October 23, 2008

Franklin says he and Tuberville share blame

Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin knew something was up the minute Tommy Tuberville came into his office.

"I looked at his face and I knew he was coming to fire me," Franklin said. "He said it wasn't working out. I said, 'Coach, you trying to fire me?' And he said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Let's get it over with.' I spent the next 10 or 15 minutes getting some things off my chest. I shook his hand, packed my stuff and left."

Just like that.

Franklin arrived in time from his former job as Troy's offensive coordinator to install parts of his no-huddle spread offense for use in Auburn's Peach Bowl game against Clemson last season. The results were positive. Auburn gained a season-high 423 yards and ran 90 plays in a 23-20 overtime victory vs. Clemson. But it was all downhill from there.

Auburn's offense never got on track this fall. The Tigers opened the year by gaining 406 yards in a win over Louisiana-Monroe. But Auburn never gained more than 380 in the next five games. A 3-2 win at Mississippi State drew the ire of many, but the nadir was a 14-13 loss at Vanderbilt in which the Tigers gained 208 yards, including just 4 rushing yards in the second half.

Tuberville had seen enough.

"After evaluating where we are at this point of the season offensively, I felt it was in the best interest of the Auburn football program to make this change," Tuberville said in a statement the day Franklin was fired. "I'm not satisfied with where we are and I am personally going to take a larger role with the offense the remainder of the season. We are going to work harder than ever to make sure we consistently improve as we move forward."

Franklin spoke to Rivals.com late Wednesday night in one of his first interviews since losing his job.

Q: Why did things go bad?
A: "I think it probably wasn't a good marriage from the beginning. You had a dramatic change in style from what you had done previously to what you had done your whole life. I came in alone, and I think it was a poor decision on my part and on Tommy's part. I should have known better.

"With that dramatic of a change, you have to stay the course. It may not go perfect. It wasn't me walking into an offense that had been really good I think 102nd or 103rd in the nation before I came in before the bowl game so the chances for a dramatic, overnight turnaround aren't great.

Q: Were you embraced by other assistants?
A: "I think they tried in the beginning. They are sitting there and all of sudden something foreign is coming in. I was the fifth coordinator (for Tuberville). The only thing that was constant was those guys. I think they tried to do it, they tried to learn. Everything is fine when everything is going well. You have your points of reference you go back to. And their points of reference were totally different.

"We went through the same troubles at Troy. The only difference was we brought in guys who believed in it and believed in me. If I went down, they went down. So it's a different scenario than what this was. Several guys who had been in my shoes had gone down before me. I was coming in and trying to make a total culture change."

Q: Were you shocked when you were fired?
A: "No. As far as realizing this may not be a good deal, I realized that within a couple of weeks of being there that this was going to be a really tough thing. There were some signals that caught my attention that told me this was going to be tough. I really knew when they first called me. My answer was, 'Do you know what I do? Because this is totally different than what you do. I am not willing to change and don't want to learn something else. If you are willing to change everything, we can talk.'

"I am a history teacher and I should know. You study what people have done rather than what they say they want to do. There are only two people to blame: Tony Franklin and Tommy Tuberville. We both should have known better."

Q: Did Auburn have the personnel to run your offense?
A: "I think you can overcome it. When we went to Troy, it was almost identical. The personnel wasn't a great to fit with what we were doing, but we found a way to win without it being perfect. Even though we won (at Auburn), it was ugly doing it.

"I think the loss to Vanderbilt was unacceptable. Regardless of the fact Vanderbilt was having its best year in years, it didn't make any difference. You aren't expected to lose to Vanderbilt, so you knew something was going to happen. The collateral damage was me."

Q: What was your reaction when you were fired?
A: "It was almost a 30-hour scenario. Tuesday morning (Oct. 7), I had a meeting with the offensive players and offensive staff. I did my best impression of George Patton. I felt like I had lost the team and needed to do something to get them back. I then went on the field for two hours and acted like a 25-year-old kid, but I'm 51. You can imagine what that looked like. I was running routes, demonstrating and coached every player on the field. When it was over, I felt like it was a success, that I had won the team back. I had hurt some feelings along the way, some players, some coaches.

