I honestly believed that Dennis Franchione having been hired as Alabama's football coach was one of the most important events in Alabama's storied football history. I believed that he was the man who had demonstrated quickly that he had what it took to guide Alabama football through the hard times of NCAA penalties. And I still believe that he would have been successful.
But when it came to crunch time, Dennis Franchione did not measure up. No matter what spin he attempts to put on his decision to leave Alabama after two years to take the head coaching job at Texas A&M, the only logical conclusion is that he thought the Alabama job was too tough for him. It wasn't about money. It wasn't about his family (a.) not liking Alabama or (b.) wanting to live in Texas.
It is not my desire to demean Texas A&M. I know Texas A&M is an exceptional university with a good football program. It is a considerable step up from TCU. But no one who knows anything about college football would suggest that being head football coach at Texas A&M is a better job than being head football coach at Alabama. Maybe for one year or two years in scattered decades the job in College Station, Texas, would be better than the job in Tuscaloosa, but it is true almost always and everywhere that the state university is the place to be.
Texas A&M is not Texas and it's not Alabama. And Franchione, who will finish his coaching career with an excellent record, will lose his chance to go down in history as a truly great college football coach. For that to happen, a very good coach must also be at the right school, and for Franchione Alabama was that opportunity.
It is of no concern to me how Franchione attempts to build his A&M program. At Alabama he did it in great part on trust. Witness the oft-repeated miracle of no players transferring following the NCAA probation. Those players stuck by their coach. It is something of an irony that it was the captain who deserted the ship.
It is also not important when events occurred. We know that at 1:30 a.m. Thursday, December 5, Franchione received a call from his agent, Craig Kelly, saying he had a deal. Later that morning Franchione flew to Texas. At 2:30 p.m. he shook hands to become the Aggies new head coach. (Memo to Texas A&M: Get it in writing, but don't expect much from that either. As Franchione pointed out frequently in recent weeks, the status of negotiation of a new Alabama contract notwithstanding, he still had a contract for five more years at Alabama.)
A memo also needs to go to whoever is in charge of the legal team at The University of Alabama. There are no guarantees, but it would have been a lot easier for Franchione to have said "no" to outside overtures if the deal he and Athletics Director Mal Moore had agreed to last winter not been stalled through the summer by Alabama lawyers and/or the Board of Trustees. Could Franchione have broken that contract as well? Of course. But it seems he would have been less likely to have been appraoched, or that he would have felt more obligated to Alabama with the new agreement.
It now seems clear that Franchione was less than honest with his protestations that there were no negotiations with Texas A&M prior to this week. The same agent who couldn't come to an agreement with Alabama's attorneys over a period of several months was able to reach agreement with Texas A&M attorneys in a few hours? Not likely. But, as with so many issues of hindsight, it is now clear why the agreement with Alabama could not be finalized over the past few months. It wans't because Franchione couldn't take an hour to be bothered. It was almost certainly because Franchione fears additional NCAA penalties following recent events in Memphis.
One thing that should be remembered is the man who hired Franchione -- Mal Moore -- is the man who will hire his replacement. And no matter what our enemies (or even some of our friends) say, Alabama's football tradition appeals to good coaches. It was the primary reason Franchione accepted a verbal offer from Moore when Franchione had two contracts (TCU and Arizona) on his desk that were financially equal to or better than Bama's offer.
One of the more curious sideshows going on is the delight among those at Alabama's rival schools. It might be thought they would be curious about why Alabama's coach, not theirs, was the one being sought by a school with the resources to go after just about anyone. And they, too, should realize Alabama will once again have a coach who will help Alabama continue its dominating position.
It doesn't take a genius to guess that Moore will look first to Mike Riley, a former Alabama player who has been a head coach in college, Canadian football and the NFL and who is currently assistant head coach of the New Orleans Saints. Moore has many contacts, but a primary interest in this search almost certainly will include those traits of trust and loyalty that Franchione talked so much about.