Franchione appreciates rivalry

A year ago many of the questions to Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione indicated a belief that Franchione did not have an appreciation for the magnitude of the Alabama-Auburn game. After Bama's 31-7 victory over Auburn in Auburn in his first coaching appearance in the rivalry, most agreed that Franchione had been a quick study.

Alabama, ranked ninth in the nation with a 9-2 overall record and 6-1 Southeastern Conference mark, will host Auburn (7-4, 4-3) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. CBS will televise the game.

In some respects, Franchione is still learning about the rivalry. He revealed in his regular Tuesday press briefing that he had just learned that Alabama has a record of 0-3 against Auburn in Tuscaloosa and that Bama has never scored a point against the Tigers in Tuscaloosa, although the game has been played in Tuscaloosa just once -- a 9-0 Auburn win in 2000 -- in the past century. "Hopefully we can rectify that," Franchione said.

Franchione said, "It's great to be a part of the rivalry and it's great to be going into my second (Auburn) game. I love these kinds of rivalries and certainly this is as heated and bitter a rivalry as there is. But the thing that impressed me last year was the players and coaches were very respectful and played a very clean game, played very hard. Everybody wanted to win, but yet they all fought with class. It's a great day for the state of Alabama and an opportunity to be on national television in a very positive way. I think that's certainly positive. I love being a part of these kinds of games. It's a lot more fun when you win, but that's true every week. It is exciting to be involved in what may be the greatest rivalry in college football."

While it may have been judged by most that Franchione, whose interest in and admiration for the traditions of college football are well known, understands the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, he was asked again Tuesday if -- based on last year's game -- he had come to appreciate the passion for football in the state of Alabama.

Franchione shows remarkable patience with such questions. He said, "I certainly did. People ask, ‘Was it more than you expected?' I don't know how to answer that. I went in with great anticipation and was very excited about the day and the game and being a part of such a great rivalry and one that's had so many great coaches involved with it. I always make sure on days like this I take about five minutes to just soak it all in, just kind of reflect on it, because once you get into the game, you're so locked in the zone you don't have an opportunity to really enjoy some of those other aspects because it's business as usual once the game begins."

In the past, Franchione has said that rivalry games are all passionate, even though some don't command national attention. Asked about that again Tuesday, he said that it is difficult to judge the magnitude of a rivalry without having been a part of it, but that he would guess the Texas-Oklahoma and Ohio State-Michigan games rank among the nation's best. As for the Alabama-Auburn game, he said, "I think one of the things that separates this one a little bit is that it's two in-state schools."

Franchione said that even though this game ranks above most others in emotion for fans that it is important to try to keep the team on an even keel in preparation. He said he doesn't change the way he prepares the team. Franchione said, "I think I owe the players the best job I can give them whether it's Oklahoma or Vanderbilt or whoever it may be. And it doesn't change this week. I think the emotions of this game should take care of themselves. I will foster them and nurture them along. But I think it's very important in a game like this to play with tremendous focus and under control, much like we have done week in and week out."

He also noted that he encourages his players to perform with enthusiasm rather than emotion, which, he said, can come and go with the fortunes of the game. He said that while football is a physical game, the mental is important, too, and said he thinks his team has handled the mental side of it well this season.

He added, "We're excited to have the game in our stadium this year. I know our players will have some emotion and thought in playing their last home game in a crimson jersey. That's always a special day and a meaningful day. So I know that they'll play very hard and want this to be a good day for them."

The Crimson Tide coach noted that because Alabama is ineligible for post-season play that some believe a big game on the Bama schedule is Alabama's bowl game. "I've never thought it was," Franchione said. "We always have big games on our schedule, and this is one of those."

Franchione was complimentary of Auburn, which he called a "good football team...good in a lot of areas. They're very solid." He pointed out that Auburn is second in the SEC in scoring. He said the offensive line is big and strong. Franchione made particular mention of tailback Ronnie Brown, who, he said, "runs very hard, very physical." He said Brown breaks tackles and "always seems to fall forward for two yards."

Defensively, Franchione said, Auburn causes a lot of turnovers. He said the linebackers, particularly, are notable, and that the secondary is playing very well, and added that "They all can run; they all have great size and range."

In summary, Franchione said, "I think their whole football team is physical and has good speed. I think it will be a very physical game Saturday."

Franchione said it is the type game that will likely be decided by defense, and he said Alabama's defense has grown in confidence as it has had success this year. And, he said, "In games like this, taking care of the football and playing well in the kicking game are always big."

In 2000 Alabama was 3-8 and Mike DuBose was fired as Alabama's coach. He was replaced by Franchione who took the Tide to a 7-5 record last season and a 9-2 mark thus far in this season. Is Franchione on schedule?

"I'm never quite sure," he said. "I suspect we are not as far as our fans are concerned because they think we should win every game.

"I am pleased for and proud of our players for the way they embraced this coaching staff and our plan. They have had challenges to their resiliency. It has been gratifying to me to see these young men grow like they have. When I came here I felt there was talent, but there wasn't a team. The biggest job I had was to reunite the team. We have had injuries and players have stepped up. There are a lot of challenges still ahead of us, things we have to work through. For this to be the kind of season we want, we have two more games to win."

Alabama was to have its first practice of the week Tuesday. The Tide returned from last Saturday night's 31-0 win over LSU in Baton Rouge so late that the players did not have their normal Sunday practice, just meetings and film study. Monday is a regular off day.

This week's practices are closed to the media, as were the practices prior to last year's Auburn game. That's primarily because so many media outlets that don't cover Alabama on a daily basis, primarily television stations, want to cover practice this one week. "It's an in-state game and we want to get to it with our game plan, not the world's game plan," Franchione said.


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