"At the end of practice, Tommy gathered the team up and said we were under a lot of scrutiny and he was tired of people blaming me and he was committed to this and believed he had gone overboard to try to accommodate what they had done in the past and maybe they needed to do more to accommodate me. He said he was committed to running the offense and committed to me, and if they didn't like it, they could go somewhere else that he was going to stay with it. So I thought maybe it worked, maybe I have them back. I had several players come up afterward and say they believed in what I did. So I thought it was going to work. Then, 24 hours later, he came in and fired me."

Q: Was it only Tuberville's decision to fire you?
A: "I don't know. I don't know how that operation works. It's a unique operation."

Q: Have you talked to Tuberville since you were fired? A: "No. I have no personal relationship with him or anyone on that staff. I would be surprised if I talk to any of those guys ever again."

Q: What is your next move?
A: "I had a business (running camps and clinics for coaches and players) that was very successful that the SEC made me give up ownership of. I did not know I would have to give it up before I came here. I will negotiate back with my former partners to get me back in that business, which I think we'll be able to do. I will work with high school coaches across the country making better, successful coaches. I have written two books and enjoy that process of writing. I will write again. If another Larry Blakeney (the Troy coach) comes along with a phenomenal deal where I can take three or four guys with me and they leave me alone and let me do my job, I don't know if I would do it but I would consider it. There aren't many Larry Blakeneys out there in the world.

"I had made it very clear to Coach Tuberville that we had worked with the NCAA and there wasn't a problem with (my camps) at Troy and wanted to make sure we could do it there. He told me there wouldn't be a problem. I was there about a month or so and the compliance people came in and said there was a compliance issue with the SEC. I met with them and we never were able to resolve it. I was forced to give up my part of the company.

"The SEC says a coach cannot own a clinic business. But every coach in the conference is probably paid by Nike contracts and has to go speak at Nike clinics, and some probably have stock in their mutual funds that is Nike and they have part-ownership in that. But the SEC didn't see that as a problem."

Q: Would you have not taken the job had you known you couldn't keep your camps?
A: "I would say so. I would not have gone if I had known before I got here."

Q: Are you bitter?
A: "I have been bitter before in life, and it doesn't do any good. I get angry and get over it. This was a business decision on my part and a business decision on their part. You have to pick yourself up and find the next challenge. I am excited about the next phase of life."

Q: Did any coaches or players offer condolences?
A: "I talked to some players. It was a unique deal and unique place. I never have been at a place like this before. I never had close relationships. It was probably my fault as much as theirs. I walked out the door there and never heard from any of them and don't think I ever will.

"If we were 6-0, averaging 35 points, everyone probably would have gotten along and been happy. You never know people until adversity hits. There was nothing that happened that surprised me. But I don't leave with any doubts about my ability as a coach."

Q: How long would it have taken to make the offense work?
A: "It depends. If you had a couple guys with me who believed in it and were willing to get fired with me, it probably could have happened a lot faster. But with me being there with the way things were, I don't know if it ever would have worked. That's why I think Tommy made the right decision. He had to fire me or other guys, and some of those guys had been with him for 14 years. I think that's a pretty easy decision for him. I think he made the right choice at the right time. It was a calculated gamble to do it in the middle of the week before they played Arkansas. They felt they could beat Arkansas regardless. It didn't happen that way. We'll see what happens the rest of the season."

Q: Do you hope Auburn fails the rest of the year?
A: "I don't even think about it. People called me during the game when they played Arkansas. I didn't watch the game, I didn't listen to the game, I didn't answer any phone calls. I will do the same thing when they play (West Virginia on Thursday night). I try to let it go. It's a part of life that's done for me. I never will get it back.

"For the players, I hope they succeed. Too many times it's about adults and our egos and 90,000 fanatical fans. I hope the players win and are successful, but I don't think about it one way or another."

Q: Do you think Tuberville fired you to save his job?
A: "I don't think there's any doubt. Every move he has made has been to save his job. Saving his job and doing what's best for Auburn are the same. 'Firing Tony Franklin is going to make us win games,' which is good for Tommy and Auburn. That's what he's paid to do. The reality is he has survived years here in a cut-throat business and atmosphere with people who are out with bows and arrows every day to knock him down.

"He is doing what he thinks is best, and he's pretty good at it. He did it a little faster with me, but I'm a little different than the other guys he has had here."

When reached, running backs and special teams coach Eddie Gran declined to comment. Attempts to reach coach Tommy Tuberville and his agent were unsuccessful.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.


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