Franklin has Tigers dancing to a new tempo
AUBURN, Ala. -- How do you improve an offense that ranked 103rd in the country in passing and 84th in scoring last season?
With offense in a box, of course.
That's the radical approach Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville is taking, after replacing offensive coordinator Al Borges at the end of the 2007 regular season. Tuberville hired Troy's spread offense guru Tony Franklin, who installed much of his system in only eight practices prior to Auburn's 23-20 overtime win over Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve.
"We couldn't put any points up last year," Tuberville said. "Defensively, we played pretty well. We were looking for something to change the tempo and put a little life in our offense. I've been watching this offense for four or five years and was a little bit skeptical."
Tuberville had good reason to be skeptical. After all, Franklin's offense has been available to any coach who wanted to buy it for the past few years. For $2,995, high school coaches around the country can purchase the Tony Franklin System, which includes instructional DVDs, playbooks, power point technology and wristbands. Clients also can attend Franklin's instructional seminars -- he holds them in Atlantic City, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Nashville throughout the year -- and participate in weekly conference calls with him during the season.
After getting hired at Auburn, Franklin might be forced to sell his interest in the consulting business. According to SEC spokesman Charles Bloom, league rules stipulate "SEC football coaching, strength and conditioning and administrative staff may not conduct, attend or be involved in any way in football camps and coaching clinics off their institution's campus." SEC rules allow coaches to speak at coaching clinics off campus, but only when potential recruits aren't in attendance.
When Franklin started his consulting business, he was carrying six or seven videotapes in a brown grocery bag. As schools started having success with his offense, his reputation grew. Most of his early clients were high schools in Kentucky. Once national prep power Hoover (Ala.) High School installed the offense and won big with it, high schools across the country came on board.
Franklin estimates more than 300 high schools in 43 states are now running some version of his offense. Several coaches from J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, Texas, one of Franklin's clients, attended Auburn's practice on Thursday morning. Coaches from Troy and Division II Albany (Ga.) State University also were there.
So much for secrecy. Then again, when your offense is still available on the Web (www.tonyfranklinfootball.com), who needs the privacy? Franklin even believes some of Troy's opponents obtained copies of his offense during his two seasons as offensive coordinator there.
"There's no doubt, some of the people we played came across that information," Franklin said. "It's really a good thing and not a bad thing. Every school that runs this offense does it to fit their needs. We give them so much information, if you try to do everything, you can't do it well. I hope they do [steal the information]. They'll have so much information on their hands, it would do nothing but confuse them. I hope they do get it."
First and foremost, Franklin hopes his players learn the offense during spring practice. Franklin estimates he installed 95 percent of his offense before the bowl game. The offense is built around what he calls "concepts," and each concept can be changed as many as 20 times. The no-huddle offense is built around short, quick passes and multiple-receiver sets and includes formations like "Lasso," "Ace Open" and "NASCAR."
More than anything, Franklin's offense requires his players to work with great urgency. Last season, Auburn averaged 69 offensive plays in 13 games. Troy, which ranked 16th in total offense and 25th in scoring in 2007, averaged 81.5 plays per game.
Tuberville hopes the new offense increases not only his team's production, but also excitement among fans and potential recruits. Tuberville wanted to install the offense before the Chick-fil-A Bowl so recruits could see what the Tigers were going to do.
"We struggled signing wide receivers because people considered us 'three yards and a cloud of dust,'" Tuberville said. "Kids want to catch the ball now, and our passing game wasn't very good."
Auburn's passing game figures to be better this coming season. Sophomore Kodi Burns, who played sparingly behind departed starter Brandon Cox last season, has emerged as the No. 1 quarterback in spring practice. Junior college transfer Chris Todd, who started his career at Texas Tech, has been bothered by a sore throwing shoulder.
Todd, who had committed to play for Franklin at Troy and then followed him to Auburn, knows the offense well. Todd attended Elizabethtown High School in Kentucky, which was one of Franklin's first clients. Franklin expected Todd to challenge Burns for the starting job, but Todd's shoulder injury has prevented him from throwing. Todd had an MRI on his right shoulder earlier this week and was examined by Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Ala., who found no serious structural damage. Franklin hopes Todd can begin throwing again next week.
"He used to be able to throw the ball through a car wash and not get it wet," Franklin said. "He's so good in the pocket and such a great leader, I thought he'd have a chance to win the job. But if he can't throw it, he can't play."
Burns, who was mostly known as a mobile quarterback last season, has improved his throwing tremendously through better footwork and mechanics. Burns said he is much more comfortable running Franklin's offense now that he's had time to digest the nuances of the system.
"The offense is about execution," Burns said. "It's a lot different than what we used to run. Last year, it was run first and play-action. Now, it's a lot of shotgun and spread the field. It gets a lot more guys involved."
Tuberville insists Auburn won't stray far from its traditional roots, which have always emphasized a powerful running game. But Tuberville said the Tigers will be more efficient in doing it.
"The entire difference in this offense is the tempo," Tuberville said. "The passing game is the same. The running game is the same. Our kids are going to have to grow into it."
Franklin said Auburn's players have accepted the offense well.
"I've never had anybody not like this," Franklin said. "They all like it because everybody gets the ball. Everybody looked at this and saw new hope and new life."
The spread offense has provided Franklin a second chance, too. When Franklin resigned as Kentucky's offensive coordinator after the 2000 season, he was accused of supplying the NCAA with information that led to coach Hal Mumme resigning and the Wildcats being placed on probation. Franklin even wrote a book about his experience and sued Kentucky and Mumme.
"I was told by people that I would be done in coaching forever if I wrote that book," Franklin said. "The way I looked at it, I'd be done if I didn't write the book. The innuendo and rumors were purposely placed out there to make me look like a rat. Most people believed it to be fact. I felt writing the book was the best thing to do. I don't regret it."
Franklin paid dearly for his actions. After leaving Kentucky, he was out of work for three years. He was hired as general manager and coach of an indoor football team in Lexington, Ky., in 2003, but left after only one season. At the time, Franklin's consulting business was struggling to get off the ground. He lost his home and cars and filed for bankruptcy.
Finally, Troy coach Larry Blakeney hired Franklin as offensive coordinator before the 2006 season. Franklin helped Troy win its first Sunbelt Conference title and bowl game in his first season. Tuberville came calling after Franklin's second season at Troy.
"It's been a very humbling experience," Franklin said.
That's why Franklin -- and Auburn's offense -- aren't about to slow down. After Thursday's practice, former Auburn coach Pat Dye, who led the Tigers to four SEC titles with running backs such as Bo Jackson and Lionel James, introduced himself to Franklin.
Even Dye was impressed.
"I like your tempo," Dye told him.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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