Franchione quickly connects with Aggies

Updated: August 16, 2003, 2:10 AM ET

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Dennis Franchione needed only one word to endear himself to Aggies.


By opening his introductory news conference with Texas A&M's traditional greeting, Franchione showed the school's faithful he already was one of them. Any chill he might've felt from supporters of predecessor R.C. Slocum, the winningest coach in school history, melted with those two syllables.

"He did his homework the night before," said Miles Marks, head of the Twelfth Man foundation, A&M's athletic booster club. "The guy doesn't miss anything."

From assigning his staff school traditions to teach their colleagues to tweaking the blueprint of the new football offices to re-evaluating pregame introductions, Franchione's involvement in the A&M program has gone far beyond Xs and Os.

While he's shaking those up, too -- scrapping the vaunted Wrecking Crew defense's 3-4 alignment for a 4-3 scheme and opening up the offense -- his most dynamic changes thus far have come through program-building and fundraising events on campus and across the state.

Aggies consider it all "Fran-tastic," as it says on a maroon T-shirt for sale at a campus bookstore. It'll be even more evident this fall as season-ticket sales are up significantly, a key point considering Kyle Field's 82,600 seats, most in the Big 12.

"He's brought such a fresh, new atmosphere here," said yell leader Jonathan Lusk. "It's been great to see him buying into all the things that make this university so special."

Here's more on what those things are:

--Signing Day celebration.

Two months after he was hired, Franchione brought in one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. Realizing it was something to be proud of, about a week before he suggested that Marks invite program supporters for a celebration.

With one week's notice, the event drew 700 people from more than five states. Marks already has reserved Reed Arena, where the basketball teams play, for next February's celebration. He expects to sell several thousand tickets.

"The demand is there," Marks said. "People want to be part of what's going on."

--Night of Champions.

A Franchione tradition everywhere he's coached, this was a public viewing of the team's spring weightlifting testing. The initial A&M event drew more than 2,000 people to G. Rollie White Coliseum.

"They were a great crowd, really into it," Franchione said.

Other events that have helped bond the team include a bowling night and everyone going to A&M baseball and basketball games.

"Most guys don't hang out together," said junior quarterback Dustin Long. "The more we do, the more we'll trust each other. ... I can see why he's won everywhere he's been."

--Maroon-and-White spring game.

Planned to coincide with parents weekend, Marks told Franchione they might be able to draw 20,000. The coach upped the ante in a posting on his Web site,, during one of his weekly "Fridays with Fran" postings.

"In keeping with the theme Vision 20-20" -- a school initiative aimed at making A&M ranked among the nation's 10 best public universities by the year 2020 -- "we want to see 20,000 people on each side of the stadium for the spring game," Franchione wrote.

Franchione promoted the attendance everywhere he could, including an e-mail to the entire student body.

It worked, too, as 41,072 fans came to watch.

"He was disappointed that I was surprised," Marks said. "He fully expected to have that many."

Franchione spent the entire day building good will. He made an impromptu speech at a midnight yell practice, spoke to the letterman's club and at the student association Parents Day barbecue, then did radio commentary on the game.

Next year's game already is scheduled for parents weekend, and Marks is aiming to begin promotions long in advance.

"If we get 40,000 or more to the spring practice next year, I'll know what kind of season we had this year," said John David Crow, the school's only Heisman Trophy winner and a former athletic director. "So I'm pulling for having 45,000."

--Coach's Night meetings.

Those gatherings have become the event of the spring for Aggies.

Marks estimates attendance jumps of up to 100 percent at all six stops: Austin (2,200), Dallas (2,000), Houston (1,700), San Antonio, Fort Worth and College Station (1,000 each).

This, too, was an attendance goal Franchione set, as he wrote on his Web site about wanting "personal bests" at each gathering.

"I don't think I had to challenge them," he said. "There was enough interest and curiosity."

Franchione also is working with the 12th Man Foundation to "re-engage" former players.

Perhaps because of the school's notion that there's no such thing as an ex-Aggie, it was taken for granted that alums would remain active in the program after they left. Franchione believes they should be invited, so he's mailed many a T-shirt, hat and a letter introducing himself and asking them to be involved.

"It's just amazing how much he is constantly thinking of ways to do things better," Marks said. "He'll come up to me at an event and say, `I've got an idea I want to bounce off of you.' It'll be some incredible revelation that we've never thought of that came to him in a room of 1,000 people.

"He's really pushing us to do more. I've never felt that in the five years I've been here. It seems like we were the ones always thinking of things. Now he's bringing them to us."

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