Conversation with Fran: First things first

People that work daily with Bama's Head Football Coach all attest that with Dennis Franchione--pretty much what you see is what you get. If he comes across as honest, straight-forward and determined, it's because that's precisely what he is. <br><br>But in one way at least, appearances can be deceiving. Because underneath that polished, media-savvy and completely modern exterior, lurks an old-fashioned, hard-nosed football coach.

Watch him interact with the press, cajoling and joking--always ready with a quip or laugh line to relieve the tension, and unerring in his dead-on responses to questions--and there is no doubt that Franchione is comfortable in the spotlight.

But as comforting as it is to Tide fans to once again have a head coach at ease in front of the cameras, Franchione knows all too well that's not what he was hired for. "You always have to keep in mind what's important," he explained. "And that's the fact that I was hired to win football games."

Shown laughing off the heat during the post-game press conference beneath Vanderbilt's cracker box of a stadium, Franchione is clearly at ease in dealing with the media.

Despite the whirlwind of troubles that beset the program during his first year in Tuscaloosa, Franchione is clearly relishes his job--coaching literally in the shadow of Coach Bryant's tower.

Tuscaloosa is a long way from Franchione's birthplace of Girard, Kansas. And though they nurture a proud tradition of their own, the Pittsburg State Gorillas didn't pay him quite as much as Franchione now makes as Head Coach at Alabama. "I never dreamed of salaries at this level," he said. "You just could never envision that. Of course I'm not sure you don't earn every penny of whatever it is.

"The demands of being a college coach today are much more difficult than a lot of people know."

And Franchione is not simply talking about coaching under the cloud of NCAA sanctions--a burden which promises to make his job exponentially more difficult over the next four years. Far and away more challenging than the problems facing any other collegiate coach in the nation.

Known for his attention to detail both in the film room and at practice, Franchione frankly enjoys the on-the-field aspects of his job. But being Head Football Coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide involves much more than mere coaching.

Players laugh at the notion of Franchione as some sort of always calm, even benevolent presence. They know the hard-charging football coach part of his personality that fans often don't see.

Much more.

Alumni gatherings, charity events, Red Elephant Club meetings, community outreach--and more autograph requests than a squad of coaches could hope to fulfill--all of it calls for more minutes than Franchione has in his days. "It can get overwhelming if I let it," he said. "You have to pick and choose, because you can't do everything. I could schedule things twice a day and every day of the year--or more."

Franchione of course relies on a dedicated staff to stay organized. Dee Gibson is his trusted Administrative Assistant, and several student staffers also assist. But as helpful and friendly as Gibson is, it's Franchione that everyone wants a piece of.

Franchione explained; "There are so many things for you to do externally today as a college football coach. It's hard to find time to take off. It's hard to find time to be away. I think you earn every bit of what you get."

There are probably still college coaches in America for whom football is a nine-month affair. But those men likely don't serve on the Division IA level, and they certainly don't coach in the SEC.

"With a program like ours you have to be on top of things every day, year-round," Franchione said. "Motivation is an every-day deal."

Pictured signing an autograph at the Independence Bowl, Franchione understands that as head coach at Alabama, fans across the state consider him a member of their family.

NCAA regulations prohibit him from actual coaching during much of the off-season, but Franchione is a regular visitor to the weight room, speaking with and encouraging his athletes. And as Alabama's three recent commitments for 2003 prove, recruiting never stops.

But one of the reasons Franchione came to Alabama was the passion and love in which the Crimson Tide program is held by its fans. And he knows all-too-well that when he accepted the job as Head Coach at Alabama, his face and name immediately became the best known of any personality in the state.

Along with that high profile come responsibilities--which inevitably extend beyond the football field. Franchione explained; "You do have to understand that you have an obligation to the people of Alabama and a responsibility to do what you can. I'm trying to be involved personally with the state and the community.

"But I'm not going to let that hurt my football team."

"You want to do as much as you can for people," Franchione continued. "But in the long run the people of Alabama are going to like me or dislike me based on how many games I win."

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