"We had to go back in and repair the foundation before we could build."
Having rebuilt five programs before arriving in Tuscaloosa, the veteran head coach was certainly prepared for the tough task of returning Alabama to championship form. "When you take over a program that went through what we did--when you build anything--you have to build with a solid foundation."
In terms of construction, beginning with a strong base before adding on floors and levels above is an easy concept to understand. From lessons in Sunday School if nowhere else, even small children understand that a rock-solid foundation is necessary for any large structure to stand. And Franchione applies the precept to coaching as well.
"Without first building that foundation, we might have had some (early) success," he explained. "But I don't know if we could have continued to build the program so it would perpetuate."
When Franchione took over last winter, the proud Tide program had frankly developed some dangerous fissures in its base. Players had lost confidence in their coaches--many of whom had long since lost confidence in each other. The program was in the midst of an NCAA investigation. Several younger athletes had simply stopped attending class the latter part of fall semester. And in general, discipline was sadly lacking.
Franchione set out immediately to do things the right way. From his first meeting with the players, he spoke words and phrases that would be repeated over and over to the team.
And mutual adoption.
Franchione explained; "Those foundation things that I think we've made a lot of progress on are work ethic, preparation, discipline, work in the weight room, learning how to practice and prepare for games."
In terms of class attendance, lifting weights and following the rules, progress was evident immediately. But the long-term goal of wins and losses was slower going. "Sometimes when you get through rebuilding the foundation you don't see the direct result in ‘Ws' right away," Franchione said. "Those at practice every day may know, but a lot of the areas (of progress) the average person may not see. But I think we have been able to put ourselves in a position to move forward."
With the exception of a blowout loss to LSU, the Tide has been oh-so-close in every one of its losing efforts this season. But a bottom line of five defeats generated predictable criticism from Alabama fans, long accustomed to success.
"When you don't win as many as you want to, then it can cloud your vision about how things are going," Franchione said. "But we have played much better here at the end. We have a chance to double our win total (from last year).
"I think our players are a team more than ever before. They believe in each other."
Asked if he had been surprised by the challenges of his new job, Franchione was matter-of-fact in his assessment. "I don't know if there are many places that are like coaching at Alabama," he said with a wry laugh. "The SEC has been pretty much what I expected going in. It's a great league with good coaches and good players. You'd better be ready to play every week. You've got to win your home games.
"I don't think there has been a surprise with that."
Back in January when the Tide players accepted his challenge and threw themselves into the off-season conditioning program, Franchione was understandably pleased. But he always knew the larger goal of mutual adoption between players and coaches could only be accomplished over time.
Franchione explained; "When you talk about laying the foundation and the process of rebuilding coach and player relationships and trust and player to player relationships and trust, that's a big project. We've made substantial progress, but we can improve in all those areas. You don't ever quit working on your foundation.
"I think the program is going in the right direction and we have a chance to get better. Now we need to translate that into Ws."
In many ways, a 6-5 record is hardly something to get excited about. But Franchione understands how important a winning record and resulting bowl bid would be in continuing the positive momentum built in recent weeks.
"If we can win Thursday night, then we get the chance to play another (bowl) game," Franchione said. "We've got the opportunity finish with three straight wins and go on to a bowl game, which would allow us to continue (practicing). And then we could hopefully end up with four straight after the bowl."