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Coach Fran, the right man for A&M?

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Coach Fran confident he's the right man for A&M


Star-Telegram Staff Writer


DENNIS FRANCHIONECOLLEGE STATION - There's some additional furniture desired and a few other interior details to decide to procure the perfect fit as Dennis Franchione and wife, Kim, ease into their new home that hugs the golf course at Bryan's exclusive Miramont Country Club.

Acquiring the perfect fit, after all, is essential to long-term happiness. When the fourth-year Texas A&M football coach chose to build in the well-heeled community positioned just a few long completions from Kyle Field, he was indeed planning for a lengthy stay.

When he arrived at A&M on a private jet in December 2002, Franchione, speaking in his typically measured and soft tones, expressed his desire to spread joy to Aggies until the day he retires.

He was, back then, a can't-miss elixir: a proven tactician who had reversed losing trends at TCU and Alabama as if he simply flipped a switch. A&M, a program believing it needed an electric surge, perceived Franchione as its perfect fit.

Just three seasons later, two of which ended with more losses than wins, including last season's falter to 5-6, criticism flared and so did a new cynicism: Is Franchione the right fit for A&M?

The debate will surely continue as the Aggies begin this critical 2006 season on Saturday at Kyle Field against The Citadel.

The "right fit" notion even made the pages of Athlon Sports' annual preseason magazine.

An anonymous Big 12 coach providing a scouting report on A&M wrote: "I don't know that Dennis Franchione was ever the right fit there..."

Perhaps it was just Baylor coach Guy Morriss gigging Franchione with that boot-strap swagger that's been a fine fit for the reviving Bears.

The right fit. It's an ambiguous concept that's nearly impossible to define.

Is it simply winning? Is it personality? Or is it a combination of both, if that?

Bob Stoops was an instant fit at Oklahoma. Texas administrators always believed Mack Brown was their only fit. Mike Leach has been a surprising fit at Texas Tech.

So, if Franchione isn't a fit at A&M, then why is that?

"I think I am," said Franchione, who guided the Aggies to the Cotton Bowl in his second season. "We feel like we fit in here."

Understanding Fran

Franchione does not speak with a Texas drawl. He does not wear cowboy boots. He is a Midwesterner, not a Texan.

He wears eyeglasses on the sidelines as if he might decide to read a book. His face rarely glows red with anger. He might pump his fist in celebration. Expressing emotion, at least publicly, is not in his makeup.

Public perception paints Franchione more like a CEO of a corporation: calculated, without emotion, lacking personality.

As a rash of injuries depleted the receiving corps and the once-proud defense continued to play poorly last season, fans seemed to direct their frustrations toward Franchione's staidness, apparently connecting the coach's lack of fire and brimstone as the ship was sinking as a sign of weakness.

"I think there is a misperception," said Charley North, A&M's director of football operations and a member of Franchione's staff for nine years. "I think [fans] don't understand that he is of a calm nature in trying to be prepared. That comes with being organized, attention to detail and ready to make the next move.

"It's nice to have a guy hollering all the time, but how much is a guy that's hollering or jumping up and down thinking about what the next move's going to be? You don't see chess players do that, do you? Fran kind of plays chess on the football field....I think that's a great way to describe him because he has personality."

Franchione's football personality, the one he pours into a typically creative playbook, has a chance to shine this season. There are still few seniors on the roster, but plenty of juniors, and even sophomores, with significant experience.

More players from Franchione's recruiting classes will play leading roles. Nearly the entire team now consists of his recruits, so any lingering divisions between older players recruited by former coach R.C. Slocum and the newer players should be long alleviated.

Players describe this team as a fiercely united group that is free of personal agendas. Fall camp is typically filled with such rosy chatter, but a distinctive cohesion seems to be building, perhaps because, as senior safety Melvin Bullitt said, players have realized the only way to end the losing is to do it together.

"The chemistry is at a level that it's never been at since I've been here, even when I was here my first year with R.C. and we went out there and beat OU," fifth-year senior tailback Brandon Leone said. "It used to be everybody would say, 'Oh let's go out there and cheer just because Fran said so.' Now it's real, you can just tell. There's a real passion for your teammates."

Calm in the storm

Defensive line coach Stan Eggen is one of three assistants to follow Franchione to four schools.

He credits the team's focus on unity to Franchione's even-handed approach toward criticism that questions his fit and calls for his job.

"That's why I think you'll see this team react in a positive way," Eggen said. "You never see that panic. He stays on task, and that's what a head coach needs to do is show guidance and direction -- the calm during the storm."

At 55, Franchione's demeanor isn't likely to change to please disgruntled fans, so the only definitive way to alter perception is to reverse the trend and get the Aggies winning again.

If that happens, whether Franchione ever again cracks a smile or cracks the whip, he likely won't hear anymore questions about fit. If not, A&M will start searching for that presumably elusive perfect fit.

"It's taken a little bit longer than what we would have liked to get [the program] there," North said, "but I don't think there's a question that, give him time, and he'll get it where it needs to be."


After redshirting all but four freshmen in his first two seasons, nearly every position this season will be filled by a player recruited by coach Dennis Franchione. Those recruited by Franchione:

37 Players on this week's two-deep chart, not including special teams.

9 Potential starters on offense, depending on formation.

8 Starters on defense. Five players were originally courted by R.C. Slocum but signed in February 2003, Franchione's first season.

7 Potential senior starters recruited by R.C. Slocum, and they represent Slocum's last recruiting class.

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I liked RC. I never knew why they got rid of him.

Since Fraud's arrival, A&M has been a dismal program and their rival has won an NC. Thanks Dennis!

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