Legendary Livonia Franklin coach Armand Vigna, wife die 12 hours apart from COVID-19

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Livonia Franklin veteran football coach Chris Kelbert received a call from the school’s former athletic director George Lovich last weekend, giving him news on the failing health of Kelbert’s mentor, Armand Vigna.

Vigna guided Franklin to the Class A state championship in 1975, the first year of the MHSAA state playoffs.

Armand Vigna

Vigna led Franklin’s program from that memorable ’75 season until 1992. Kelbert took over as head coach in 2001, with Vigna returning to lend him a hand.

Vigna died at age 84 Monday night due to COVID-19 and his wife, Ruthie, passed away due to the virus 12 hours later.

Kelbert knew of Vigna before taking over Franklin’s program, then heard of Vigna’s legend before having him return as his mentor and assistant coach.

“Armand was head coach at Franklin from 1975 to 1992 and then he retired up north,” Kelbert told The Detroit News on Friday. “Then he came back into town at the same time I was taking over the Franklin program, so he came on and was kind of my mentor there for my first eight years (2001-09), just a huge help to me with the program, got us rolling.

“He had been coaching for almost 40 years at that point because he even coached (from 1993-2000) when he went up north at Rogers City, so he had gone through everything, dealing with players, dealing with parents, dealing with administrators, all the things that a first-time head coach doesn’t think of. Having him there to bounce ideas off of, to give me advice, I don’t think I would have made it through if I didn’t have him.”

Chris Kelbert

Kelbert said he heard about Vigna before he joined his staff.

“You always heard about Armand and George Lovich, who was his longtime assistant coach, and the tradition that they set,” Kelbert said. “So it really bridged the gap of our alumni and the players who played through the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s to the kids who played in the 2000s.”

Kelbert said Vigna was known as a “strict disciplinarian” as a head coach, but when he became Kelbert’s assistant, he was more laid back.

“When I would get upset and frustrated, he would take kids aside and motivate them in another way, so he was a more laid back, personable guy than he was (as a head coach),” Kelbert said.

Kelbert said Vigna was ahead of his time in the way of scouting and game-planning.

“He was a computer programming guy, so he put together a program before it even existed in mainstream football of down and distance and tendencies and all of that stuff,” Kelbert said. “He would plug it into a computer and then have a printout. They were able to have all the statistical breakdowns in the ‘70s, and that wasn’t apart of sports at that time.

“He still did that when he came back to us. It would be a 20- or 30-page report.”

Vigna had a record of 157-114-2 while coaching at Franklin, Cherry Hill and Ravenna, according to the Michigan High School Football Association Coaches Hall of Fame.

And that 1975 season – capped off with a 21-7 state title win over Traverse City Central – was the highlight.

Kelbert was heartbroken with the news of Vigna’s passing, saying: “He lived a great life, from a football perspective he touched so many people for coaching 40 years, affected so many people.”

As for Ruthie passing within hours of Armand, Kelbert said, “People that knew them outside of sports just said they were very close, had a very tight-knit relationship, and so this was the best way it could have happened, not far from each other.”