- Wayne Drehs
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On any given day, some 30,000 fans visit CoachFran.com, the official website for Dennis Franchione. But the Texas A&M head football coach isn't one of them. Not because he isn't curious about what the site looks like, but because he doesn't know how to get there.
"I'm computer illiterate -- and proud of it," Franchione said. "I'm not web savvy in the least bit. I wouldn't even know where to begin."
But most fans are. And in today's information-is-everything world, where any yahoo can fire up a website and post anything he wants -- be it true or false -- having a web presence as a college football head coach has become increasingly important.
About 15 head coaches have their own independent sites now, with more scheduled to pop up. It's a vehicle to squelch rumors, communicate with recruits and in certain instances, make a few bucks. It's also a place to crack open the door of the program, giving fans a 1-on-1 chance to interact with the head coach.
Two of the more popular sites are Franchione's and Beamerball.com, the official site of Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer. Texas A&M and Virginia Tech square off Thursday night on ESPN (7:30 p.m. ET).
"I don't know much about the Internet," Beamer said. "But I do know that people constantly want to know more and more about your program. And there's so much bad information out there. This just made sense for us."
The University of Texas started the trend six years ago, opening MackBrown-TexasFootball.com, featuring practice updates, guest columns and video clips and promises of breaking news. That site was free.
Beamer's site, Beamerball.com, opened in 2000 and charges visitors $39.95 a year for its premium content. Like Brown's site, Beamerball features practice updates, injury updates, video clips and Top 25 fan polls.
Beamerball is run independently from the university, with one of its intended goals to help supplement the income of the Virginia Tech coaching staff. The original goal when the site opened was for 10,000 subscribers and though Beamer wouldn't divulge current numbers, he said the site is "well on its way."
John Ballein, Beamer's administrative assistant and an associate athletic director for football operations at Virginia Tech, said the site averages 23 million hits and 23,000 unique visitors per month. Ballein has fielded calls from coaches at South Carolina, Southern Cal, Notre Dame and East Carolina, curious as to how the site works as a profit maker.
"Any time you have something like this, you can always give your guys a little more money," Beamer said. "We have a great staff and this helps keep them together. And we're always going to them for quotes and information anyway. So it's paying them for their time."
Said running backs coach Billy Hite: "Coach Beamer is probably the most generous person I've ever met in my life. Whatever he gets he shares with his staff. I don't want to get into how much, but it's enough. It's enough to take the wives out for a couple nice dinners."
Franchione's site couldn't be more different. While Beamer's site is loaded with bells, whistles, pop-up ads and a 39.95 subscription fee, Franchione's site is basic, bare bones and has few graphics. It's also free. Before a series of ads were included recently, Franchione was paying for the site entirely out of his own pocket.
Negotiated into his A&M contract, Franchione's site is also separate from the university and has actually followed him from TCU to Alabama and now to A&M. Last fall, when rumors first circulated about Franchione's departure from Tuscaloosa, he used his weekly "Friday with Fran" column to set the record straight.
"It gave me a chance to speak directly to the fans, without anybody getting in the way," Franchione said. "I was able to curb rumors that might not necessarily be true. "
On an average in-season week, the coach receives 350 - 400 e-mails. But from the Thursday night when it first surfaced he was leaving for A&M to the following Monday morning when the site was pulled down, Franchione received 6,000 electronic letters.
When the site resurfaced in January with A&M graphics, the response was overwhelming. In one week, Franchione received e-mails from Aggie fans in 50 different countries. Attached to one was a picture from a fan stationed in Afghanistan, with an A&M flag flying high above his Jeep.
"They call it the World Wide Web and they're not kidding," Franchione said. "I got this one note and the guy goes, 'Coach, it's 2,400 miles to College Station. And let me tell you, we're on our way. Gig em.'"
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A number of college coaches have found that the best way to deal with the Internet is to create their own sites.