Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tony Franklin Speaks. Some People Should Listen

The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it." ~ Lou Holtz, Arkansas

Tony Franklin was a significant part of the soap opera at Auburn University last year that ended with the "retirement" of coach Tommy Tuberville. Franklin was supposed to bring in his high-powered spread offense, which definitely turned out to be a very low-octane affair. I commented on his termination at the time, but I never got around to talking about Tubervilles' exit, mostly because I was being lazy and not writing at the time. All of that is very old news now, and I wouldn't be mentioning it now except that Coach Franklin gave an interview to Josh Moon the other day and appeared on a local talk show as well.

The article on the web doesn't do justice to the article that actually appeared in the paper. Evidently, the coach, who had refused to talk about the whole business at the time, happened to be in a more gabby mood when Mr. Moon contacted him. In fact, he couldn't shut up.

I'm not overwhelmed by genius offensive (or defensive) coordinators. They come and go. Today's genius is tomorrow's has-been; just ask Al Borges, who could do no wrong when he had Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown destroying defenses but became just another coach once that duo left. Franklin, though, was so over-hyped it seemed like he was destined to fail from the start. He certainly didn't help matters by the way he handled the quarterback situation.

For a spread offense, you need a quarterback who can throw and run. Kody Burns, the logical incumbent, could run, but his passing was a little suspect. For some reason, Franklin induced Chris Todd to transfer to Auburn and promptly made it clear that he was the clear leader for the starter's spot. The trouble was that Todd was coming off shoulder surgery and threw the ball about as hard as I can, which ain't very much.

That's not necessarily so bad. Some weak-armed quarterbacks have been very successful by using their feet to give them better passing opportunities or to keep the defense loose and allow receivers to get open. Unfortunately, Todd, who had no surgery on any of his leg parts, couldn't run a lick, either. A spread quarterback who can't throw and can't run should be holding a clipboard.

Add to this Franklin's weird play calling and generally confusing approach to players, and you have a recipe for failure. Which he did.

So now he's at Middle Tennessee State. He still doesn't see where he did anything really wrong, but he does go out of his way not to blame the Auburn coaches for the failure either. Apparently, it was all the fault of the trustees and boosters.

Now, let me make it abundantly clear that Auburn does have a long and tiresome history of trustees and boosters exerting idiotic influence on the athletic programs. Auburn is almost legendary in the number of coaches that they have paid not to coach, due to firing them with quite a few dollars left in their contracts.

While I might not agree with Franklin's rationalizations about what happened to his offense at Auburn, I do find his comments on the attitudes of influential fans very interesting. By "influential fans", I mean, of course, big money boosters and trustees. What the average fan thinks is immaterial to these people. It has become obvious, though that the influential fans are exerting control on big time programs that is unprecedented.

Franklin, while trying to remain complimentary, essentially says that the SEC has led the way in allowing the big-money guys to determine the actions of a program. I think there's something to that, although it's obvious that most of the big-time schools (the perennially highly ranked schools, like Texas, Ohio State, USC, and so on) are in the same boat. Even a successful coach is, as Nick Saban said, one 7-5 season from being kicked out.

It's because of the money, of course. Which actually makes no sense. Colleges are running around pleading poverty in droves, raising tuition or, if they are state schools, begging for more state money and raising tuition. Yet, they hand out huge contracts to coaches and spend obscene amounts on their athletic programs. Sure, they recoup some of that in booster donations and television money, but if the big athletic programs were bringing in money in proportion to coaching salaries, schools like Alabama and USC wouldn't have to charge tuition at all.

It's also generating the culture that Franklin spent a lot of time decrying in his newspaper and radio interviews. Franklin could well have avoided it, but even he admits he was "seduced by the money."

It is, of course, an illusion that schools are making any money from major sports. It's gotten to the point that,in recent years, teams are actually losing money to attend bowl games. Most recently, despite receiving around $300,000 for the Papa John's Bowl, Rutgers ended up out about $100,000 just because of the costs of dragging the band, cheerleaders, and about 200 players, coaches, and assorted hangers-on to Birmingham.

The sad thing is that big-time college sports have been a mess almost since the beginning. The sport was so brutal at the outset that Theodore Roosevelt consider banning it. Once that problem was resolved, teams paid ringers to play; now at least players have to at least make a pretense of attending school. Basketball's gambling scandals are legendary. Steroids in the pros? Colleges were doing it first and are probably still have a serious issue with performance enhancers.

I've been a fan of college sports for years, so I'm part of the problem, too. Because the only way this is going to change is when the fans stop spending obscene amounts of money to have the privilege of buying seats, or when the rest of us stop watching the big games on ESPN. It is not, however, outside the realm of possibility that those things could happen. After all, NASCAR has thought they were bulletproof all these years. Now, with track attendance and TV ratings dropping, they're wondering what they're going to do. College presidents are liable to be in the same position if they don't watch out.

Because I haven't watched a NASCAR race in two years.

No comments:

Post a Comment