New Texas State football coach Dennis Franchione, right, is introduced at a Friday press conference. Texas State President Denise Trauth is on Franchione’s right. Texas State sports information photo.
By BILL PETERSON
Keeping with Texas State’s larger reason for going to top-level college football, which is to increase visibility, the university went for the good story by naming Dennis Franchione as its new football coach Friday.
If nothing else comes from the hire — and all concerned expect a lot else — then at least the story will be told of Franchione’s return to Texas State following three years of coaching exile resulting from his downfall at Texas A&M. The story will be told across Texas and across the national media. The story will call attention to Texas State. It’s a good Texas football story.
It’s a story very much like another Texas State story, the story of Jim Wacker, who also went from success at Texas State to also build the Texas Christian program into a serious concern, then struggled at the last stop of his coaching career before returning to San Marcos as athletic director in 1997.
Ten years after Wacker won back-to-back NCAA Division II titles coaching Texas State in 1980 and 1981, Franchione took over the program in its nascent Division I-AA phase and posted the school’s first back-to-back winning seasons at that level. Now, 13 years after the late Wacker returned to Texas State as athletic director and began preaching a move to Division I-A, Franchione returns to take the Bobcats into that level of competition, now designated as the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
Said Franchione Friday, thinking about Wacker, “I have a feeling he’s up there somewhere saying, ‘Unbelievable!'”
It’s a comeback story for Franchione, who was so hot eight years ago that he had his pick between Alabama and Texas A&M, and who has been so cold for the last three years that he couldn’t land a head coaching job. It’s a bit of a homecoming story for Franchione, whose career went on an upward trajectory from Texas State, then landed at Texas State on the down slope at the end of his career. And it’s a story of a new beginning at Texas State, which now enters the world of big college football with an old hand at the helm.
“We wanted someone we could count on to guide the football program, but also take the story to the Texas State community, across the state and out to the public,” Texas State President Denise Trauth said.
The university signed Franchione, 59, to a five-year contract worth $350,000 per year, plus incentives. Overall, Franchione is 187-101-2 with eight conference titles in 25 years as a collegiate head coach.
Other candidates reported to have gone deep into the process for the Texas State position are former Colorado coach Dan Hawkins, former Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, San Diego State defensive coordinator Rocky Long, Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and Oklahoma assistant Bobby Jack Wright.
But Texas State Athletic Director Larry Teis went with Franchione because of “the overall experience, I think. I started thinking about the coaches we’re going to be following around into living rooms across the state, and they all have the names and the championships and the rings. We need somebody with that kind of credibility.”
Franchione won two WAC titles at TCU, a WAC division title at New Mexico and a division title in the Southeastern Conference at Alabama. All of those titles took place during a successful six-year span, 1997-2002, when Franchione’s teams finished 51-22 with five bowl appearances.
But the good times ended at Texas A&M, where, as Teis pointed out, Franchione “still had a winning record.” That record was 32-28, though 19-21 in Big 12 games, and the losses somehow weighed more heavily than the wins. Franchione received a long honeymoon at A&M, going 16-19 in his first three years, then was quickly sent packing with a $4.4 million buyout after two straight winning seasons.
The very fact that Franchione had to resign after a 38-30 win against Texas in 2007 tells how much that situation deteriorated. Franchione might have navigated the revelation of a secret newsletter containing inside information from the coach to paying boosters, which embarrassed the administration. But the path became unnavigable because the team failed, losing four of five, three by double digits, down the Big 12 stretch.
Teis noted that the violations were considered secondary by the NCAA, and said Franchione gave a “professional” account when asked straight questions about the newsletter during his Texas State interview.
Trauth said university officials were satisfied that that infraction was minor when “we looked at the documentation that gave the conclusions by the NCAA. We don’t think it’s going to happen here.”
What Texas State is hoping will happen here is football victory. Trauth noted Franchione’s TCU experience as a model for how he might proceed at Texas State. Franchione started TCU on its path up the charts back in 1998. Now, TCU is the darling of America — unbeaten, third ranked and a Rose Bowl winner against Wisconsin.
Indeed, Franchione gave that same kind of an account as he addressed recruiting. He told the story about a linebacker who his coaches found in the bushes while he was at New Mexico. Franchione liked what he saw and was surprised to hear no one had signed the player. So, Franchione signed him. Turned out to be Brian Urlacher, the all-pro linebacker for the Chicago Bears.
“You look for the diamonds in the rough,” Franchione said. “The TCU model.”
Even at A&M, Franchione received high marks for recruiting. Now, his task will be to see what players he can snag for Texas State at the top level. Then his task is, of course, to win. The Texas State job will give Franchione his third crack at the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), which stands to have entirely different membership than when he coached at New Mexico (1992-97) and Texas Christian (1998-2000).
“I think we can be pretty competitive in the Western Athletic Conference very quickly,” Franchione said. “Remember, I said ‘competitive.'”
Franchione said he has been excited about the prospects for Texas State moving up to FBS ever since he heard about it. The football program at Texas State is a building job, which, he said, is nothing new for him. But other aspects, such as returning to San Marcos at the end of his career, those aspects are different.
“This is a unique time for me in my coaching career,” Franchione said. “It’s come full circle … This is my last job. I told Larry he could put a $5 million buyout in my contract.”Email | Print