Consistent and persistent. Loyal and traditional. Motivated and self-confident.
Frank Tavani is a Leopard who won’t change his spots. Partly because he was first a stubborn Dutchman and an eager Beaver.
In some ways, Tavani is approaching a crossroads in his career. With 40 years of it behind him, it may be that he has coached more football at the college level than he will in the future.
And while Tavani is in no way ready to take stock of the things he has accomplished, he wouldn’t be where he is today without a solid foundation of nurturing at Lebanon Valley College and Lebanon Catholic School.
“I have seven championship rings sitting on my desk,” said Tavani, by phone from his office in Easton. “I’m comfortable in my own skin and how we run the program. This game teaches you one thing: ‘Get up and keep going.’ I’ve been exposed to some great people, guys like Norbie Danz, Phil Karli, John DeFrank, Lou Sorrentino, Jim Monos. I’ve been fortunate to be around really, really good people. I get up everyday and enjoy coming to work.
“I competed all my life,” continued Tavani. “I played basketball and football hard. Whether it’s hand ball or racquetball, I competed. Life is a competition, and not everyone makes it. This has been my life. I work hard. I coach hard. I do it very hard, everyday.”
Frank Tavani is the head football coach at Lafayette College – has been for the past 17 seasons. Before that, he was an associate and assistant coach for the Leopards for 13 years. Before that, he was an assistant coach at Lebanon Valley and Franklin and Marshall Colleges. Before that, he was a star running back for the Flying Dutchmen and Lebanon Catholic Beavers.
“I remember the competition and toughness at Lebanon Catholic,” said Tavani, 63. “Norbie Danz was a hard-nosed coach. He didn’t give you an inch for anything. That toughness made you grow up. When I was a sophomore, I started on the basketball team. Basketball was actually my favorite sport. But I probably wasn’t the most behaved young lad. I also remember the relationships at a small school where people care. You remember how tight everyone was, how close everyone was. It was an exciting time.
“It was a very tight-knit group and it got me on the right track academically,” Tavani continued. “And we played for some great coaches. A place like Lebanon Valley was very similar. F&M was the same kind of atmosphere. It’s the best of both worlds. It’s been a tremendous opportunity.”
In many ways, Tavani is one of the few remaining links to a Lebanon Catholic football program that dried up at the turn of the century. In fact, Tavani became the head football coach at Lafayette in 1999, just around the time the proud Beavers were dropping the sport.
“It was hard to see them drop football,” said Tavani. “We all could see it coming. I’m just glad to see the school is still there.
“There are some great people who came out of there,” added Tavani. “The basketball teams seem to be doing well there, and the school still exists. In that day, Lebanon Catholic was someone to be dealt with. That’s why I am the way I am. They made me this way.”
Tavani’s upbringing has served him well in a college football atmosphere that can be tumultuous and demanding.
During the past 17 years, Tavani’s Leopards have compiled an overall record of 83-104 and a 47-52 mark within the Patriot League. Under his guidance, Lafayette has captured four league championships – including a string of three straight from 2004 to 2006 – and has qualified for the NCAA playoffs four times.
“You have to delegate,” said Tavani. “You have to let your assistant coaches do the job you hired them to do. Egos are huge, and they have to be controlled – mine included. I had been here as an assistant and I knew what it was going to take. It didn’t happen right away. We’ve led the league in attendance four of six years, and we’re the smallest school in the league.
“But I don’t hover over them,” Tavani added. “Everybody’s got a responsibility. When we’ve got to meet, we meet. If you treat people right, they’ll stick around. We went eight years where we didn’t have a staff change. It’s been a good thing as far as continuity goes. But you’ve got to drive your staff as hard as you drive the kids.”
A tough talker and a bit rough around the edges, one might imagine that Tavani is all about the bottom line. But that is simply not the case.
“It’s been my life,” said Tavani. “I’ve had an interesting background. It’s a lot different today. There’s a lot of things that are different and they’re (his players) exposed to so many things. My number-one responsibility is academics. I chase these guys around about that. We work hard academically. They go to class. They do homework. It’s very challenging here. But I’ve been very fortunate to coach 40 years. Being able to coach has been a blessing. People ask me how long I can go. I don’t know how I’m going to do anything else.
