December 15, 2012 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster

Pistons' Frank balances roles as father and coach in wake of tragedy

Auburn Hills - His daughters Dillon Grace and Caitlin Elizabeth were on the team plane with him, safe and secure and by his side.

Although Pistons coach Lawrence Frank's head was dancing from a disappointing 107-105 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, Frank felt a sense of calm and peace. His daughters were by his side flying over the night skies of upstate New York toward Michigan on one of the most tragic days in American history.

He grew up in Teaneck, N.J., and considers himself a Jersey guy. But Connecticut is not far away and Frank turned from gym rat workaholic NBA coach to loving dad when news hit that 20 young kids were left dead in the Newtown, Conn., shooting. A total of 26 students and administrators were killed, and players and coaches were glued to the television set like the rest of the nation.

Frank found out following shoot-around in Brooklyn and he wanted to be near his children. He wanted to hear their voices and explain to them how something this tragic could happen. They are ages 9 and 11 and their view of the world is so different. Frank wanted to give them positives even on a negative day.

Explaining the unexplainable

"You have to be honest with them and truthful in the way you explain things," Frank said. "The thing you get out of the incident is so many people were helping each other. And that's the thing. It was students helping students, teachers helping students, police helping teachers and police helping students."

Frank hugged and kissed his daughters before their talk and they were his constant companion on the ride home. They are here for the holidays and he is grateful for every moment with them.

But Frank can't take his mind off the victims and their families back east. He thinks about the children that survived but were escorted past classmates and teachers. How do they cope? He admitted to shedding a tear when he heard about the tragedy.

"It was a horrific event," Frank said. "But look, every parent there sends their kid to school to learn and you assume they are safe. To me this is some sick, sick, sick human being to do what he did. How do you explain that? I can't even go into it."

We have advantages that NBA players and coaches do not have. We can talk about the incident during work and get things off our chest. It is different for Frank. He shed his tears. He talked about it with his wife and staff, but as game time rolls near he returns to that obsessed man who is focused only on the court.

He barked plays and sweated through his shirt while trying to guide the Pistons through wins against Brooklyn and Indiana. He will do the same thing Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers at The Palace.

The job awaits

"How can you not break down and cry and think about what all these people are experiencing," he said. "We are all human. But like anything else significant that happens to you off the court whether it is health problems, death … the sanctuary for you becomes the court. Once you are in your preparation you have to be focused on the task at hand. But once that is over you can go back and let your mind drift towards the situation that may be."

His only focus Saturday night was trying to massage a roster with tired legs against the Pacers. Should he change up the lineup? Should he give guys a break? Charlie Villanueva is in a shooting slump. The Pacers' Paul George is not. Those were the only things on his mind. That is what a coach does no matter what swirls around him. He forgets.

Before joining the world of athletics Frank stood outside the Pistons dressing room shaking his head and staring at the ground.

"What happened is obviously sick," he said. "It is sick whether you have kids or you are from that area or not from that area. It is sad and evil that we have. I can't imagine what the people are going through in Newtown. I don't know how you put words into words for that type of thing."

He kept looking down and shaking his head. Then he picked his head up and ventured to his office. It was time to prepare for the Pacers and Roy Hibbert, George Hill and Paul George.

tfoster@detnews.com

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Pistons coach Lawrence Frank had to explain to his daughters, ages 9 and 11, the scope of the shooting tragedy in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people died. / Duane Burleson/Associated Press
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