I knew there had to be problems

Despite some simply wrong reports from one or two national pundits, Dennis Franchione's hiring was almost universally hailed among the Alabama family. Given the obvious challenges facing the program, Tide fans were very happy to have an experienced leader in charge. <br><br>And make no mistake; those challenges were <I>VERY</I> real. "I don't know if you ever know how much you have to do when you take a job," Franchione said. "Which may be a good thing.

"But I knew there had to be some problems.

When Tide Athletics Director Mal Moore hired him in December of 2000, Franchione had just finished guiding Texas Christian to a 10-1 record and a third straight bowl game. Impressive accomplishments at a previously moribund program.

But more than anything else, Franchione's five-straight turnaround seasons caught Moore's attention. "I had never taken over a program that didn't have problems," Franchione explained. "I see so many (coaches) that don't want to take a job, because of problems at the program. Every year coaches turn down different jobs, but there is no guarantee that something better will come along later.

"Jobs aren't usually open because things are going well. They open because there is something wrong."

Alabama's traditions and history of winning national championships was one of the principal reasons he accepted Moore's offer. But some things were definitely "wrong" when Franchione took over. "I hadn't been here for over a week when the Albert Means thing blew up. Then we got the semester grades (for the team).

"I knew there was a lot of work to do when I got here. But I don't know if I realized how much work there was to do until I got here."

Tough challenges have never deterred Franchione--which was a VERY good thing. Because he and his staff faced more than their share when they first arrived at Alabama.

Once the decision was made, Franchione and his staff flew into Tuscaloosa immediately, but they were playing catch-up form day one. Living out of apartments and suitcases that first month, the assistant coaches scrambled to salvage recruiting. There was the NCAA investigation to deal with. A startlingly large number of players had simply stopped attending class the previous semester. Morale and discipline were often nonexistent. And every day seemed to bring another negative story in the media.

Taken together, it was enough to make any coach wonder on occasion what he had gotten himself into. "There are days like that," Franchione said. "But that's been true in every job I've taken over. I remember when I went to New Mexico. There was a day when I shut the door and said, ‘I wonder if I can go back to Southwest Texas?'

"When you first take a job, they bring all the bad things to you. Until you actually come in and sit behind this desk, everything's great. But when you actually come in the office, then there are all the problems that have to be solved."

A meticulous, almost compulsive organizer, Franchione prides himself on being prepared for every contingency. But for the first two months or so he didn't have that luxury. Franchione explained; "The difficulties are the surprises. There for awhile, I was getting a bunch of those. Things happened that I couldn't have planned for. I just had to stand back, see what was going on, and see what I could deal with."

In accepting the Alabama job, Franchione had agreed to a seven-year, million-dollar plus contract. And there is little doubt the Tide got its money's worth.

"That's what I do is handle crises," Franchione said. "I told the squad at the beginning of the year, ‘We will have three to five crises this year. How we respond to those is going to determine our season.' We could lose our starting quarterback, or this happens or that happens. You never know what it's going to be.

"It isn't going to be all good times. Life and football are parallel. It's how we react to the problems that is far more important than how we react to the good times. I just had to stay the course."

There was never any doubt in Franchione's mind that he would see the job through. But the realities of the situation made for some ‘interesting' moments. Franchione explained; "Back in January at that time, there were some huge problems. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, man! This is going to be a tough job.' But I think in every job there is a day or two when you just have so many things to fix, that there is no doubt you take a few moments and wonder what am I going to do--at least in every job that I've taken.

"That's not a negative. When you go through the anxiety of a move and a change, I think that's a normal, natural thing the first few months."

Shown talking to Les Koenning during practice, Franchione and his staff spent a lot of time the first several months restoring order to a troubled program.

Alabama fans had long ago grown accustomed to winning seasons and championship contenders. But having just recently joined the Tide family, Franchione saw the current team for what it was. "If you looked at the last four years, I think Alabama's record was only about 24-23," he said. "And they had a couple of pretty bad seasons in there. Even the one year they got to the Music City Bowl wasn't a great year.

"They had some problems."

Franchione's major coaching goal is to win a national championship. And down the road he knows the Alabama name will make achieving that dream easier.

But beginning in January of 2001, there was a lot of work to do. "From my standpoint, you looked at it and thought (the current Tide team) had one good year," Franchione said. "And if you take that 9-2 out, then they had a losing record for the other three years. So there had to be some instability and some other things had to be problematic in the program."

For those first several months, Franchione probably felt less like a football coach than a fireman, rushing from crisis to crisis putting out brushfires--and even rescuing the occasional lost soul.

But when he first accepted the position, he promised to return Alabama to its rightful place in collegiate football. And at the time at least, that was part of the job. "As long as you're doing what is right, you're going to be OK," Franchione said. "People may not understand it, and there will be criticism out there. But I was always trying to do what is right.

"I had to deal with some things that were left for me to deal with that were difficult. But I just had to believe that over time we'd overcome those things. I think that we've started to do that."

EDITOR'S NOTE: We'll continue our conversation with Coach Fran. Topics on tap: The "No Surprises Coach" and "Fran's ally in the department."


BamaMag Top Stories