Franchione tenure marked by mediocrity, embarrassment
Dennis Franchione didn't bother breaking this news to big-shot boosters via a secret newsletter. He went public with it right away Friday night, announcing the inevitable: His tenure at Texas A&M is over.
Franchione made it official not long after the kind of win that didn't happen often enough in his five years coaching the Aggies. His team had just outscored thoroughly overrated Texas 38-30 -- a second straight victory over the Longhorns, but just his 19th Big 12 victory in 40 tries.
The underwhelming bottom line -- 32-28 overall, never better than 5-3 in league play, 4-16 against ranked teams -- certainly put Franchione's $2 million-a-year job in jeopardy. But he might have gotten a sixth year if it hadn't been for the revelation earlier this season about the VIP newsletter that Fran and his assistant Mike McKenzie were peddling for the low, low price of $1,200 a year to select boosters.
That shocking bit of subterfuge, which appears to have broken a few NCAA and Big 12 rules, in addition to running afoul of Fran's contract terms, fractured his trust with the school. Not to mention adding embarrassment to mediocrity.
For a guy already operating with a slim margin for error, that was the knockout blow. Otherwise, it's hard to see a man walking away -- with an unmistakable administrative shove and a substantial buyout -- after beating the Longhorns in back-to-back seasons. Consecutive upsets of your big-brother rival usually are the quickest way to an extension and a raise, not a pink slip.
Really, A&M was kind in letting Franchione finish the year after the secret newsletter story blew up. But he won't coach the Aggies in a bowl game, which gives athletic director Bill Byrne the opportunity to begin -- or finalize -- his coaching search quickly.
Byrne wasted no time finding a basketball coach last spring after Billy Gillispie bolted for Kentucky, replacing him quickly with Wichita State's Mark Turgeon. That hire already is paying dividends, as the Aggies won the Preseason NIT on Friday night.
We'll see whether Byrne is as successful in the sport A&M fans truly care about, football. Speculation immediately will center upon Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, a former A&M defensive coordinator who has had smashing success on The Plains.
Sources there say Tuberville is seeking some upgrades for his assistants and in facilities and he would be willing to look around if Auburn isn't willing to accommodate him. Tuberville is scheduled to meet with school administrators Monday, after the Tigers finish the regular season Saturday night against Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
Beyond Tuberville, there is speculation about Houston Texans offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who won a lot of games as head coach of the Green Bay Packers but never got Brett Favre back to a Super Bowl.
Whichever way A&M goes, it will leave behind a disappointing five-year period in its history.
Franchione was hailed as a huge hiring coup, lured away from Alabama for a king's ransom. His exit from Tuscaloosa was a greasy one, filled with hypocrisy and a lack of accountability, but none of that mattered to the giddy Aggies fans. In Fran, they believed they finally had someone who could look Mack Brown in the eye -- both on the recruiting trail and on the sidelines.
It never worked out that way. Fran has been more style and sound bite than substance.
An ugly 4-8 season in Franchione's first year was followed by creeping improvement to 7-5 in 2004, but A&M backslid to 5-6 in 2005. Last year, the Aggies went 9-4 with three losses by four points or fewer -- but even the big upset of the Longhorns was negated by a 45-10 thrashing by California in the Holiday Bowl.
That put the heat on Fran this season. And when the Aggies were thumped by what has turned out to be a bad Miami team on national TV on Sept. 20, Franchione had enough enemies in important places that the newsletter's existence was leaked to the Texas media.
That's when it all blew up. A 7-5 record against a deceptively tough schedule -- most years, drawing Kansas and Missouri from the Big 12 North would be seen as a break -- wasn't enough to offset the political capital lost in the mini-scandal.
And that's why Dennis Franchione barely waited for the sweat to dry Friday night to announce his resignation, after five years of failed promise in College Station.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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