Texas A&M's Bowl Preparation Goes On Despite Turnover
Aggies play Penn State in the Alamo Bowl on Saturday
Dec. 26, 2007
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - First, there was the sting and shock of Dennis Franchione's resignation. Then, the uncomfortable acceptance of Mike Sherman as his replacement.
Somewhere in between, Texas A&M had to start preparing for a bowl game.
The Aggies (7-5) play Penn State (8-4) in the Alamo Bowl on Saturday, the last go-round for Franchione's staff - not to mention his first recruiting class - before Sherman assumes control of the program next week.
"You never want to have to go through something like that, but when you do, you've got to be able to accept that and know you can't control all that that goes on outside," said junior quarterback Stephen McGee, a staunch Franchione supporter through mounting losses and the embarrassing revelation of a secret newsletter sent to boosters who paid for information unavailable to the public.
Defensive coordinator Gary Darnell was named interim coach on Nov. 24, the day after Franchione resigned. Sherman was hired as Franchione's replacement Nov. 26, but has remained offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans, who finish their NFL season on Sunday.
Darnell, a former head coach at Tennessee Tech and Western Michigan, tried to keep things as familiar as possible, and that gave the players a comfort level during the awkward transition.
"He's done a real good job of keeping us fresh and the situation with Coach Fran we knew that he had," running back Jorvorskie Lane said. "We know in our minds that Coach Fran's not there. We know he's missing, but practice hasn't changed. It's just football."
On the surface, Franchione and Darnell would seem to have totally different approaches.
During games, Franchione was always reserved and businesslike, studying a laminated chart of plays most of the time. Darnell was often one of the most animated assistants on the sideline, wildly waving his arms and yelling at players as they ran off the field.
Franchione always chose his words carefully with reporters, giving mostly bland answers and never raising his voice. Darnell is always quick with a quip, delivering it with a folksy drawl that's part Arkansas, part Oklahoma.
It's a different voice the Aggies hear, but the plays and the system are the same.
"For me to say it's not weird (without Franchione), I would be lying to you because he's been the head coach for so long," senior offensive guard Kirk Elder said. "Nowadays in college football, you spend more time with your coaches than you do with your mom and your dad and your family. But we haven't lost a step. We're still who we are, we're still going on. Since we've gotten back into it, it's been real good."
After the Alamo Bowl, the program belongs to Sherman, who's unlikely to retain many of Franchione's assistants. He's already hired Tim Cassidy as associate athletic director for football. Cassidy was A&M's recruiting coordinator from 1989-2004.
Like Franchione's absence, the unknown future of A&M's coaches is an unavoidable topic no one wants to discuss. But Darnell said the uncertainty has motivated the coaches to finish their tenures with a victory.
"It's unique how positive it is, because we come to work every day and our job is to maintain this program until the next guy gets here," Darnell said.
Darnell likened the staff's situation to a changing of the guard at a military base - appropriate, given A&M's tradition.
"It happens every day, base commanders turn over every day, but it's seamless transitions, because everyone is responsible, everyone is capable, and everyone understands the lines of communications," Darnell said. "This is a perfect example. And then we'll finish, and the next guy's going to come in here and have his go at it, and it'll be his watch."
Darnell isn't worried about any of the assistants finding other jobs. He just wants to do this one right.
"The easiest way to find a job is play well, do a good job coaching," he said. "And plus, these aren't rookies. These guys, they're connected and they're known in our profession as extremely good coaches."