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Franchione emerges as potential early candidate for UNLV football post

Successful history at MWC programs could carry weight for Dennis Franchione

Dennis Franchione

AP PHOTO

Dennis Franchione is drenched during the closing seconds of his TCU team’s 28-19 victory over Southern Cal in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31, 1998 in El Paso, Texas. Franchione, in one season, turned the Horned Frogs from a 1-10 WAC doormat to a perennial winner. Could he do the same for UNLV?

Sanford Out as UNLV Coach

After a 15-43 record in five seasons as head coach, UNLV put an end to the Mike Sanford era.

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The Franchione File

  • Age: 58
  • Hometown: Girard, Kan.
  • Graduated from Pittsburg State in 1973.
  • Was an assistant at Kansas State from 1978-81, while current UNLV men's basketball coach Lon Kruger was an assistant for hoops coach Jack Hartman.
  • Turned New Mexico and TCU programs around before successful-yet-brief stint at Alabama.
  • Three bowl appearances in five seasons at Texas A&M before being bought out following 2007 season due in large part to the 'newsletter controversy.'
  • Career coaching record of 187-101-2 (107-81-1 in FBS)
  • Was known at Texas A&M for his loaded recruiting classes which ranked among the top 13 in the nation from 2003-05.
  • His son, Brad, is the head coach at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. Blinn is a football powerhouse among the juco ranks.
  • Currently works as a radio color commentator for ESPN on college football broadcasts.

With the job listing still fresh on the market, UNLV interim Athletic Director Jerry Koloskie has been inundated with calls and e-mails from those interested in his football coaching vacancy.

While more names will surface later, as several prospective candidates are still in season, a source close to the situation confirmed to The Sun on Thursday that one prominent figure to throw his hat into the ring is Dennis Franchione, who most recently held the post at Texas A&M.

Franchione was bought out of his contract at A&M following the 2007 season after an up-and-down run in College Station, but his track record at programs currently in the Mountain West Conference is hard to argue with.

"I've turned two schools around in that conference — New Mexico and then when I took over TCU in 1998," Franchione said on Thursday when reached by phone. "So I'm really familiar with the conference and the area, and I feel like (UNLV) is kind of a sleeping giant, and there's no reason I can see right now that it couldn't be successful and win some games."

New Mexico and TCU were members of the WAC when Franchione put his stamp on them each individually. But the common denominator between UNLV and those two situations is that they all required someone coming in as head coach with an ability to build a contender from nearly the ground up.

UNLV announced on Sunday that Mike Sanford wouldn't be coaching in 2010 for a sixth season. Heading into next weekend's finale against San Diego State, which Sanford will coach, he's gone 15-43 overall and 7-32 in Mountain West Conference play in his first attempt as a head coach.

In 1992, Franchione took over a New Mexico program which hadn't had a winning season in 10 years. During his six-year run in Albuquerque, he went 33-36, including a 9-4 finish in 1997 and a spot in the Insight.com Bowl. It was the program's first bowl berth since 1961.

At TCU, he turned a team that went 1-10 in 1997 into a 7-5 squad in 1998 with a Sun Bowl appearance, where the Horned Frogs took out Southern Cal. Two years later, he handed the reins to current TCU coach Gary Patterson before heading to Alabama. Patterson, with whom Franchione is still close friends, has the Horned Frogs at 10-0 and on the verge of a BCS berth this season.

After leaving Fort Worth, Franchione went 17-8 in two seasons in Tuscaloosa, leaving for A&M as the program was headed for probation due to NCAA sanctions resulting from violations of Mike DuBose, who preceded Franchione at Alabama.

After a 10-3 run with the Crimson Tide in 2002, he went 32-28 with three bowl appearances in five seasons with the Aggies but left again amidst controversy.

Franchione was bought out for $4.4 million, with the final $1 million of that coming in 2010, minus whatever he's paid by a current employer. For UNLV, given the current economic state, it could make Franchione that much more appealing. It would be a similar situation UNLV had with men's basketball coach Lon Kruger, who was still collecting from his buyout deal with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks during his first season at UNLV.

Since his buyout, Franchione, 58, has worked for ESPN, doing radio calls for college football broadcasts.

"It's been good. It's been a little bit of a sabbatical from coaching, but I've still been involved with football and Friday practices and see a lot of different programs and how people do things and see a lot of different games," he said. "It's been really great from that standpoint. I've kinda recharged my batteries, and I've enjoyed doing the games with ESPN, and I have a great love for college football.

"I think all coaches miss players and coaches, and I think you always do no matter what."

Franchione had the similar itch last winter, when he was a finalist for the San Diego State job. That gig ultimately went to Brady Hoke, who is 4-6 in his first season with the Aztecs.

Once Sanford is officially out from his post with the Rebels, the search is expected to move into the next gear.

Franchione likes the way things look from the outside.

