A former England schools' international captain and a Batchelor of Arts in sociology, Frank Barlow arrived after seven years as a professional at Sheffield United for what constituted a record £15,000 fee for Chesterfield. Anchoring the midfield, he was a more thoughtful player than most in his position and became respected as a consistent and honest footballer. He enjoyed a spell in US soccer with the Boston Minutemen but a long succession of injuries finally caught up with him, with knee trouble bringing an end to his playing career. He had already begun to take an interest in coaching while at Bramall Lane and became Chesterfield's First Team Coach in July, 1976.

He served as caretaker Manager after Joe Shaw's demise before properly stepping into the Manager's shoes upon Arthur Cox's departure to Newcastle in September, 1980. He protested several times throughout his reign that he didn't actually want the job: although more comfortable as a coach than a boss, he brought success in his first season in charge, piloting the club to victory in the Anglo-Scottish Cup and winning the divisional Manager of the Month award for March, 1981.

Frank’s refreshing honesty was appreciated by supporters: after a poor display at home to Charlton in January '81 he said "At the beginning of the season we asked (fans) for their support and they have kept their part of the deal. We are finding it hard to keep ours." He managed to keep the club in touch with promotion in '80-1 despite a worsening money situation, but the club were relegated at the end of his second full season as the disastrous financial crisis of 1983 hit home: Frank became a casualty of that, as he and his coaching staff were sacked by the new board that came in in the wake of Ian Gaunt's departure. Frank was offered a job within the new set-up but declined out of loyalty to his coaching team, when it became apparent that no such job offers were being made to them. Frank thus left with his dignity and self-respect intact, and without really carrying much of the blame for the team's dire showing in '82-3.

Immediately, he became coach and Assistant Manager at Scunthorpe, becoming their Manager a year later. He left the Iron in 1987 and, again, was back in the game almost immediately, as Youth and Reserve Coach at Barnsley. A year later, he joined Sheffield Wednesday's coaching staff, and remained at Hillsborough until May, 1996, when he left to join Trevor Francis at Birmingham City. In September 1998, Frank returned to Hillsborough to serve as Assistant Manager to Danny Wilson, but was made to wait a month before taking up his appointment, when a rather truculent Birmingham board forced his to work his notice before leaving. Frank thereafter followed Danny Wilson to Bristol City but left with Wilson in June 2004.

Frank was appointed to the Nottingham Forest coaching staff under Gary Megson and was promoted to acting joint-manager with Ian McParland when Megson was sacked in January, 2006. Frank joined Wigan Athletic as assistant manager to Chris Hutchings. He became first team coach under Steve Bruce at Wigan, and was Chief Scout at Sunderland from 2009, but he rekindled his partnership with Danny Wilson at Sheffield United, in June 2011, where he serves as Danny’s assistant.