"We look forward to the day when we can sell just the academics and The University and the things that go along with (Alabama). Then we can develop our plan and go forward."
Apart from the negative publicity that has enveloped the investigation at every turn, Franchione and his coaches essentially have already endured two years of probation, when it comes to recruiting.
Despite the dark cloud hanging over the program, last winter the Tide signed a solid, if not spectacular class. And Franchione hopes to at least duplicate that effort this year. "We're at the point where we're trying to finish," he said. "You pull on some strings and hold onto other strings. And you push hard to try and get your commitments. That's just what you do at this time of the year."
National Signing Day is February 6. Working under a self-imposed limit of 17 scholarships, to date Alabama has garnered commitments from 14 athletes. "I think in all it's going well," Franchione said. "We just want to finish up strong."
As part of that recruiting effort, Alabama is hosting nine athletes on official visits this weekend. The group includes Derrick Pope (linebacker), Roshawn Pope (wide receiver/cornerback), Juwan Garth (rover), Chris Harris (defensive end), Nic Luke (fullback), Earnest Nance (linebacker/running back), Sam McGrew (linebacker), Greg McLain (fullback/tight end/linebacker/defensive end) and Titus Ryan (wide receiver/tailback/free safety).
As part of its self-imposed sanctions presented to the NCAA, Alabama agreed to limit the number of official visits this year to only 34. "I had a lot of input into how many we would offer," Franchione explained. "We did limit ourselves, there is no doubt about that. But with the number of early commitments that we were able to get--we had 10 commitments going into the season--that basically left 24 visits to use to sign seven kids. I felt like we could do that."
Schools obviously utilize their official visits for recruits believed likely to commit. But in normal years Alabama would also bring in less-likely prospects, knowing that a certain number will be impressed enough by what they see to give the Tide serious consideration.
But with the limitations on official visits, Bama's coaches have been frugal with their invites. Franchione explained; "Now we've had to be real selective in choosing which athletes to bring in. It's probably been even tougher than we thought it would be in the beginning. You just can't bring some guys in that you'd like to take a chance on. Whether because of a marginal academic situation or an athlete that would be a longer shot because of distance."
NCAA rules prohibit Franchione from speaking on the record about specific recruits, but it's safe to assume that he had in mind an athlete like Herchel Dennis. A top running back from Cal State Poly, distance alone make the California native a long-shot to sign with Alabama. So despite the fact that Dennis consistently listed the Tide as one of his favorites, he was not brought in for an official visit.
"There were some athletes that we would have ‘visited,' but we had to pull away," Franchione said. "Because we just didn't know what our chances were. And we couldn't waste a visit."
In assembling a recruiting class, universities can sign athletes out of high school or junior college. This year's Bama class could very well include five out of 17 JUCOs, a relatively high ratio.
Franchione explained; "In a perfect world you'd like to just sign high school players. But with only 85 scholarships, I don't know if that world exists anymore. In our circumstances this year, we're trying to find guys that can help make our football team better. We may end up with a few more (junior college players) in proportion to the size of our class than we might normally think of, but all of the (junior college) players we recruit have a real purpose for us right now."
Franchione continued on the subject of junior-college signees. "We had some ties to some of the players we're signing. With the needs of our team, for instance the recent loss of Saleem, it certainly heightens our need for certain players. We needed linebackers and we needed a cornerback. We'd like to get a defensive tackle, if we could. We lost some receivers that played a lot, so we need a couple of receivers.
Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione and the 2001 Crimson Tide squad enjoy the applause of the crowd at halftime of Saturday's Bama/MSU basketball game.
"As much as anything else, recruiting junior college players is replacing immediate needs with guys that we feel can help."
Alabama has commitments from two JUCO receivers (Jamall Broussard and Zach Fletcher), one cornerback (David Scott) and one linebacker (Derrick Pope, the nephew of Alabama Assistant Head Coach Kenith Pope). Plus, Jimmy Williams, a defensive tackle standout from Pasadena City College, is a principal target.
Limiting the number of official visits has also affected Alabama's recruitment of athletes on the borderline academically. Normally a given school in a given year might sign and place multiple athletes, hoping to enhance its chances of resigning those players when they become eligible.
Franchione talked about the problem; "The fewer visits you have limits how much of that you can do. The way it stands right now, I think we could sign three or four guys that we know we'll probably have to place in a junior college or prep school. It would be hard for it to be any more than that."
At present, one Tide commitment (Chauncey Malone) is thought to be a sign-and-place for Alabama. Two other recruits, Henry Smith and Titus Ryan, could also project as non-qualifiers.
Besides junior colleges, preparatory schools are another option for non-qualifiers. In fact many prep schools specialize in getting borderline recruits eligible. And in the past, Alabama--along with almost every other Division 1A institution--has recommended the prep-school route for some recruits.
But this year at least there has been no indication that any Tide recruit will enroll in prep school. "We haven't been told that we (cannot) do that," Franchione said. "We just want to try and deal with situations that are positive all the way around for a young man academically and athletically and for us in the opportunity to get him back."
With the torrent of negative publicity surrounding the almost two-year investigation, there is no question that Franchione's staff has faced an uphill battle in selling its program. But he accepts the challenge without complaint. "It's no more intense than I expected or that I have been around," Franchione said. "But there are certainly some extra things that you have to deal with that are maybe a little unusual."