"Well, you know, it's got a marquee town," he said. "It's close to population for recruiting. I think that's always important. I know that the state is not heavily populated, much like New Mexico was for me, so I'm familiar with that.

"I think they would like to have a college football program, and it's in a conference that I know well, and I think UNLV has somewhat of a national name out there maybe because of Jerry Tarkanian and what he did and the basketball program and how successful it's been, as much as anything. When I was even in Texas, I would see them have the ability to go in and recruit, and their name identity was very good."

Franchione will also have a couple of familiar brains to potentially pick if he is serious regarding the opportunity.

First off, he knows Sanford, whom he hosted — among others such as staffs from Florida, Oregon and West Virginia — for two-day spread offense clinics in College Station during his days at A&M. He also visited with Sanford on his last trip to Las Vegas, as a former Aggies assistant of his — running backs and receivers coach Kenny Pope — was the Rebels' running backs coach in 2008.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV coach Lon Kruger watches his team play against UNR during the first half of their game Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Franchione is much more familiar, however, with Kruger, who performed a similar resurrection to the Rebels' dormant hoops program when he took it over in 2004.

While Kruger was a graduate assistant at Kansas State from 1977 to 1978, then a full-fledged aide on Jack Hartman's staff from 1979-82, Franchione was an assistant football coach there from 1978-80.

Both were also raised in the Sunflower State — Kruger in Silver Lake and Franchione down in the southeast corner of Kansas in Girard.

"I haven't had a lot of first-hand knowledge of it and seen games or anything, but I know what kind of person Lonny Kruger is, and I know what kind of character he has, what kind of kids he's gonna recruit, how he's gonna run his program," Franchione said. "It's gonna be with class and dignity and with good people. He's gonna coach hard, recruit hard and do it the right way, and I know those things about Lonny."

Franchione insisted that he enjoys his gig with ESPN, but it's relatively clear that coaching is his an avenue he'd like to again travel. He said it would depend largely on what kind of opportunity is presented to he and his wife, Kim.

Kruger said there are "a lot of people that could be a good fit. But no question Dennis has proven himself in the Mountain West Conference and several places after that."

Click to enlarge photo

Dirk Koetter, left, celebrates with safety Shaunard Harts after Boise State defeated UTEP in the Humanitarian Bowl, 38-23, on Dec. 28, 2000. Koetter is currently the offensive coordinator for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, but his name has floated around in relation to the vacant UNLV head coaching post.

Koetter reached

A popular name floating around for the UNLV vacancy over the past few days is that of Dirk Koetter, who is the offensive coordinator for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.

At his press conference on Monday, Sanford said that if success from the ground up could be achieved in Boise, Idaho, it could be done in Las Vegas.

Well, Koetter was largely responsible for Boise State's meteoric rise to national prominence.

In three seasons as the Broncos' head coach from 1998-2000, Koetter went 26-10, including a pair of 10-win campaigns and was 2-0 in his Humanitarian Bowl appearances.

Following a winding trip through six seasons at Arizona State, going 40-34 with four bowl appearances, Koetter, 50, was terminated following the 2006 campaign.

Currently in his third season in Jacksonville, Koetter responded to a phone call placed by The Sun on Thursday afternoon via text message regarding his potential candidacy.

He said it is to early to speculate on the subject.

"If I become a candidate, we can talk later," the text from Koetter read.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV interim athletic director Jerry Koloskie.

Koloskie's applicant requirements and timetable

Resumés have come from anywhere and everywhere so far, Koloskie said.

Even though he's currently in the process of pushing toward the open athletic director gig at the university, he's simultaneously spearheading efforts to fill the job opening atop his football program.

And whether it's him making the ultimate decision or someone else hired to assume the athletic director duties, Koloskie knows better than almost anyone what the football program needs.

"The job description for this job is obviously Division-I head coaching experience, preferably," he said on Thursday. "I really believe that we need somebody who has been a head coach or has head coaching experience. Now that doesn't mean we would rule out anyone else, but to me, that is kind of a set standard going in, and then obviously however that turns out, we'll see. I would think that is something we need at this point in time with our football program.

"I think it's a critical hire. I think the person has to be a very good fit, not only be a good coach but be a good leader for the football program and be a good ambassador for the university and stimulate interest in the football program. It's that all-around type of person who needs to come in here and take football to the next level."

So far, Koloskie has received a handful of calls from out-of-work coaches expressing interest. More inquiries are sure to come, and they're expected to pour in as many teams' seasons — or at least regular seasons — come to an end just after Thanksgiving weekend.

"I think there'll be a lot of movement the first two weeks of December," he said. "I would say that, to me, that first week of December will probably be the critical time to get this thing moving forward, and hopefully no later than mid-December, you'd have a coach in place. That's my opinion.

"And again, that's just based upon the timeline of recruiting, coaching vacancies, those kinds of things when they come open. I would think the first two weeks of December would be a very reasonable time frame."

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