Texas football heft in 1980s
Franklin on creating sports drama: ‘We know about individuals as players, but we don’t know about individuals as human beings.’
Ron Franklin, blessed with a thunderous baritone voice, always greeted his listeners with commanding presence. No matter the sport, be it football, basketball or even tennis, if Franklin was on the microphone, it felt big.
Starting out in faraway places like Roswell, N.M., and Tulsa, Okla., Franklin would find his way to Houston television and eventually Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin.
“The voice was just so unique and was so fair about his broadcasts,” former Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said Wednesday. “He was one of the best, I thought.”
Franklin’s time as the Texas football and basketball play-by-play announcer from 1983-88 was unique in UT history. The teams may have struggled, but the broadcasts sure didn’t.
Franklin died Tuesday in Austin due to what doctors termed COVID-19 related pneumonia, his wife Bonnie told the American-Statesman on Wednesday. He was 79.
“He was elected one of the two friendliest in high school, and that certainly fit him,” Bonnie Franklin said. “Ron never met a stranger. It was always look for the good. He was just that person who always had a big smile. He felt like people were basically good people.”
Ron and Bonnie met in college at Ole Miss and were married for 56 years. He liked TV work, but when Franklin got the call to do play-by-play at Texas, he couldn’t resist.
“He was maybe the best radio football guy I’ve ever heard,” said Tom Dore, who was an analyst alongside Franklin for one season in the 1980s. “But he really knew the game of football exceptionally well and he was able to tell that story.
“I thought he was able to paint that picture, tell that story so well on radio and give you a real sense of what was going on,” Dore added. “Man, he loved Texas. Absolutely to the top of his lungs, Ron loved UT and UT sports.”
Franklin became the sports director at Houston TV station KHOU in 1971. He was the voice of the Houston Oilers from 1971-82. It was quite a coup at the time when Dodds lured him away from TV and put him on UT broadcasts.
Franklin’s platform and presentation was noticed by those in Bristol, Conn. ESPN first hired him in 1987, and he would become one of the network’s top college sports announcers.
“We hated to lose him to ESPN, but that was the right thing for him to do,” Dodds said.
Franklin would work alongside Mike Gottfried and Ed Cunningham over the years as ESPN became a college football powerhouse. Franklin and Fran Fraschilla routinely called ESPN’s “Big Monday” college basketball broadcasts with Big 12 opponents.
Part of Franklin’s brilliance was his simplicity in big moments. “Law … way outside for the three … he got it!” Franklin said the night Texas A&M’s Acie Law IV beat Texas in March 2006 with a game-winner.
“An amazing broadcasting talent & a good man. Was a part of so many great Big 12 broadcasts with him. RIP, partner,” Fraschilla tweeted late Tuesday.
Franklin was born in Jackson, Miss., and moved to Oxford in the eighth grade. He played high school football and suffered a concussion. He begged his mother to keep playing but got injured again, so Franklin took up tennis.
“He used to say it was the best thing that happened to him, because he got into the area of sports where it was safe,” Bonnie Franklin said.
Asked once by an aspiring sports broadcaster at Ole Miss about his style, Franklin said, “We know about individuals as players, but we don’t know about individuals as human beings.”
What makes a good sports story? “Ingredients for a great sports story? Well, we’ve got to have drama, and normally drama comes from a big matchup,” Franklin said in the 2010 interview.
Franklin took his microphone everywhere, from the French Open to the Olympics. He hosted NCAA specials and the Bassmaster Classic.
“Ron was very demanding as a partner,” Dore said. “You had to be prepared, you had to be ready.”
Franklin got crossways with the network for his comments to female coworkers, however. In 2005, he was reprimanded for a cutting remark and for calling Holly Rowe “sweetheart” during a game between Notre Dame and Purdue.
“Ron Franklin was a longtime partner of mine at ESPN, and we ended our time there as good friends and colleagues,” Rowe said Wednesday. “He was a unique talent and made college football better for viewers.”
Said Bonnie Franklin: “He really respected her. He used to say Holly really does her homework.”
But Franklin was fired just before the Fiesta Bowl in January 2011 for allegedly calling sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards a “sweet baby” and using an expletive. Franklin later sued the network for wrongful termination in Travis County. His lawyer said Franklin’s comments were the result of Edwards cutting into a private conversation.
Franklin issued a statement on Jan. 3, 2011. “I said some things I shouldn't have and am sorry. I deserved to be taken off the Fiesta Bowl.” Franklin and the network agreed to an out-of-court settlement. Reached on Wednesday, an ESPN spokesman said the network had no comment about Franklin’s passing.
“So sorry to hear of the death of Ron Franklin,” Edwards tweeted Wednesday. “He had some quirks, but loved sports, talking sports, living sports. He was a pro.... prepared meticulously and was great at what he did. RIP Ron.”
Franklin retired in Austin but kept an active interest in the Longhorns. He would come to practices occasionally, at least until the pandemic began, and would regularly have lunch with Dodds.
“He was a great man, had a wonderful son, we love Bonnie, great family,” Dodds said. “Just been friends forever. He’ll be missed.”
Franklin is survived by his wife, Bonnie, and son Ron Jr. Funeral services are pending.