Franchione quickly connects with Aggies

Updated: August 26, 2003, 7:12 PM ET

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Dennis Franchione needed only one word to endear himself to Aggies.

"Howdy!"

By opening his introductory news conference with Texas A&M's traditional greeting, Franchione showed the school's faithful he already was one of them. Any chill he might've felt from supporters of predecessor R.C. Slocum, the winningest coach in school history, melted with those two syllables.

"He did his homework the night before," said Miles Marks, head of the 12th Man foundation, A&M's athletic booster club. "The guy doesn't miss anything."

Since being hired from Alabama in December to replace Slocum, the winningest coach in school history, the detail-oriented Franchione, a former coach at New Mexico, has gotten deeply involved in all things A&M.

It's one thing for him to make sweeping changes in the playbook, scrapping the vaunted Wrecking Crew defense's 3-4 alignment for a 4-3 scheme and opening up the offense is one thing.

It's quite another to see him tweak the blueprint for the new football offices, re-evalaute pregame introductions and make dynamic suggestions for program-building and fund-raising events on campus and across the state.

"He's brought such a fresh, new atmosphere here," said Jonathan Lusk, one of five yell leaders who roam the sidelines at Kyle Field encouraging fans. "It's been great to see him buying into all the things that make this university so special."

Two months after he was hired, Franchione brought in one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. Realizing it was something to be proud of, about a week before he suggested Marks invite program supporters for a celebration.

With one week's notice, the event drew 700 people from more than five states. Marks already has reserved Reed Arena, where the basketball teams play, for next February's celebration.

Then there's the Night of Champions.

A Franchione tradition everywhere he's coached, this was a public viewing of the team's spring weightlifting testing. The initial A&M event drew more than 2,000 people to G. Rollie White Coliseum.

Other events that have helped bond the team include a bowling night and everyone going to A&M baseball and basketball games.

"Most guys don't hang out together," said junior quarterback Dustin Long. "The more we do, the more we'll trust each other. ... I can see why he's won everywhere he's been."

There's also the Maroon-and-White spring game -- planned to coincide with parents weekend.

"In keeping with the theme Vision 20-20" -- a school initiative aimed at making A&M ranked among the nation's 10 best public universities by the year 2020 -- "we want to see 20,000 people on each side of the stadium for the spring game," Franchione wrote on his Web site.

Franchione promoted the attendance everywhere he could, including an e-mail to the entire student body.

It worked, as 41,072 fans came to watch.

Franchione spent the entire day building good will. He made an impromptu speech at a midnight yell practice, spoke to the letterman's club and at the student association Parents Day barbecue, then did radio commentary on the game.

Next year's game already is scheduled for parents weekend, and Marks is aiming to begin promotions long in advance.

"If we get 40,000 or more to the spring practice next year, I'll know what kind of season we had this year," said John David Crow, the school's only Heisman Trophy winner and a former athletic director.

The Coach's Night meetings have become the event of the spring for Aggies.

Marks estimates attendance jumps of up to 100 percent at all six stops: Austin (2,200), Dallas (2,000), Houston (1,700), San Antonio, Fort Worth and College Station (1,000 each).

This, too, was an attendance goal Franchione set, as he wrote on his Web site about wanting "personal bests" at each gathering.

"I don't think I had to challenge them," he said. "There was enough interest and curiosity."

The response has been felt at the box office. Season-ticket sales are up significantly, a key point considering Kyle Field's 82,600 seats, most in the Big 12.

"It's just amazing how much he is constantly thinking of ways to do things better," Marks said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index