Spread Attack: Tony Franklin Explains Why Auburn Flopped
So what does a trophy coordinator think about the term? How hard is it to come into a new team with the expectation of turning around a program? We caught up with former Auburn coordinator and current Middle Tennessee State offensive coordinator Tony Franklin to find out.
Franklin started the 2008 season as Auburn's new offensive coordinator, bringing with him the spread system he launched at Troy that won two consecutive Sun Belt titles. He lasted six games at Auburn and became a cautionary tale for both college football fans and hopeful coordinators.
So, what's the most important detail when it comes to installing a new offense after arriving as a heralded coordinator?
"I think it depends on whether your head coach is really committed to the system," Franklin told FanHouse. "I've had two experiences with head coaches now, Larry Blakeney [at Troy] was committed to it all the way. Tommy Tuberville (at Auburn) wasn't. On the one hand, a coach was patient, didn't meddle, and was willing to eat crow until it worked. On the other hand, the coach wasn't willing to give it time."
Asked to assess Tommy Tuberville's offensive options at Auburn, Franklin said there were two.
"You either sit tight with your offense, stay on board with what you're doing and fight like hell or you go get something that's shiny and new and hope like hell it works. But you can't do both."
Unlike Tuberville, who fired Franklin after six games, head coach Larry Blakeney at Troy took the second path and remained committed to the spread offense. Even when it didn't run smoothly at first.
"Early on with the offense, we lost to Nebraska 56-0 and then we lost to UAB 21-3. The offense was awful. After the UAB loss we went into the locker room and the defense had played well. And if the defensive staff had been bitching, moaning, griping, or complaining it could trickle down to the players. Then the players start to do it and you can start to have an issue. Coach Blakeney stood up in the locker room and he was really direct and he said, 'We're going to do this and it's going to work.' "
"Then, Elbert Mack, who's now a corner for the Tampa Bay Bucs, stood up and said he believed in what we were doing on offense. That did it. From there we won seven of our next eight. We got better each week."
In the game at Nebraska, the Troy offense put up just 140 yards on 51 offensive plays and scored no points. By the final game of the season, a bowl win against Rice, the Trojan offense was a well-oiled machine, cranking out 376 yards and 41 total points.
In 2007, Troy played three SEC teams on the road, scoring 26 against Arkansas, 31 against Florida, and 34 against Georgia. They also scored 41 points to beat Oklahoma State by 18.
Tuberville took note of this success against SEC defenses -- Troy's offense outperformed Auburn's against similar opponents -- and brought Franklin to Auburn.
From there, disaster ensued.
"I don't blame anybody for jumping ship," says Franklin, "that's human nature and self-preservation is the rule of the game. But if Larry [Blakeney] had been at Auburn it would have worked."
At his new location, Middle Tennessee State , Franklin is optimistic success will come quickly.
"It's going to be easier and faster here," he says. "We have a lot of quality receivers. They've been recruiting for it here. At Auburn we had a lot of tight ends and fullbacks on scholarship and you can't really use those guys in the offense unless they're good receivers as well, like Tommy Trott at Auburn. Not unless you have a really great quarterback. If you've got a really great quarterback anything can happen overnight."
Asked to assess the pressure that comes if a head coach installs a new offense like Auburn and Tennessee did last year, Franklin acknowledges that the SEC doesn't allow as much time for things to get working.
"They feel pressure to win every game. Even if it means that you aren't as good down the road as you could be. Both of those coaches [Tuberville and Fulmer] are good at what they do and have had a lot of success, but they didn't have time to let a new offense work. The best way one of these new offenses can work at a big school is if the head coach is installing it himself, like Rich Rodriguez at Michigan. Otherwise there's probably going to be griping."
Franklin explains that arriving as an offensive savior comes with pressure, even if he's not sure the trophy wife and trophy coordinator correlation works completely.
"I don't know if it's like a [trophy] wife. These guys are trying to save their jobs. Human nature is about saving your job. If you need a trophy to do it, I guess you'll do it."