Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Coach Franchione's words as empty as his office

The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

Fedetrice Robinson can still see Dennis Franchione sitting in her living room last winter, pressing for the ultimate trust. The head football coach at Alabama did not just promise to turn her quarterback into a cornerback. He promised to turn her boy into a man.

"He guaranteed he'd be there for Ramzee no matter what," Robinson said Monday from her Huntsville, Ala., home. "He said, 'Believe in me. Don't worry about anything. I'm not going anywhere. I'm recruiting your son and I'll be there for any problem he has."'

Ramzee Robinson, redshirt freshman, woke up today with a problem: His coach's office is as empty as his coach's word.

"I get ill talking about it," Fedetrice Robinson said. "Those young people looked up to Coach Fran and they're going to be emotionally affected by this. You don't just lie and leave your babies behind."

You don't just betray dozens of impressionable young men who huddled there, day after day, and heeded your counterfeit calls for commitment and faith. You don't just convince players that you're waging an all-for-one, one-for-all fight through NCAA probation, and then run a 4.4 forty to the first Touchdown Tech seizing upon that for-sale sign attached to your warped sense of honor.

You don't just beg 40 juniors and seniors to stay when they could've transferred without penalty, and then surreptitiously snake your way out of town, Bob Irsay style, by boarding a private jet aimed at Texas A&M and stranding a team that would get the news the way any real tough-guy coach should deliver it: through his defensive coordinator.

"Out of simple respect," Ramzee Robinson said by phone, "we should've been the first to know. We deserved that much from Coach Fran. If you preach to us to be a certain type of man and then do the total opposite, you're not being a man.

"The players are very angry at him. Almost every day at practice he would preach loyalty and staying together. Before we got on the plane to go to Hawaii for our last game, he lectured us the rumors of him leaving were false. So one minute we're smiling as we get off the plane coming back from Hawaii, and the next minute he's gone. Coach Fran didn't even have the decency to face us, so everybody's ticked off."

Out of Tuscaloosa come reports of an enraged populace, of students and fans hanging profane signs and committing felonies against Franchione bobbleheads. Bear Bryant proved that one travels from Texas A&M to Alabama, not the other way around. Franchione's fastbreak - with five years left on a seven-year contract and a new 10-year Alabama offer on the table - would've been slightly more acceptable if the coach hadn't told so many lies in so many forums.

His Web page was headlined by the words Accountability, Loyalty and Trust, virtues he turned into punch lines. Franchione ridiculed and rejected all stories that linked him to Texas A&M, only to confess upon his hiring that the school "always has been on a short list for me."

As for the Alabama players he conned, Franchione said, "I feel bad for them, but this was something I needed to do."

He needed to follow the self-absorbed path of so many college coaches before him, football and basketball "teachers" who would flunk anyone's introductory ethics class. Tommy Amaker, for one, broke enough I'm-here-for-the-long-haul pledges to his Seton Hall players to deserve his 0-6 Michigan record in a scandal-scarred year.

If Franchione can't possibly lose enough games next season, well, at least he showed good taste when he stepped inside the Robinson home. Ramzee's mother still works two jobs daily - one at Wal-Mart, one at a fast-food restaurant - and his father still works 15-hour shifts as a chef. Ramzee himself began flipping burgers at 15. They were all saving up for college in case a stranger like Franchione never knocked on their door with a scholarship and a vow.

As it turned out, the coach didn't guide Ramzee to manhood; the kid managed that on his own. He said he would stay in Tuscaloosa and earn his degree. He said he didn't believe it was right to punish Alabama for Franchione's flaws.

"I committed right when the NCAA penalty was announced," Ramzee said, "and Coach Fran said we'd get through the probation together. Then he just stranded his children, and now that's going to hurt him every time he lays down at night.

"I hope Coach Fran learns from his mistakes. I'm Christian, so I'll pray for him to come back and talk to us, because that would help so much."

At 18, Ramzee Robinson is old enough to know he shouldn't hold his breath.

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