Franchione revels in Bama traditions

Before Dennis Franchione accepted the head coaching job at Alabama, there were some national pundits that warned him away. ‘Don't do it,' they pontificated. ‘No one can live up to the burdensome expectations.' <br><br>But Franchione saw it differently. "I love of the tradition of this game," he explained. "This place gives me cold chills sometimes.

"At the spring game at Denny Chimes (enshrining) the captains in cement. Meeting with the greatest Bama DBs at the Bryant Museum on the night before the spring game. All the motor homes that surround the stadium before every football game.

"This job fulfills so much for me. I just love it."

To a degree, there was evidence to back up the warnings. Taking over immediately after the greatest coach in college football, Paul W. Bryant, retired, there is little question that Ray Perkins resented the constant talk of ‘Coach Bryant did this, and Coach Bryant did that.' Later, despite general success on the field, Perkins left for the NFL after only four seasons, coaching at his alma mater.

It's not that Franchione dismisses the challenges currently confronting the Alabama program. He just firmly believes he has a plan to lead the Tide back to championship level.

And the next three years under the little-lamented Bill Curry are generally remembered for their great promise--but disappointing results.

If Curry--a Southerner and Georgia Tech graduate--failed, how much more difficult would it be for Franchione?

But whether due to better timing or just a better man, there is no resemblance between the two. "I have people ask me all the time, ‘Don't all these Coach Bryant pictures around here bother you?'" Franchione related. "No, they don't bother me. I love all the tradition."

"I think when you come here you can take your choice. You can be intimidated by the tradition and expectations. You can be afraid to live up to them. It can bother you, but personally I love it.

"I can't be Coach Bryant, but I love everything that goes with coaching here."

Before arriving at Alabama, Franchione earned a reputation as a ‘turnaround artist,' rebuilding five different programs--often from scratch. He explained; "I have been in too many programs where I had to create interest and develop passion. I had to rebuild them completely. We have some rebuilding to do, but I don't have to do those kinds of things here."

One of the more controversial events that occurred during the Perkins regime was the dismantling of Bryant's famous coaching tower. Insiders close to the situation report that most Tide fans got the story wrong--Perkins really wasn't trying to remove everything that brought back memories of his former coach. But the icy Perkins took another public relations hit anyway.

Today, the symbol of Bryant and his past glory stands tall at the very center of Alabama's several practice fields, casting its shadow over players and coaches alike. "Bryant's tower doesn't bother me. It doesn't bother me a bit," Franchione stated. "I like it. Every decision I make I try to be respectful of the traditions Coach Bryant developed. I would never want to do anything that would be looked upon as disrespectful of the tradition of Alabama football.

"I think it's made me think things out even farther than what I'd do," Franchione continued. "For example, the decision about who to suit up (for the game) at Legion Field from among the walk-ons. You've got to give some real thought to that--much deeper than at any other place I've been.

Despite warnings from national pundits that Franchione's Mid-West roots would make him an outsider at Alabama, the Tide family has embraced him. "I wasn't born in the South, but I got here as quickly as I could," is how he puts it.

"The tradition creates a little more work, but that's OK. Those are good problems to have. It's great that those kids want to dress out. The tradition that a young man feels about wearing that Crimson jersey. I enjoy all that."

Despite the agenda-driven barbs thrown by fans of rival schools, Franchione is precisely where he wants to be. "(Before accepting the job at Alabama) I had opportunities to coach at other major Division I schools," Franchione related. "But I said ‘No.' They had no tradition of winning a national championship.

"But when Alabama called that was different."

His tenure as head coach at The Capstone has barely begun, but already Franchione has accomplished part of his mission. He said from the start that he loved the traditions at Alabama--and only wanted the chance to carve out a niche of his own.

Franchione's victory over Auburn two weeks ago places him in impressive company. Since Coach Bryant's retirement, only Gene Stallings (who won a national championship two years later) and Franchione have won their first game against Alabama's archrival.

"I embrace the traditions at Alabama," Franchione said. "I stated that at my first press conference last December, and I really do believe that. I love the things that go with this program."

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