“I enjoy my interactions with our young men,” continued Tavani. “They are kids. People forget that. I have a staff of 12 people, and I manage them. But more importantly, I manage 90 18-22-year-old men full of testosterone. You’re dealing with a lot of things. There’s a lot of things going on, on campus. I ask our players, ‘How are things?’ You’ve got to know those things as the head coach. They’re building foundations for the rest of their lives and some aren’t equipped for it. But watching these kids grow and mature is pure enjoyment.”
To watch Tavani pace the Lafayette sideline on a Saturday afternoon is like watching a caged animal waiting to be released. It looks like he wants to run on to the field and hit someone himself.
“These kids are very intelligent and I’m constantly talking to them,” said Tavani. “There’s a lot of parts to motivation. I want to motivate them to go to class. There’s a lot to it. And when you’re going through a tough season it’s a little tougher.
“You’ve got to keep some fun in it,” Tavani continued. “It’s a tough game. It’s a grind – and then you have recruiting, fund-raising and breaking down film. It’s non-stop. You’ve got to stay in pretty good shape, which I do. I survived one heart attack. The old running back has a couple more carries left in him.”
While time has been kind to Tavani and the Leopards, 2016 hasn’t been. Lafayette is currently navigating a 2-6 campaign.
“The expectation is always to win the conference,” said Tavani. “We knew our numbers were down going in. So you’ve got to stay healthy, and it was our most challenging schedule in school history. We let four games get away in the fourth quarter. It’s a competitive schedule and it’s been tough doing it with a lot of young players. We’re looking forward to the last few games, finishing the schedule, and we want to win the rest.
“That’s (getting the job) 17 years ago,” added Tavani. “It wasn’t until our third year that we got things turned around. We’ve got great young men. We’re battling. You would’ve thought after the Georgetown game that we won the conference. But my first responsibility is to make sure these guys are graduating and doing the right thing. The glass is always half full around here.”
If any thoughts of retirement have crept into Tavani’s head, he certainly is letting on about them. Let’s just say there’s a little more tread left on the tires.
“Everyone is starting to ask me that because I’m at the end of a contract,” said Tavani. “I have no desire or thoughts about that. Unless there’s someone who knows something I don’t.
“I feel as good as I’ve felt in a long time,” he continued. “It’s a tough season, but I think it motivates me more. It’s that tough mentality.”
So no matter what the future holds for Tavani, he’s got that tough background propping him up.
“I get back to the area,” said Tavani. “My mom lives in Lebanon. She’ll be 91 in December. And my sister lives in Palmyra. I get back to Lebanon occasionally, but not enough.
“Unfortunately, the whole attitude of the town changed when the steel industry left,” Tavani added. “I remember Lebanon High stadium being packed on Friday nights for Lebanon games, and on Saturday nights for Lebanon Catholic games. Coming in and going out of town, I get goose bumps when I go past that stadium. I still get goose bumps.”
Tavani left. Tavani right. Tavani up the middle.
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|Lafayette Leopards (Patriot League) (2000–present)|
|2004||Lafayette||8–4||5–1||T–1st||L NCAA Division I-AA First Round|
|2005||Lafayette||8–4||5–1||T–1st||L NCAA Division I-AA First Round|
|2006||Lafayette||6–6||5–1||T–1st||L NCAA Division I First Round|
|2013||Lafayette||5–7||4–1||1st||L NCAA Division I First Round|
Frank Tavani’s Coaching Highlights
• Entering 40th year in coaching
• Begins 30th year coaching at Lafayette
• Lafayette College, Head Coach, December 1999-present
• Lafayette College, Associate Head Coach, April 1987-99
• Lebanon Valley College, Assistant Coach, April 1986-April 1987
• Franklin & Marshall College, Assistant Coach, February 1976-March 1986
• Given Maroon Club Staff Achievement of the Year Award, May. 2014
• Named Easton UNICO Man of the Year, Feb. 2009
• 2004 Patriot League Coach of the Year
• Finalist for Eddie Robinson National I-AA Coach of the Year Award in 2004
• Lebanon Catholic High School Hall of Fame, Inducted March 2004
• Lebanon Valley College Hall of Fame, Inducted Oct. 1988
• Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame,
Inducted Nov. 2006
• First player in Lebanon Valley College history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season (1975), earning Associated Press All-America honors
• Signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL, 1976
|2016 Patriot League Football Standings|