Franchione hinted that in their first year at Alabama, he and his staff weren't immune from the normal feeling out process. "Year one was about putting substance issues back in place," he said. "Trust, accountability and a team that is together. We made lot of progress. I feel like this is my team now, and that's a nice feeling."
Bama's still-new head coach laughed off the suggestion that he had become a "cult figure," following his team's 31-7 demolition of Auburn. But he acknowledged the game's importance. "Former athletics director Glenn Tuckett called (current AD) Mal Moore after the game. ‘Fran can unpack now,' he said. Those that know me know how important tradition and history is to me. I enjoyed being part of a legendary game. It was a proud moment. We'd just like a lot more of them."
Outside observers have been frankly surprised at how the Tide players have hung together in the face of NCAA sanctions. However, while definitely pleased, Franchione was not surprised. "I really like the attitude and chemistry right now. We've been through adversity. Hard times make you stronger or they divide you. The players had their chances to move on, but they chose to stick with the Crimson Tide. That shows their pride in that Crimson jersey and their trust in our coaching staff. I think it's made us stronger. We may have questions of how good (this team) will be but there is no question about their commitment right now."
"You had to be concerned about the possibility of players transferring," he continued. "I don't know how close some of them may have been, but nobody talked to me about it. I never had that conversation with any player."
But did he address the issue with the team? "Of course," he replied.
Franchione believes the team will be better than last season, but a tougher schedule that includes road games against several Top 10 squads could take its toll. "I feel like we have chance to be a better ball club this year. But we may have a better team and not a better record."
As offensive strengths, Franchione listed the offensive line, four quality tailbacks and talented quarterbacks, led by veteran Tyler Watts. And he made a point of praising redshirt freshman Brodie Croyle's talent, saying he was "on the fast track" to success. Fans should expect Croyle to play early and often, if for no other reason than Watts will be graduating after this year and younger players need the experience. "Tyler Watts is a bona fide leader, and Brodie Croyle is a rising star."
Alabama led the conference in rushing last season, so running the football is an obvious strength. But a team goal is to improve its average yards per game from 410 to 460. And those extra yards will likely come via the pass.
Franchione noted that tight end and wide receiver were both question marks. "Theo Sanders has to come through for us. Sam Collins and AC Carter are steady, but players like Triandos Luke, Dre Fulgham and Brandon Greer have got to step up."
Bama's starting defensive line will be a strong point, but with depth a concern the coaches will be looking closely at the incoming true freshman to see if any are ready to play this season. Again, senior departures after this season makes giving experience to younger players a necessity. Franchione also believes linebacker will be a strength. "If he stays on track, Brooks Daniels could break the Alabama record for career tackles."
The Tide secondary should be improved, especially with the influx of talented redshirt freshmen. "They remind me a lot of our three redshirt freshmen on the offensive line last year," Franchione said. "They've caused the rest of the defensive backs to raise the level of their game."
Placekicking is a concern, though Franchione said he thought the situation would resolve itself during fall camp. But one of the contenders needs to separate himself from the rest.
Franchione addressed the issue of NCAA probation head on, noting that he and his staff are focusing on what they can control and not worrying about the rest. "We're on the downhill side of all that, and we're heading in a good direction. The squad has a lot to play for in 13 games. We'd like to be the best in the West, so the best team doesn't go to Atlanta (for the SECC)."
"The SEC has had problems," Franchione continued. "With six schools being investigated, there are obviously things to pay attention to. I'm excited about Commissioner Slive, and I think he'll do a great job. We're going to do our part at Alabama to raise the image of the league."
Franchione went on to note that he expected this season to be his most challenging as a coach, given the task of keeping his squad motivated with the possibility of a bowl game removed. "I consider team building and motivation to be a 365-day-a-year job."
Asked about his impressions of the league after one season, Franchione said, "Last year just verified what I thought coming in. The physical nature of play, the speed, the coaching and tough road games."
- The Tide seniors came in for special praise, with Franchione noting that he would have had a difficult time selecting just two seniors to bring to Media Days. Jarret Johnson and Tyler Watts were selected to attend by the team Leadership Council.
- Franchione supports the talk of adding a fifth season of eligibility.
- He expects the 12th game to become standard, because of the increased revenue provided.
- Bama's 13-game schedule will be grueling, but having an open date will be helpful.
- If Alabama opened against Oklahoma and then played MTSU, Franchione would worry about motivation. But the first game "takes care of itself."
- Defensive end/linebacker Chris Browder still has some interpretation problems with the NCAA Clearinghouse. To be eligible athletes must have a certain GPA in core courses, and there is a dispute about the application of one course and its effect on Browder's GPA.
- The utilization of two tailbacks in the game at the same time (A-Back) will have its greatest effect in the passing game.
- Auburn's undefeated season while on probation is not being used by Tide coaches to motivate the players. "Not one bit. It's not even mentioned."
- True freshman Earnest Nance's entrance to The University is now likely to be delayed until January, so that the linebacker can have extra time to rehabilitate from knee surgery.