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Zemek Blog: Frank Thoughts on Tony Franklin
Auburn's Tony Franklin
Auburn's Tony Franklin
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Oct 8, 2008


In the offseason, the early verdict on Tony Franklin was that the Auburn coordinator needed patience from anyone and everyone around the Auburn program. Today, one person lost his patience with the play caller of the Alabama plains, and that man happened to be Franklin's boss, Tommy Tuberville. Here's a look back at a pre-Spring assessment of Franklin, reprinted from March 19, 2008.


New Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin is gaining a lot of press for his new-school reconstruction of an old-school SEC formula. But before anyone gets too excited about the Sun Belt sensation who turned Troy into a triumphant team, some sobering statements are in order.

First of all, any offensive attack--and especially a more modern one--won't fly unless there's a special soul under center. Kodi Burns has a chance to add something newly potent to the mix at Auburn in 2008, but it's not his throwing arm. It's his footspeed. Burns will make plays by turning on the afterburners, not by slinging the ball downfield. If head coach Tommy Tuberville wants a more high-octane offense, he'll have to wait awhile, because he and Mr. Franklin can't begin to know if Burns will be able to powerfully and purposefully pitch the pigskin around the ballpark on an SEC Saturday. We won't know the real Kodi Burns until at least mid-October, and quite possibly not until 2009.

The second thing to keep in mind about Auburn's offense is that the Franklin emphasis on tempo (as opposed to something with an X-and-O component, such as vertical capability or an ability to spread the field) sounds--at this early stage of the system's development--like a coded way of saying, "We're going to start small and take baby steps this season." If Auburn coaches were really optimistic about this offense for 2008 alone, they'd be talking about quick-strike potency or a diversity of attack points. The fact that they're talking about "tempo" seems to represent an admission of (temporary) inadequacy. This talk of pacing and speed--in and out of the huddle--suggests that Burns will grow into something special in 2009 or '10... but not (yet) this season.

A final item to file away as you think about this offense concerns Auburn's recent string of offensive coordinators. Al Borges struggled with Brandon Cox, which clearly led to his departure, but this happened only after Borges brought out the best in Jason Campbell and briefly became Auburn's most beloved offensive coordinator over the past few years. Campbell, the quarterback who--under Borges's guidance--led Auburn to an unbeaten season in 2004, had a horrible 2003 under the tutelage of co-coordinators Hugh Nall and Steve Ensminger, but he showed ample promise under the watchful eye of one Bobby Petrino in 2002. These sequences show that Auburn's constant turnover (pun not intended) at the offensive coordinator position has prevented play callers from entrenching themselves as particularly proven performers.

Was Jason Campbell's (and Auburn's) breakthrough 2004 season more a case of the foundational work done by Petrino in 2002, or was it the handiwork of Borges after the Nall-Ensminger disaster of 2003, which retarded Campbell's development after Petrino built him up? The fact that Borges couldn't come close to maximizing Brandon Cox's talents renders his 2004 season as more of an aberration than as a sign of consistent excellence. If anything, Borges's four-year run at Auburn was consistent in its inconsistency. The 2004 joyride featured some outstanding work by Borges, but that level of performance was rarely recaptured in the following three seasons with Cox under center.

Tony Franklin could be the man who elevates Auburn to the next plateau and keeps the Tigers there for several seasons. But given the recent history of Auburn football, one should be very patient--and perhaps a bit skeptical--before giving any definite verdicts about the quality of Tommy Tuberville's latest hire as an offensive coordinator. There have been a bunch of them this decade in Auburn. The locals hope the latest one will become the greatest, but only time will tell. The all-too-familiar longings for the god-like gridiron guru, the messiah-like mastermind who will make all problems go away with each decision he makes, have to be shelved in the case of Tony Franklin. Give him three years before assessing the merits of his new system, which is only beginning to take root in the fertile soil of the Alabama plains.

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