BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Between 15 Catholic League championships, nine state championships and a (then-) state-record 430 victories when he retired in 2013, Al Fracassa had a remarkable football coaching career at Royal Oak Shrine and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that it took a coin flip to get it rolling.
“Fr. (Charles) Coughlin was looking for a football coach at the time, in 1959, and both Marty Foley and Fracassa had applied for the job. Marty was as much of a great guy as Fracassa. So they decided to flip a coin. Fracassa won the toss and took the football job; Marty became the basketball and track coach, and the rest was history,” explained Bud Krause. “If he had lost the toss, he probably wouldn’t have taken a job at Shrine. He had been an assistant coach at Rochester High School and really wanted a head coaching job. Football was definitely in his veins.”
Krause was the quarterback on Fracassa’s final Shrine team, in 1968, but has maintained a friendship with the coaching legend over the years. Drawing upon his background as a former sportswriter and advertising agency owner, Krause has written a book about his former coach, “Fracassa: The Man, The Times and The Teams,” available on Amazon.
“It’s my first book,” Krause said. “I had heard there was a guy who was going to write a book about Coach over the years but it remained unfinished, and two years ago I was going to tackle it.”
That guy was Jerome Malczewski, a longtime volunteer with the Brother Rice program.
“He did write some interesting things that I used — good stories, interesting things,” Krause said. “Jerome had some tremendous insights because he was there, all of the 5:30 agility drills two times a week in the off-season, and Coach’s quarterback camps.”
Krause also tapped a former Shrine teammate, Tom Martin, who was a captain of that 1968 Shrine squad.
“We’ve exchanged letters for the last 50 years, and I thought this guy could really write. He finally decided to help,” Krause said.
Longtime Brother Rice statistician Michael Coughlin also contributed, and the foreword was written by Vince Lombardi, Jr. — son of the fabled Green Bay Packers coach.
“It starts with immigration of (his) parents from Italy — but Coach was born here, youngest of four sons. It includes his high school career at Northeastern, follows his career at Michigan State where was scout team quarterback, and profiles his brothers and children,” Krause said. “Once that whole family background has been laid out, it’s a decade-by-decade retrospective of his coaching career.”
The book is a mix of stories and recollections, player profiles, and a wrap-up of all 54 of Fracassa’s teams.
“The book covers all of that, and there’s kind of a history of the Catholic League underneath all of these chapters,” Krause said. “We talk about all the powerhouses; that’s kind of a theme and how the various schools were closing every decade.”
Because of Fracassa’s stature, Krause feels the book would interest all fans of high school sports, not just those who attended Brother Rice or Shrine. The first printing sold out quickly, and more copies are now available.
“Anybody who’s interested in high school sports in Michigan is going to love the book, specifically anyone who’s followed the Catholic League,” he said. “Even people from Catholic Central are going to want to read this book! It’s almost about them as much as it is about Brother Rice. De La Salle, Farmington Harrison — those schools are featured quite a bit as well.”
As someone who played under Fracassa, Krause still draws upon the bits of wisdom instilled by his high school coach 55 years ago.
“The biggest one would be, ‘Do it better than it’s ever been done before. Don’t do it right some of the time, do it right all of the time,’” Krause said. “Those two things Coach drilled into us, and anybody would tell you that those things have helped us be successful in life. He’s an amazing, inspirational guy.”
And how does Fracassa, at 90, feel about all of the attention?
“Coach is really excited about the book,” Krause said. “His quote was, ‘I can’t believe this is happening. How did you get all this information?’ He’s a little bit overwhelmed sometimes, because he’s such a humble man. He’s just getting over the fact that there’s this much attention being made over him.”
But Krause calls the task “a labor of love” and doesn’t find it challenging to justify the book’s purpose to his former coach.
said, “They’re just so excited and happy to read this and re-live their
relationship with you.”
'Fracassa: The Man, The Times and The Teams,' by Bud Krause
“Fracassa: The Man, The Times and The Teams” is available for $24.99 on Amazon or directly via Krause at [email protected]. The authors have donated their time on the project, and proceeds from the book sale will go to Fracassa and his family.