Coachspeak Never More Evident

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn and SEC football.

It must be great to be Dennis Franchione today. He has a 10-year, $15 million contract offer from the University of Alabama. He already makes more than $1 million per year. If he hasn't already, he'll soon receive a call from Texas A&M University. If reports are to be believed, he'll be offered a five-year contract worth $14.8 million. That amounts to almost $3 million per year, plus incentives. Whatever he chooses to do, his family will be secure for the rest of his life and his children's lives.

Never is coachspeak more evident than in situations such as this. For weeks Franchione ridiculed reports of a possible move to Texas A&M, pointing out that the Aggies had a coach. What he never once said was that he wouldn't be interested if the job came open or that he would absolutely not leave Alabama. The Aggies don't have a coach anymore. R.C. Slocum was fired Monday. There seems to be no question that the No. 1 choice for his replacement is Franchione. Oh, what to do? Stay at Alabama and be wealthy or go to Texas A&M and be wealthier?

I wonder if Franchione sometimes shakes his head in amazement. Two years ago he was the well-respected head coach at Texas Christian University. What has happened since is nothing short of amazing. He was offered the Alabama job only after others turned it down. His hiring was viewed with some skepticism by Crimson Tide supporters. Through most of his first season, not much happened to excite anybody. On Nov. 17, 2001, everything changed. Franchione took an Alabama team that had won just four games to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn was a significant favorite, but Alabama won 31-7. Just like that, Franchione became an Alabama icon.

Last season, he did not beat a team that finished the season nationally ranked. His only wins over currently ranked teams this season were over LSU and Arkansas, two teams near the bottom of the Top 25. But the Tide beat Tennessee in Knoxville, ending seven years of Vol domination. Franchione was soon being compared to Bear Bryant. Not even a loss to Auburn at Bryant-Denny Stadium seemed to interrupt the Franchione lovefest.

When Alabama was hit with harsh NCAA sanctions, Franchione was praised far and wide because no players took advantage of their option to transfer. No one seemed to notice the fact that it is very rare for players to leave in such situations. Kentucky, which also was hit sanctions, didn't lose anybody. Auburn didn't lose anybody in 1993. Ole Miss lost just one player in 1994.

Franchione finished his second season with a 21-16 win at Hawaii last Saturday. That gave the Crimson Tide a 10-3 record. Were it not for the sanctions, Alabama would be preparing to play Georgia in Saturday's Southeastern Conference Championship Game. As Franchione and the Crimson Tide party flew home Monday night, speculation about his future swirled in Alabama and Texas. It's still swirling today.

There are good reasons Franchione would stay at Alabama and good reasons he would go to Texas A&M. This season's success seems to have convinced many Alabama fans that the loss of 21 scholarships isn't going to hurt. Franchione knows better. Alabama was as talented as anybody this season. The Tide won't be as talented next season, but it will be 2004 when the impact of lost scholarships and two years of recruiting under a dark cloud is really felt. There is also the ominous specter of the NCAA reopening the Alabama case because of legal developments in Memphis.

Despite all that, there is no reason to believe that Alabama won't ultimately recover. Miami went through a similar situation, suffered through a losing season, and is now going after its second consecutive national championship. Franchione has done a masterful job of holding things together in the face of the stunning NCAA sanctions. If he sees it through successfully and ultimately wins championships, he'll become a storied figure in Alabama's football history.

If winning a national championship is what he wants, he'll have a better opportunity in the short term, and maybe even the long term, at Texas A&M. No state produces more football talent than Texas. Franchione's roots are in Texas and surrounding states. Texas A&M is awash in money. Anyone who thinks Alabama can compete in a bidding war is dreaming. If it comes down to money, Texas A&M wins.

There will be no prediction here about what Franchione will do, but we probably won't have to wait long to find out. It's recruiting season, and Texas A&M can't recruit effectively without a head coach. Alabama's recruiting is going to grind to a halt until Franchione says what he's going to do.

Stay tuned. It's going to be interesting.

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