Saturday evening, both Head Coach and author were honored at a book gala. The event was hosted by the Fowlers at their historic home in downtown Tuscaloosa.
Mike McKenzie, the author of "Coach Fran: The Mission ... The Method ... The Man," shares with the crowd the history behind the writing of his soon-to-be published biography of Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione.
As McKenzie tells the story, the idea for the book was first conceived following Franchione's initial season at Texas Christian. After taking over a team that was 1-10 the previous year, Franchione once again performed his turnaround magic in leading the Horned Frogs to a 7-5 mark, including a Sun Bowl victory over nationally recognized Southern Cal--the biggest turnaround in Division 1A football that season.
As first conceived, the book was to be handled by a regional publisher specializing in sports topics. But when TCU started out 1-3 the next year, that company withdrew their offer, leaving the book project essentially dead. However, that dynamic quickly changed when Franchione-coached TCU finished 7-1 (8-4 overall), including Texas Christian's second bowl victory in a row. Suddenly the Franchione name was once again a hot property, but this time McKenzie determined that the book should be self-published.
Popular Birmingham radio talk-show host Scott Moore entertained the crowd at the reception. Here, Doug Layton "interviews" various SEC head coaches in the form of Moore--noted for his dead-on impressions of Gene Stallings, Steve Spurrier and others. Coach Franchione joked later that he'd know he had arrived when Moore added a Coach Fran impression to his repertoire.
Of course Dennis Franchione was on hand to meet everyone and lend support to the book's imminent debut. McKenzie kidded his friend by saying Coach Fran's schedule wouldn't allow anymore joint appearances until the last week of November--just before the SEC championship game, or possibly December 25th--just before the Rose Bowl (no pressure, coach). But Franchione's responding zinger was just as good. Coach Fran confided to the crowd that his accountant was pretty sure Franchione could claim McKenzie as a dependant on his taxes--since the author had mooched so many free meals off his family in the course of researching the book.
Last season Coach Fran and TCU put together a magical (for Horned Frog fans) 10-1 year, providing Franchione's biographer with literally more material than he could use--but also resulting in big-time job opportunities for the very much ‘in demand' head coach.
For a brief time it looked like Franchione would accept the offer from Arizona State, prompting the coach to ask McKenzie what effect a move to Phoenix would have on the book project. After all, TCU fans angry over losing their star coach weren't likely to beat down the bookstore doors to buy copies. And though Arizona State is a quality school, its fans aren't exactly noted for being the most rabid in college football. "I honestly don't know," McKenzie replied. "I have no sense of the market there. But we're committed, and surely fans will be curious about you, so we'll make it work."
But only four days later, after having just accepted the head coaching job at Alabama, Franchione asked again, "Now what happens to the book?"
McKenzie, whose previous experience in Tuscaloosa covering the Tide under Coach Bryant had taught him all he needed to know about the unmatched passion of Alabama fans for their team (and its coach), blurted out, "Are you kidding me?"
"I looked up the ceiling and said, ‘Thank you, God,'" McKenzie related with a laugh. We were all headed--he, the book and I--to ‘Sweet Home Alabama.'
Most members of Frachione's staff were scattered around the Deep South, taking advantage of a last weekend before SEC Media Days next week and the beginning of fall practice the following Monday. But Offensive Line Coach Jim Bob Helduser, who first coached with Coach Fran back at Southwest Texas State, was on hand to talk with the guests.
Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore talks some football. As a member of Coach Bryant's staff during the '70s, Moore first worked with McKenzie when the author served as Sports Editor of the Tuscaloosa News. And in his personal remarks to the crowd, Franchione went out of his way to thank Coach Moore for the opportunity to coach at Alabama--and then went on to note "I just hope I can make you look brilliant for making that decision very soon."
As Franchione tells the story, after he was offered the job at Alabama he told Charley North (then and now his Director of Football Operations) that "I'm not going without you." Here, North (on the right) poses with Sonny Batchelor, one of the guests on hand to honor the author and head coach.
Shown in the middle of the guests during Saturday's reception, McKenzie and Franchione joke about the last few years putting together the book. In typical Coach Fran fashion, when the decision was made to do the biography his response was "Well, let's do it right." And since that time McKenzie has enjoyed virtually unlimited access, first at TCU and now with the current Alabama squad. But, McKenzie WAS late for that first team breakfast--a fact that Franchione reminded him of Saturday night--only half jokingly.
Mike McKenzie brings an extensive resume' in writing and covering sports to the task of penning the Franchione biography. After working as a public information specialist while in the Army, he was hired to write for the Huntsville News and then the Times, covering sports. From there he moved to the Atlanta Journal where he worked and learned under the famed Lewis Grizzard.
His next stop was Tuscaloosa, where he served as Sports Editor during the 1970s--precisely in the middle of one of Bryant's unmatched championship runs. His next stop was the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, where Executive Sports Editor was his title. From there, the Kansas native moved to the Kansas City Star, where he worked as a columnist and in sports features. While at the Star, McKenzie shared in a Pulitzer Prize for that paper's reporting on the balcony collapse at the local Hyatt-Regency Hotel, contributing the only eye-witness accounts from any member of the Kansas City media.
In 1988 McKenzie turned to free-lance writing and began a long-standing association with Sports Illustrated, which still continues. Since moving to the Dallas area (where he met Coach Franchione), McKenzie has done extensive consulting work in the form of 'performance coaching' for scores of businesses, from Fortune 500 companies to athletic teams.
Because of the demands of the profession, coaching families must take advantage of every chance to spend time together. And one of the guests Saturday night was Brad Franchione, Dennis Franchione's son who recently accepted an assistant's job at West Alabama. Giving Tide fans a glimpse of what their head coach looked like 15 years ago, Brad Franchione was accompanied by his wife, Rebecca, and is talking to an 'unidentified' veteran sportswriter in this photo.
Seeking to bring the turnaround story full circle, McKenzie plans to wait until after Alabama's opening game against UCLA before typing up the last 15 pages of Coach Fran: The Mission ... The Method ... The Man and sending it off to the printer. Copies will be available in book stores, by mail order and through Franchione's website CoachFran.com. Pre-orders, including a limited number of ‘signature editions,' will be accepted soon.