Players knew something was up

Weeks--even months--of denials to the contrary, the Alabama players knew something was up with their former head coach before he boarded that plane and winged away to the Lone Star State. <br><br>"We sensed it at the Hawaii game," said senior captain Ahmaad Galloway yesterday.

Normally cool and businesslike in all his dealings with the team, Dennis Franchione broke down and cried in his pre-game talk. And though the game itself was really nothing out of the ordinary, more Fran tears were shed by the calculating head coach in the post-game locker room.

"It was an emotional deal for him," Galloway recalled. "Before and as the game was coming to an end, he shed a lot more tears. He was a lot more emotional.

"I suspect there might be a reason for that."

Change, of course, is a part of life. But crocodile tears aside, the coach that preached "trust" and "accountability" ad nauseum, never chose to tell his players what was going on. "The whole time (in Hawaii) he never even mentioned the possibility of leaving," Galloway said. "We haven't seen him (since Tuesday). We haven't gotten any word from him."

The same coach who in 11 months couldn't find the time to negotiate and sign a contract extension at Alabama, would now have fans believe he got his A&M deal done in less than 12 hours. Franchione is set to ink his new Aggie contract this afternoon.

With players and the media Franchione never failed to say the right thing. But in the end he turned his oft-quoted "walking the walk" line into a cruel joke.

The control freak is obviously still in control, but Galloway wonders if Fran's plan has room for a face-to-face farewell with his former team. "I do want him to come back and talk to (the team), especially for the younger guys," Galloway said. "They made a sacrifice to stay and not go anywhere. He has a whole freshman class that really doesn't know where their future is going.

"I'm sure once he's gotten everything situated, he'll be back."

Unfortunately, it appears that once again Galloway's and the team's assumptions about their former coach will be proved wrong. Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore said yesterday that he did not know if Franchione would return to address the team but indicated he thought he would.

But word late yesterday out of Texas had the frequent-flyer coach "too busy" to make the trip back. Reportedly he has asked his assistant coaches to say his goodbyes to the Tide players.

"I'm hurting for the younger guys," Galloway said. "I think a lot of guys are extremely hurt--about as hurt as you can be."

When NCAA sanctions were first announced, Franchione went to the team asking for commitment. His message was inspiring. Stay the course. Put in the off-season work. And together they could carve out a niche for themselves in Crimson Tide history.

Franchione is nothing if not persuasive, and the players responded to his challenge. "Guys paid the price," Galloway recalled. "They stayed here and worked. I think a lot of guys stuck around to try to see this thing through with the sanctions and everything."

Never at a loss for words, Franchione often reverently used the coaching cliché' of "talking the talk" versus "walking the walk."

No doubt he has the "talking" part down cold. But after persuading the entire Crimson Tide family to buy into what he was preaching, Franchione was the one that took a walk.

Galloway talked about what the squad was feeling. "I wouldn't call it ‘betrayed.' We're just players. It's more feeling hurt and shocked."

After Moore informed the team that their former head coach had flown the coop, emotions ran high. Ever conscious of image, Franchione had lined the halls of the Football Complex with photos of Crimson Tide players and coaches. And reportedly, after Thursday's meeting angry athletes immediately removed every picture containing the objectionable face.

Broken commitments naturally evoke such anger, and more than one player has suggested the Tide schedule Texas A&M so they can run a play toward Franchione's sideline.

But from the perspective of a fifth-year senior, Galloway has sympathy for his former head coach--betrayal or not. "My situation as a player is a little bit different from a coach. He has a family to provide for and a lot of decisions to make. I think he's hurt that he made the decision. It's a decision that I can never understand--or anybody else.

Galloway and the rest of his teammates did their part, staying on campus all summer and working hard in preparation for the season.

"When we lay our heads down at night, we'll pray that he made the right decision."

Galloway's playing career is done, but unlike Franchione he's not going to turn his back on the Tide team. "The team captains are still around," he said. "The players need to stick together. Whatever coach they bring in is what direction that we'll follow. It's important for the young guys to form some type of bond or leadership to keep things going."

"The reason to stay is a lot bigger than a coach," Galloway continued. "I don't think you come to school for a coach. You come to a school for what the school has to offer, what it's been in the past and what it's going to be in the future. The Crimson Tide was at the pinnacle of college football before Coach Fran, and it's going to be in years to come."

Oil money now firmly in hand, the Midwest mercenary has done what he's always done--moved on to pitch "trust" and "accountability" to yet another football team. This one happens to be in College Station, Texas.

But the Alabama football family will endure. "From a players standpoint, I'm not worried about next year," Galloway said. "Outside distractions can hurt, but I think the Alabama Crimson Tide will be solid next year.

"What's important right now is that this University of Alabama family was not formed in the two years that Coach Fran was here. It was formed years before he got here, and this family will stay a family for years to come."

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