Alabama ended its season with a bowl victory over Iowa State, finishing up on a four-game winning streak. But earlier in the year, fourth-quarter breakdowns on the road squandered two victories that should have been. Franchione explained; "Unfortunately, we maybe weren't ready to win a South Carolina game or at Ole Miss at that point in time. We hadn't repaired enough of those substance issues yet to fight through a hard-fought game on the road in front of a hostile crowd."
"But on the other hand," Franchione continued. "I don't know if we could have won an Iowa State game back in September. By the end of the year, we were finally able to find a way to win."
Having rebuilt five squads before even arriving in Tuscaloosa, Franchione knew that substance issues must be dealt with first. "Before we could build a program here and put ourselves in a position to perpetuate the opportunity to win, we had to put some things back in place," he said. "I call those substance issues.
"Work ethic in the weight room, on the practice field and in the classroom.
"We had to put accountability back in place. It's not a matter of being hard or anything like that. It's just that I mean what I say and I say what I mean. We had a lot of those things to deal with."
In a way, the work ethic part was the easiest piece to put in place. Immediately last January, the entire Tide squad threw itself into the off-season strength program. And accountability became Franchione's mantra. From the weight room, to the classroom, to an athlete's away-from-the-team activities, the Tide players were told in detail what was expected of them.
And what the consequences would be, if they failed to follow through.
But putting the athletes back to work was only part of the equation. ‘Mutual accountability' was the phrase, and Franchione was determined to build a team in the full sense of the word. "We had to put a coach-to-player relationship of trust back into place," he said. "That was damaged or gone awry, and we had to rebuild that.
"We had to put continuity and consistency back in place to where the kids knew what was coming next. So they would know how we would react. That's part of that relationship of trust again."
From his first meeting with the team, Franchione spoke of a process of mutual adoption that must take place between players and coaches. With the exception of two early entrants that joined the team in January, every single Tide athlete that winter had been recruited or began their careers under the previous coaching staff.
So there was obviously work to be done.
Almost without exception, the process went as smoothly as could be expected for both players and coaches. But some things simply don't happen overnight. Franchione explained; "That base level of trust can only develop over a period of time. In the first year every day is kind of a new day for the kids.
"Then as we got into the season and our weekly preparation for games, they got to know what was coming next. They saw that every week was basically handled the same way."
Unfortunately, when it comes to consistency the Tide players have had plenty to say on the subject--or rather the lack thereof--during the 2000 campaign. According to the athletes, from week to week and even day to day, the squad often didn't know what to expect. "If the team won, we were heroes. But if we lost, we were _____s," was the way one athlete phrased it.
In that way at least, Franchione's meticulous, no-nonsense approach was just what the doctor ordered. "I'm not a gimmicky guy; I'm a consistency guy," Franchione said. "And I think the athletes appreciated that."
Always looking for feedback, at one point during the past season Franchione pulled junior defensive tackle Jarret Johnson, who was also a member of the Leadership Council, aside. "Jarret is always good to get a pulse on things," Franchione related. "I asked him to give me a non-politically-correct answer as to how it was going.
"Coach, it's going well," was Johnson reply. "We know what to expect from the coaches. You don't change after a win or a loss. Before, we were never quite sure where we stood or what was coming next. The good thing about you and the coaches is that you're always the same. We know what's coming. You don't change a whole lot, and we like that."
"That made me feel good," Franchione admitted. "It told me that the things we were trying to implant were hopefully coming across to the athletes. But it does take time."
As his multi-year contract indicates, Franchione is committed to Alabama for the duration. "Rebuilding this program is a little like building a house," he said. "Without a good foundation, the house won't stand.
"Everybody could put a finger on how the program had been damaged. There is no doubt some cracks had developed. We had to repair that foundation before we could build on it."
Frankly, Franchione isn't worried about Alabama's future--at least not in the long term. He is confident that he and his staff are doing things the right way. And he's also certain that the Tide program remains strong.
But Bama fans aren't noted for their patience. "People close to the program can judge (our progress)," Franchione explained. "But some people all they see is the Ws and the Ls. And I understand that. That's the bottom line.
"This season I felt like we were getting better--even when we were only 3-5. But at that point it was important not to let the short-term record cloud our vision."
EDITOR'S NOTE: We'll share more of our conversation with Coach Franchione in future articles. Next topic: 2001--the Turning Point.