Terry Franson’s rise from an All-American hammer thrower in Division II to one of the most successful coaches in NAIA history was nothing short of meteoric.
Eight years after he capped his athletic career at Chico State, Franson took over as head coach of the Cougars’ program. He was promoted following four years as an assistant.
APU finished sixth at the 1981 NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championships the year before Franson held the reins for the first time. One year later, the Cougars moved up to second behind 1982 national champion Abilene Christian — and Franson was named the NAIA Coach of the Year for the first of 10 times in his career.
Over the next 13 years, APU dominated the NAIA national title scene.
Franson led the Cougars to 11 team titles, including seven in a row from 1983-1989. To this day, no team in NAIA history has won more than four in a row other than APU and Life (Ga.), which accomplished the feat from 1987 to 1990.
Two athletes in particular helped turn Azusa Pacific into the powerhouse that it was in the mid-1980s: Innocent Egbunike and Christian Okoye. Egbunike, a sprinter joined the program in 1981 and Okoye, a thrower, enrolled the following year.
Egbunike and Okoye combined for 12 individual titles in the span of five years. The former only lost once in a championship setting (swept the 100-meter crowns, won three of four at 200 meters), while the latter won four discus titles in a row (1983-86) and added a hammer-throw crown in 1984 for good measure.
The duo’s success wasn’t limited to the collegiate level. Egbunike won a bronze medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics as part of Nigeria’s 4×100 relay team and Okoye, affectionately nicknamed “The Nigerian Nightmare,” played in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1987 to 1992 and scored 40 touchdowns.
Another one of Franson’s pupils, Dave Johnson, earned a bronze medal in the decathlon at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Johnson graduated from APU in 1986 and formed a dangerous 1-2 punch in the decathlon with Doug Loisel during his collegiate years.
Other Olympians that Franson coached include two-time Olympian Davidson Ezinwa (1992 4×100 silver medalist), Osmond Ezinwa (1992 4×100 silver medalist) and Fatima Yusuf, the first African woman to go sub-50 at 400 meters.
When Franson stepped down as head coach in 1995 to focus more on his duties as athletic director, he had mentored 125 All-Americans and 39 national champions. He was inducted into the NAIA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Mt. SAC Relays Hall of Fame one year later.
Franson currently serves as the Senior Vice President for Student Life and the Dean of Students at Azusa Pacific.