Nobody said it would be smooth waters

Back in August before the season began, Bama's new Head Coach Dennis Franchione got an illustration of what it means to coach at Alabama. Despite coming off a perfectly awful 3-8 campaign, he found his team ranked in the pre-season Top 25. <br><br> "That's just Alabama," was Franchione's comment at the time, referring to the (sometimes) outsized expectations that go along with the Crimson Tide.

Prior to the season it was suggested by more than one insider that perhaps Franchione should engage in some old-fashioned ‘poor mouthing,' very common among college coaches. Run down the talent. Talk at length about the problems inherent in taking over a team where 4/5's of the players were recruited and signed by someone else.

At every opportunity, speak the phrase ‘three and eight,' ‘three and eight,' ‘three and eight.'

Make it a mantra to be repeated over and over whenever a reporter was present or a fan was listening. Drive down expectations, and thus buy yourself some insurance in case the team struggled. A possibility that--given the circumstances--was frankly more likely than not.

It wasn't necessarily bad advice. In fact there are plenty of examples both in the past and from recent history, where new head coaches did precisely that.

Shown at practice with Tide Athletics Director Mal Moore, Franchione has been a winner everywhere he's coached, compiling a 67.8 percent winning record before coming to Alabama.

But it also wasn't Franchione's style. "I knew there would be high expectations when I came here," he acknowledged. "But that's OK. None of that bothers me. I think some fans hoped I had a magic wand and that all these changes would happen immediately and we would turn back into Alabama football.

"But I think most fans knew that while they hoped to see change, there would be ups and downs."

Ups and downs is a good way to describe it. On the one hand, Alabama has been very much in every game it's played, dropping tough losses to UCLA, Tennessee and South Carolina--three teams that have camped out in the Top Ten this season--and losing by just a field goal on the road and in the rain at Ole Miss. But the down side has included three fourth-quarter swoons, in which his new team has failed to make the plays necessary to win.

"Nobody said this was going to be smooth water," Franchione said. "I knew that going in."

"As long as I feel like we're taking steps and getting better," Franchione continued. "As long as we're giving great effort and great preparation--we're playing physically and with focus, then I can live with where we're going."

Totally objective observers (read non-Alabama and non-anti-Alabama fans) recognize the progress. But for many fans, it's frankly hard to see past yet another loss to the hated Vols and the squad's current losing record.

"I share their frustrations," Franchione said. "As every Alabama fan does. When you make a commitment to something, and you work hard to obtain a goal, and you struggle--it can get frustrating. And that's OK. When you set high goals, there is risk involved. And that's all right.

"But the good Lord put eyes in front of our heads, so we can look forward to where we're going and not to where we've been. We've got to keep focusing on what's ahead."

And as a man who has been with the Alabama squad every day and in every practice since last January, Franchione is in the best position to recognize the improvement. "There are a lot of things I like about this team," he related. "They played hard Saturday. They played with great effort. They played physical. We prepared well. We fought hard.

Roman Harper (left) and Charlie Peprah (right) are two true freshmen considered excellent athletes, but redshirting this season as Alabama builds for the future.

"I am proud of all those things, and pleased with the way (the team) handled them. I feel bad that we came up a few plays short. I feel bad for the players and for the fans and coaches. But I don't feel bad about those things."

Franchione has been coaching for almost three decades, so demanding fans, angry over a tough season don't surprise him. But his more difficult--and infinitely more important--job is to keep the squad moving forward.

And that's not an easy thing to do with young, often volatile athletes. "Sometimes those are difficult intangible (ideas) for the players to cling to," Franchione acknowledged. "But I think this squad has a good spirit of ‘team' to it. They've hung together. They've believed in each other.

"They deserve and need something good to happen to them. There's no doubt about that, to reinforce all the good things they're doing in practice."

At this point a reporter interrupted, commenting that all of that may be well and good, but "there has been a lot of criticism of you in my department. How do you deal with that?"

Without missing a beat, Franchione quipped, "I try not to read your department."

Of course Franchione understands that humor only goes so far, and Alabama fans are nothing if not demanding. "You'd have to live in a cave not to hear some things," he admitted. "I spoke in Mobile Sunday night and Anniston Monday night. I think our fans are a lot like our players. They're frustrated, and we share those feelings with them. We have some great understanding fans, and we have some that aren't as much that way. But that's true in every situation in college football.

"There are some days when I don't like myself very well either."

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