Saturday, November 24, 2007

A&M beats Texas, Franchione steps down

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) - Dennis Franchione came to Texas A&M to restore the glory to the Aggies. He left with a mediocre record and an embarrassing scandal on his resume.

Franchione resigned as the Aggies head coach on Friday, ending a rocky five-year tenure less than an hour after his team beat archrival Texas 38-30 at Kyle Field.
The school announced Franchione had accepted a buyout, but refused to give details.

He finished 32-28 at A&M, far short of the expectations when he replaced R.C. Slocum in December 2002. Off the field, Franchione was caught this season selling inside information about the program to big-money boosters in a secret newsletter.

Franchione's contract ran through 2012 and paid him a base salary of $2 million per year.

Dressed in a gray suit, Franchione stepped to the podium after beating Texas for a second straight season and ended all speculation.

"We appreciate the opportunity we have had at this great institution, to work with this administration," he read from a prepared statement. "We have made many lasting friendships."

The Aggies (7-5, 4-4 Big 12) finished the regular season with four losses in six games. Franchione, who will not coach the Aggies in their bowl game, did not take questions from reporters.

Swarmed by cameras on the field after the game was over, Franchione pushed through the throng to embrace junior quarterback Stephen McGee, his staunchest supporter during this tumultuous season.

None of the Aggies were available for comment after Franchione spoke.

"We have an outstanding group of young men on this team and especially great people," Franchione said. "We want them to know that we love them, feel blessed for our time together, and will miss them."

Franchione hooked arms with McGee on the field to line up for one more post-game "yell," a timeworn A&M tradition. He found his wife, Kim, and tightly clenched her hand as he walked slowly off the field, embracing more than a dozen players and friends along the way.

Athletic department spokesman Alan Cannon said the players did not know about Franchione's intentions until after the game.

A&M went 19-21 in Big 12 games under Franchione and lost 12 of 15 games against rivals Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Texas. They still haven't won the Big 12 since 1998.

Late in Slocum's tenure, the Aggies slipped to the middle of the league - unacceptable at a place where Bear Bryant once coached and A&M was power in the Southwest Conference.

Franchione had a reputation for turning programs around, but not much changed after he arrived.

The Aggies went 4-8 in Franchione's first season, including a 77-0 blowout loss to Oklahoma. It was A&M's first losing record since 1982 and the grumbling from the fans were already starting.

A&M opened the 2004 season with a 41-21 loss to Utah, then ended it with a 38-7 loss to Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl. A promising start in 2005 disintegrated when the Aggies lost their last four games and finished 5-6.

As Franchione brought in his own players, A&M was repeatedly exposed by faster, more athletic teams. After beating Texas in the 2006 finale, the Aggies lost 45-10 to California in last year's Holiday Bowl, the program's worst-ever postseason defeat. A 34-17 loss to Miami on Sept. 20 began this year's downward spiral.

While many of the teams in the Big 12 moved to high-scoring, passing offenses, A&M stuck with an old-fashioned, option running attack. The Aggies came into Friday's game ranked last in the Big 12 and 108th in the nation in passing offense, averaging 171 yards per game.

A&M's defense ranged from average to awful under Franchione - it was ranked 88th in the nation this season, a far cry from the "Wrecking Crew" days of the mid-1980s and '90s.

Last year, Franchione likely earned himself one more season by beating Texas 12-7 in Austin. As sweet as it is to beat the hated 'Horns again, it didn't earn him a longer stay in College Station this time.

"We have enjoyed 35 years in coaching, and we'll consider our time in Aggieland to be a rewarding part," he said. "We wish the best to everyone here."

A week after the loss in Miami, a newspaper reported that Franchione's personal assistant had been sending out e-mails with inside information about the program to boosters who paid $1,200 a year to get it. Embarrassed athletic director Bill Byrne suggested Franchione breached his contract, admitted NCAA rules were broken and vowed the messy scandal would be part of Franchione's year-end evaluation.

Byrne said after Friday's game that the school had completed its investigation into the e-mail scandal. He said the school was convinced that Franchione "did not intentionally, knowingly, or directly participate in actions that were inappropriate or in violation of rules or policies."

Byrne added that he thought Franchione was guilty of "inadequate supervision and oversight."

New Mexico was 9-50 in the five seasons before Franchione arrived in 1992. The Lobos had three winning records in six seasons under Franchione and went 9-4 in 1997.

In 1998, Franchione moved to TCU, which finished 1-10 the previous season. The Horned Frogs - with LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield - never had a losing record in Franchione's three seasons and went 10-1 in 2000.

Franchione spent the next two seasons at Alabama and the Tide went 10-3 in 2002 before he bolted for A&M, what he called his "dream job" at the time.

After he resigned, Byrne was the only man speaking for him.

"I want to express my regret and gratitude to Coach Franchione for his courage in making this decision, and putting the interests of his players and this institution ahead of his own interests," Byrne said in a prepared statement. "We wish Coach Franchione the very best moving forward and we are grateful for all of his hard work and effort while he was here at A&M."

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