When Dennis Franchione’s coaching career is over, he hopes he’ll be remembered as a good football coach, but he knows that’s only part of his story.
In a college coaching career that has spanned 36 years, Franchione has made more than his fair share of mistakes. Some have cost him jobs, some have gotten him jobs and some he can’t seem to forget.
But as he tries to finish his coaching career by revitalizing Texas State — a place where he made one of his first head coaching stops back in 1990 — he knows that the missteps that led him to San Marcos, Texas, are also the ones that have made him a better person.
“If you don’t have any regrets, you haven’t done much,” Franchione told Yahoo Sports. “When you’re a leader and you make decisions and do things there are always going to be ramifications on both sides. You just always try to do what you think is best. People get, sometimes, a little bit misunderstood. Maybe good or bad, but I think we all do sometimes.”
As Franchione prepares for his fourth season with Texas State, he’s encouraged. The Bobcats are in their fourth FBS season, second in the Sun Belt Conference, and have been bowl eligible twice. The goal this year is to get beyond just six wins and actually make a bowl game.
But Franchione is also having fun. It’s a different type of fun than he had at his previous stops at TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M. This game is simpler; this team is simpler. Not many of Franchione’s guys are moving on to professional careers, but they love the game, they’re eager to learn and, in turn, Franchione is eager to teach.
“The guys I’ve got on my team right now, I wish some of them were better sometimes just like they probably wish I was a better coach some days,” Franchione said. “I really love our guys, I have fun with them, I enjoy them, I enjoy pushing them, I enjoy succeeding. I really hope I can take this school to a bowl game someday. I knew when I took this job, when they were in transition, that I might be the guy who makes it a better job for the next guy, but my goal was to put it on a good foundation in Division I football. And my first goal was to try to get to the postseason and we almost did that last season. We weren’t able to do that and that was disappointing, hopefully we can do that before my run is done.”
It’s funny what age and perspective can do for a coach and how the simple task of just reaching a bowl game is enough to get Franchione fired up these days. That’s the value of experience and the value of appreciating the current opportunity.
Franchione admits he wasn’t always this patient. As a younger coach, he was always keeping an eye out for the next step and perhaps the next big thing. Those wandering eyes did him no favors in 2003 when, after leading Alabama to a 10-3 record and promising fans, players and his athletic director that he had no designs on leaving, Franchione abruptly resigned, notified his players via video conference he was taking another job and made a new home in College Station, Texas.
“The Alabama thing, gosh, took on a life of its own,” Franchione said. “I certainly wish I could have done that better, if there is such a thing. I have a lot of fond feelings about that place and I’ll probably never get to overcome that one in some ways.”
Franchione isn’t a very emotional guy, but he’s thoughtful and for a moment he lets what he’s just said sink in before shifting his focus to an A&M tenure that almost doomed his coaching career.
A mixture of a mediocre record, a secret email newsletter he was distributing to boosters for a premium price and a couple NCAA violations ended Franchione’s five seasons with the Aggies. It was a dream job that quickly turned into a nightmare and left him without employment.
The following summer, Franchione signed on to do analyst work with ESPN while still interviewing for head coaching jobs. However, athletic directors were hesitant to hire him and Franchione wasn’t sure he’d get back in the game at all.
“It was a humbling experience,” Franchione said. “It took me a little while to find myself and find a direction. Getting to do ESPN radio kept me close to the game and that really helped, I think, a lot. I wasn’t quite sure what the next stage of my life was going to be at that point.”
In 2010, Texas State came open and Franchione reached out to athletic director Larry Teis. Teis and Franchione had known each other at New Mexico and Teis hired him at TCU. But, like many other schools, Franchione’s reputation preceded him and Texas State president Denise Trauth wasn’t sold on bringing Franchione in to help the Bobcats transition from the FCS to the FBS.
“My president asked him a lot of questions because she didn’t know him, she’d never met him,” said Teis, who noted the search committee also spoke with the NCAA and Texas A&M during their vetting of Franchione. “There was the fact that I knew him twice, but we had six people on the committee and I was only one vote. But he came into the presentation to the committee probably more prepared than anybody else. You would think a lot of people at his age, having done what he’d done, would think well, they’re just gonna give me the job because of my record and everything else. But he put together all the stuff and laid out his staff and the offense, the defense, his recruiting schedules, how he was going to do everything. So, he laid everything out, showed he was prepared.”
Every day is a second chance for Franchione and he does his best to make the most of it. After wins, he invites the families of his assistant coaches into the team locker room to share in the elation of the victory — a thought that makes him laugh if he had tried to pull a similar stunt at Alabama or A&M. His son Brad is the linebackers and special teams coach, and while Franchione acknowledges that working with his son is not always easy, it does allow him to spend more time around his grandkids.
While he still has the same drive that he had in previous jobs, he also understands that football is more than just wins and losses or looking for the next great job. It’s about the players and whether, as a coach, Franchione added something positive to their lives. He knows he can’t say that about every place he’s been or every player he’s coached, but he has received his fair share of emails from former players thanking him for his contribution.
And he hopes, as he tries to make Texas State a better place than he found it, that some of his narrative will ultimately be rewritten.
“I’m not doing this for a reprieve or anything like that,” Franchione said. “I’m just doing this because I love coaching. I’ve enjoyed every place I’ve been. When you’re younger and feeding a family, in your career, failure really isn’t an option. At least I didn’t think so. I still don’t like failure, so it’s still not an option, but I’m in a different place in my life. I’m still competitive, I still like the X’s and O’s, I still like coaching, I’m still driven to do well, but my perspective on it is good.
“I guess if I was not coaching I might look back and say I wish I had done this different or that. I’ve had some time to kind of think about those things. I’ve had a great run. I’ve been blessed. The Good Lord has watched over me and my family. I might have to get a real job someday, but I hope not."
If Franchione takes the Bobcats to a bowl game, it will be his fourth bowl game with his fourth teams, a feat not many can say they've accomplished.
“I don’t want to be known for those questions (about Alabama and Texas A&M) as opposed to just being a decent football coach.”