Football: Raiders Franklin getting comfortable in Murfressborro
Football: Raiders Franklin getting comfortable in Murfressborro
June 6, 2009
Franklin more comfortable at MTSU
Offensive coordinator has not-so-fond memories of Auburn
BY JOSH MOON
THE MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER
Tony Franklin has never been one to chase the spotlight.
The former Auburn and Troy offensive coordinator views fame as a burden that inhibits his straightforward, matter-of-fact personality. He's the kind of guy who doesn't want a pat on the back or to be told that he's great. He just wants a little privacy.
Which is why he's doing fine at MTSU.
"I've been here a few months now and I don't think I've been recognized once," said Franklin, who was hired as Blue Raiders' offensive coordinator in February. "I can go out and have a beer somewhere and not worry about winding up on the Internet the next day.
"I don't have to worry about all the crap you face in the SEC with its ridiculous, nit-picky rules and regulations on everything you do. I'm a guy who likes to walk down the street and not have to worry all the time about people watching me, waiting on me to screw up. I have that here."
That's a much different life than the one he had this time a year ago, when he was in the middle of a 10-month stint as Auburn's offensive coordinator.
Franklin was hired by former AU head coach Tommy Tuberville in December 2007 to revamp the Tigers' offense, taking it from an old-school, smash-mouth style to an up tempo, quick-pass spread.
From the start, Franklin had his doubts. In the first place, by making the switch, the AU program would be abandoning a running game that had been the program's identityâ a move that was sure to unnerve a large portion of fans.
And Franklin, who said he almost broke off his first interview with Tuberville just 10 minutes in, had deep doubts that his style of his coaching, along with his personality, would work on The Plains.
He was right on both counts.
But what he never expected was to find an athletic department and football program so riddled with turmoil.
"It was the most unusual place I've ever been," Franklin said of the Auburn program. "No one liked anybody else. There was this deep distrust of everybody. The coaches didn't trust the administration, the administration didn't trust each other or the coaches. It was very strange and very unnerving. You would walk down the halls and there would be tension you could just feel.
"No one would speak to you or even look at you. The coaches were all paranoid and didn't trust anyone in the administration. They all felt like the administration was out to get them and they stressed out over everything that happened. "
Repeated attempts to reach Tuberville on his cell phone over the last two days were unsuccessful. An e-mail containing several of Franklin's comments was forwarded to Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs through Auburn sports information director Kirk Sampson.
Sampson said the school wouldn't comment.
Franklin said the level discord within the athletic department had resulted in the football coaches closing ranks. Tuberville and his core group of assistants kept to themselves and shut everyone else out, mainly because they weren't sure whom they could trust.
"When you are involved in a job where there's so much tension and so much distrust, it changes people," Franklin said. "It changes their personalities, it changes the way they treat you. And it was obvious that the environment there had changed everyone."
That such a rift would be present within the athletic department wouldn't be a surprise, given the tumultuous relationship between Tuberville and some Auburn officials.
In November 2003, shortly before Tuberville led the Tigers to a win over rival Alabama, a group of Auburn administrators had taken a now-infamous flight to interview then-Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino. The trip was ultimately discovered and school president William Walker and athletic director David Housel were eventually forced out of their jobs because of their involvement.
However, several boosters and Board of Trustee members who also were on the trip, or had knowledge of it, remained in power.
In 2007, following the Tigers' sixth straight win over the Crimson Tide, Tuberville and school officials went through a drawn out standoff over contract upgrade demands from Tuberville. While the charade ended with a modest raise and buyout extension for Tuberville, AU officials made it clear that all was not well between the coach and supporters.
A few weeks later, Franklin was hired and got a first hand look at a dire situation.
"I told Tommy several times that I was simply astounded by the success that he and those coaches had there given the environment around that program," Franklin said. "There were so many people putting so much stress on Tommy that I don't know how they did it.
"Whenever you're the leader of a team or a company or whatever and you've got people putting as much pressure on you as what was placed on Tommy, it trickles down to everyone else. And you could see it in that staff."
Franklin said he believes that played a big role in the coaches treating him as such an outsider. The assistant coaches had been doing essentially the same job at the same place for 10 years and had been working in recent times under severe pressure.
It made for a work environment that, while not quite hostile, was uncomfortable.
"I don't have anyone on that staff that I'd call a friend now," Franklin said. "I never fit into that group, I was never welcomed into that group. And that's fine. When I was brought in, they did what they thought they should be doing to help me. When things weren't working, they started doing things like they'd always done them, because that's what they knew.
"They were doing what was best for them. You can't blame them for any of that, for the way they reacted to me or anything."
Franklin, who has always had a tendency to seclude himself in every coaching job he's held, was even more of an outsider at AU.
He worked alone for the most part and had little interaction with the other coaches. He learned of some staff meetings after being told of decisions made at those meetings. He had virtually no relationship with Tuberville, who Franklin said he spent "maybe eight hours total" with outside of work.
Franklin was also troubled by the constant talk about religion within the athletic department. From Tuberville to Jacobs to most of the assistants, the talk of God and prayer never ended.
