Coach Fran No Longer The Man

It's been an amazing transformation. Just a couple of weeks ago, Dennis Franchione was the second coming of Bear Bryant. He was a coach so brilliant that opponents quaked in fear, a man so classy that only the most boneheaded recruits would turn down an opportunity to play for him. At least that was the sentiment among a large portion of Alabama football fans. Not even a loss at home to 10-point underdog Auburn seemed to stick to him.

Oh, how different it is today. Franchione is called vile names, labeled a liar, a man without integrity, a man without feelings for his players. He had the audacity to leave Alabama for Texas A&M. There is much gnashing of teeth about the plight of the Alabama players he left, though it's safe to say most Alabama fans weren't overly concerned about the TCU players he left to move to Alabama.

There are officials in high places at Alabama who are convinced that Franchione had given his word that he would sign a new 10-year contract. He didn't sign it, and now he's gone. Alabama is left with a mess. Facing potentially crippling NCAA sanctions, the Tide must quickly find a new head coach. Athletic director Mal Moore says he wants an experienced college head coach. Considering the situation in which Alabama finds itself, his options will be limited.

Franchione's departure is just another sign of how the college football landscape has changed in recent years. Fans want coaches to feel the same passion and loyalty they feel. Some do. Most don't. At the highest level, head coaches are wealthy men. Few have any desire to be the next Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden, coaching well into their 70s. Their loyalty to their schools is no different than your loyalty to your employer. Offered what they consider better jobs, they'll go.

As difficult as it is for some Alabama fans to accept, circumstances have changed greatly since Bryant coached his last game in the 1982 Liberty Bowl. Alabama's football program is strong, but it is not dominant. Franchione saw another opportunity, liked it better and took it.

The big winner in all this could be Auburn. In the high-stakes rivalry in this state, turmoil at one school is often good for the other. Coaching changes always bring uncertainty. NCAA sanctions, especially scholarship reductions, are a terrible burden.

Things are blissfully quiet at Auburn. There is no hint of NCAA scandal in the football program. Tiger coaches are on the road recruiting and players are conditioning, waiting for Sunday and word of their bowl destination. Head coach Tommy Tuberville has steadily built the program toward a championship level since arriving in late November 1998. He should have his best team next season, one that will be among the favorites to win the SEC championship.

The key to long-term success is stability. Auburn has it now. Alabama doesn't. That can change quickly. Just look back to 1998. Terry Bowden had left at midseason and Auburn was in turmoil. Alabama was a year away from winning the SEC championship under head coach Mike DuBose. That wasn't long ago.

Tuberville is compensated handsomely, making $1.25 million as Auburn's head coach. But it's not always about money these days. It's about security, too. If Auburn's power brokers have decided that Tuberville is the man to take Auburn forward--and it certainly seems clear that he is--they should make sure he's going to be around to do it. They should make a commitment to him. He, in turn, should make a commitment to them. If that's done, Auburn won't have to worry he'll leave every time another job comes open and he, his family and players won't have to feel insecure every time a game is lost.

Alabama officials tried to do that with Franchione. They made a commitment to him, but when it came time to sign his name, he made no commitment to them.

And now he's gone.


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