Tough sailing required a steady hand

With a winning percentage ranked among the leaders in college football, Dennis Franchione arrived at Alabama a proven head coach. But the often-difficult 2001 season provided fans (and some assistants) with their first chance to observe him first-hand. <br><br>"Since he had never coached in the SEC, I was curious and interested to see how he would respond," said Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush.

"I had at least been in the league before. But there is no doubt that I was very impressed with everything that he did."

Before Franchione hired him to coordinate the Tide defense, Torbush had spent 12 years at North Carolina. Before that his resume' included a four-year stretch at Ole Miss. But though he knew Franchione by reputation, 2001 was Torbush's first chance to work with him directly. "It gave me personally a chance to see how Coach Fran would respond to goods and bads--to adversity. For example in the UCLA game, if we make one key play we probably should have won the game. It was interesting to watch him during good games and bad games---to see how he took control of the team."

Franchione arrived at Alabama with a proven track record as a head coach, but many wondered how his theories would hold up in the SEC.

As Torbush remembers all too well, last season was anything but a walk in the park. At first the team played fairly well, though losses to UCLA and South Carolina were tough to take. But then three straight SEC defeats at the hands of Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU dropped Bama's record to 3-5.

Fourth quarter breakdowns cost Alabama dearly versus South Carolina, Ole Miss and Tennessee. But then LSU turned into an embarrassing defensive meltdown that had fans second-guessing their team's effort.

But confident in his belief that he and his staff were doing the right thing, Franchione remained calm. "I think he gave all of us--players and coaches alike--an opportunity to see what we were made out of," Torbush related. "We had to deal with a lot of adversity. That stretch of games in the middle of the season was not much fun for anybody.

"That first season gave the players a chance to see how (the staff) would respond. They got a chance to see how consistent we were--to see what our personalities really were like--to see if we really were really saying what we believed."

In staff meetings following the LSU loss, Franchione conveyed a simple message. Correct the mistakes, but don't panic. Continue working hard and success will inevitably come. Cornerbacks Coach Chris Thurmond explained, "Using Fran's experience, that's what we did with the whole football team. That's what Carl (Torbush) was able to do with the defense, and that's what I was able to do with the secondary.

Torbush and Franchione coaching on the sideline versus UTEP.

"That got us through."

Like the rest of Franchione's staff, Torbush and Thurmond are experienced coaches, veterans of 100s of games on the college level. But the tone for any organization is conveyed from the top. "Any time you have experience, it teaches you how to deal with tough situations," Thurmond said. "When you've got adversity, if you overreact to it and turn it into more of a crisis than it really is, then you just accentuate the problem. You heat up the fire."

The team had just experienced its worst day statistically in the history of Alabama football, and fans were demanding to know what was wrong. But whatever they might have expected that Sunday afternoon following the LSU defeat, the Tide players saw no panic at practice. "Because they saw how we would respond and we saw how they responded, trust developed," Torbush explained. "Plus we got so much better in the last four games--we made some plays and won the games.

"I think right now there is no doubt that the players truly believe in Coach Fran and this staff--and we believe in them. They understand that we're in it to help them be the best that they can be, and in turn that will help Alabama football be the best it can be."

For Torbush, 2001 was his first chance to observe how Franchione dealt with the ups and downs of a season. But Thurmond had seen it all before. "That's the great thing about Fran's approach, it's even-keel," Thurmond said. "We're going to practice and do the same things every Tuesday, every Wednesday. There is not a lot of change in the routine.

Thurmond coached with Franchione at TCU.

"Kids naturally expect things to be roller-coaster. If we win, everything is great. If we lose, everything is bad. That's human nature. Everybody expects you to react that way. Once people see that you've got an approach and a routine and that you're going to do the same things all the way through, then they become more performance-oriented. Their fear factor drops."

Torbush believes he saw the Tide players start to take on the personality of their head coach. "To see where they came from in the last four games, just because of mental toughness, the improvement that they made--there is no doubt that should help them this year. It helped in the off season, the relationship between the players. I've seen the self-confidence develop amongst themselves. I saw that carry over into the spring."

Of course concepts like trust and confidence are well and good, but the 2002 Alabama team needs to translate those virtues into improved play on Saturdays. "All the coaches are excited to see the improvement that we think we can make this year," Torbush said. "We need to get an interception or get a sack or make a play. If we do that, then everything will take care of itself."


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