"That's all they do is pray — and talk about praying and religion," Franklin said. "It's a constant thing with them, and it's just overwhelming at times. A lot of people use religion as a crutch, and I think that's the case there. Every word coming out of their mouths is something about religion and most of it is just a joke.
"I don't want to come off as anti-religion or that I'm not a Christian, but the best people in the world — the ones who do truly great things — they just do good things for people. You don't know most of the time if they're Muslim or Christian or anything else, because they never talk about it. But it was constant with them, and it was uncomfortable sometimes. When you talk about your religion so much, it comes off as fake or phony. That's the way I think of several of those people (at Auburn) as fake."
Life outside of work wasn't much better.
There was no welcoming committee for Franklin and his wife, Laura, when they arrived in Auburn, and the disastrous start to the 2008 season didn't exactly put them on a lot of guest lists. Even now, looking back on his time on The Plains, Franklin calls it an "uncomfortable move" in which he and his wife made only two close friends.
A big reason for that is what happened on the field.
Most fans were unsure about the move to begin with, and after six games, the Tigers' offense ranked as one of the worst in the country. The team itself, after being ranked highly in the preseason, was 4-2 with an embarrassing loss to Vanderbilt. The assistants on the staff had given up on Franklin's spread and were pushing for a return to the physical, smash-mouth style they knew. Fans were in an uproar. And boosters were clamoring.
Franklin, determined not to sit idly by, decided to take over the next couple of practices. He was all over the place — yelling at players, running routes, handling the entire offense by himself.
At first, it seemed to be a popular move, as several players and Tuberville talked positively about Franklin's intensity.
A day later — two days after Tuberville backed him publicly and a day after Tuberville backed him in front of the entire team — Franklin was fired.
"I still don't know who actually fired me — whether it was someone in the administration or a booster or that group of (assistant) coaches," Franklin said. "I'll probably go to my grave never truly knowing the answer to that. But I do know that the decision wasn't based on what happened on the field alone."
During his final meeting with Tuberville, Franklin said Tuberville told him that "it just wasn't working," but never gave a reason for changing his mind.
Also, during that meeting, Franklin said he told Tuberville that the Auburn administration was going to fire Tuberville at the end of the year.
Part of the reason for that prediction — in addition to the rift within the athletic department — was a general feeling among the staff and others around the AU program that football within the state was changing with the hiring of Nick Saban at Alabama.
"There was a definite thought (at Auburn) that things were changing," Franklin said. "If anyone tells you that they're not watching what's happening across the state and that it doesn't concern them, they're liars. Those guys knew that the run they had been on - beating Alabama for six straight years, which is just a phenomenal thing - that that run was probably over and things wouldn't ever be the same with (Saban) there."
Two months later, after a disappointing 5-7 season, including a 36-0 loss to Alabama, Auburn wasn't the same. Following two days of meetings with Jacobs, Tuberville announced his resignation, bringing an end to his 10-year, 85-40 tenure at Auburn.
"There were two factions butting heads — the new guys around Tommy and those who supported him and the old-school Auburn guys who wanted something different — you know, the people with all the money," Franklin said. "I guess those (money) guys eventually won out.
"They say a coach loses 10 percent of his popularity every year. Tommy was there 10 years, so I guess that's about right."
Since the whole soap opera played out, Franklin said he has spoken only with former assistant coach James Willis, who Franklin described as a "fellow outsider" on the staff. Other than that, he and his wife kept to themselves and waited on an opportunity to get out of Auburn.
It came last February, when Middle Tennessee offensive coordinator A.G. Mangus resigned to take a job with South Carolina. Franklin, who worked for two years in the Sun Belt as the offensive coordinator at Troy, was picked to fill the void.
Franklin doesn't hide the fact that he and Laura are much happier these days, living in Murfreesboro closer to several family members and out of the harsh spotlight that life in the SEC brings. But surprisingly, he also insists that he has no hard feelings for the people in Auburn.
In fact, Franklin is angrier with himself, saying he was seduced by the money and allowed his ego to get the best of him instead of "using common sense." He also downplayed the way he was treated and the effect it had on him.
"It just wasn't the right move for any of us - it was a mistake by all of us," Franklin said. "I understand that, and I understand that most of what went on there in relation to me wasn't a personal thing. It was just the product of the situation, and I hate that.
"But let's be real, people always talk about if it was hard on me and stuff — it wasn't that hard. Getting fired and having 90 percent of the fan base hate you because your offense isn't working wasn't great. But it's not as bad as having a loved one or a family member get sick and have to watch that or going through some of the other bad things that are part of life. Compared to that, this was nothing."
Age: 51 (Born: Aug. 29, 1957)
Family: Wife, former Laura Pinska; daughters Chelsea, Carolina and Caitlin
Education: Bachelors and Masters degrees from Murray State (Ky.)
1990s: Calloway County (Ky.) High School
1997-99: University of Kentucky, running backs coach
2000: Kentucky, offensive coordinator
2003: Lexington Horsemen (Arena League 2)
2006-07: Troy University, offensive coordinator
2007-08: Auburn University, offensive coordinator
Presently: Middle Tennessee State University, offensive coordinator
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