Houston Franks, formerly of Mississippi State, was named the assistant coach for LSU track and field’s mid-distance and distance squads in addition to head coaching duties for the cross country team on July 23, 2019.
Franks comes to Baton Rouge with 20+ years of coaching distance runners under his belt. He served as the head cross country coach at Mississippi State dating back to 2011 and he has been on staff in Starkville with the track and field program since 2004. Prior to his stint at Mississippi State, Franks’ coaching career began at Southwest Missouri State University (now known as Missouri State University); he spent five seasons in Missouri and led the Bears to three Missouri Valley Conference women’s titles on the cross country circuit.
The women’s cross country team had its most successful season in a long time in 2020 that concluded with a fifth-place finish at the SEC Championships. The SEC meet was hosted at the University Club in Baton Rouge and the Tigers came away with their best placing at the conference meet since 1999. Katy-Ann McDonald was named to the All-SEC Second Team and Shelby Spoor was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team. McDonald became the first runner to achieve that feat since 2012, and Spoor is the first freshman in program history to earn all-freshman honors on the women’s side.
The women also won the 5k open race at the Florida State Invitational on October 2 with a team score of 27, and they finished second at the Arturo Barrios Invitational ahead of four other Power 5 programs. The men’s squad matched its 2019 finish at the SEC Championships with an eighth-place finish at the 2020 conference meet in Baton Rouge. The men’s squad was led all season by Davis Bove and Eric Coston.
During the 2020 indoor track season, Franks helped Katy-Ann McDonald (800 meters), Julia Palin (3,000 meters) and Davis Bove (800 meters) register top-10 LSU marks. McDonald circled the track four times at the Iowa State Classic in a personal best time of 2:04.59 to claim the ninth-fastest time in LSU history in the event; McDonald captured silver at the SEC Championships in the 800 meter run. Palin ran a PR of 9:46.99 at the Razorback Invitational on February 1 to stake claim to the fifth-fastest time in program history. Alicia Stamey also PR’d in the 3,000 meters with a time of 9:58.49 under Franks for the eighth-fastest readout in the LSU record book.
Bove ran a PR of 4:03.97 in the mile run at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational on February 15 to place 28th overall and clock the seventh-fastest time in LSU history. Two weeks later he became the first LSU male runner to score in the mile run at the SEC Championships since 2010 with a seventh-place showing.
Franks made an immediate impact on LSU’s cross country program in the fall of 2019 as he had three runners – Eric Coston, Davis Bove, and Katy-Ann McDonald – earn all-region honors. The men’s squad registered an eighth place finish at both the SEC meet and regional meet to mark the highest finish in program history since 2007 and 2008, respectively, at each of those meets. Franks was named the Louisiana Sports Writers Association Women’s Coach of the Year for his efforts, and his athletes – Coston (Male Runner of the Year), Bove (Freshman Runner of the Year) and Adele Broussard (Freshman Runner of the Year) – were also honored by the LSWA.
Coston and Bove led the squad all fall long. Coston was LSU’s top finisher at all five meets he competed at and Bove earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors at back-to-back meets in mid-September becoming the first runner in program history to achieve that feat. Jackson Martingayle was named the SEC Men’s Co-Runner of the Week on Sept. 3, 2019 after he ran to a fifth-place showing at the at the McNeese Opener with a 6k time of 18:33.2; he was the first male runner in program history to earn the award. Bove was named to the 2019 SEC All-Freshman team after he registered a 23rd place showing at the conference meet in his debut season.
The women’s squad was led by sophomore Katy-Ann McDonald in 2019. She paced the women at all five meets she competed at and earned all-regional honors to close out the season as she narrowly missed a bid to the NCAA Championships as an individual. Her 14th place showing at the NCAA South Central Regional was the fourth best by a woman in program history. The future for LSU cross country bodes well as the Tigers will return all but one runner from the 2019 season who factored into LSU’s team scores throughout the season.
On the track, Franks has a solid history of coaching distance runners. His latest endeavor included training the 2019 NCAA indoor runner up in the 800 meters, Marco Arop. Arop ran a time of 1:47.00 at the Birmingham CrossPlex in March to earn his silver medal on the national stage; his season best time indoors of 1:45.90 was the second fastest in the NCAA during the indoor season. Outdoors, Arop went sub 1:47 twice, including a season best of 1:45.50 at the Crimson Tide Invitational to claim gold. The 1:45.50 also made him the second fastest NCAA runner outdoors based off time.
Franks trained Rhianwedd Price-Weimer and Marta Freitas to back-to-back NCAA titles in the 1,500 meter run in 2015 and 2016. Price-Weimer won the NCAA title in the 1,500 meters in 2015 as a sophomore with a winning time of 4:09.56. In 2016, Freitas made it two straight titles in the event for Mississippi State with a winning time of 4:09.53. Freitas competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics in the 1,500 meters for Portugal and she owns the Portuguese national record in the mile with a personal best of 4:22.45.
He was named the 2016 USTFCCCA South Region Coach of the Year during the cross country season for leading the Bulldogs’ women’s team to the NCAA South Region crown before registering the best finish in program history at the NCAA Championships (15th place). That 2016 squad featured a Mississippi State record of five All-Region honorees, each whom finished in the top 25 of the regional meet, and the Bulldogs were the top finishing SEC team in the nation that year.
Prior to Starkville, Franks spent five years at Southwest Missouri State University (1999-2004). He led his women’s teams to three Missouri Valley Conference titles, and during his last three years, the Bears’ women’s squad finished in the top four at the NCAA Midwest Regionals each year. He was a three-time MVC Coach of the Year in women’s cross country.
Franks competed collegiately for Mississippi State from 1994-98 and he earned his undergraduate degree in the spring of 1998 in education; a year later, he received his master’s in sports administration from Mississippi State as well. He is joined in Baton Rouge by his wife, Meggan, and their two children – Madison and Patrick.