COLLEGE STATION - Looking back on it now, a lot of us owe Dennis Franchione an apology. R.C. Slocum has one coming, too.
Slocum's legacy at Texas A&M looks a lot different now than it did when he was fired almost five years ago. Franchione is proof of it. If Franchione finally does great things at A&M this season, he can thank Slocum.
Almost no one listened when Slocum told the Aggies how far they'd fallen behind Texas in terms of facilities and salaries. What he saw as an explanation was seen by some as an alibi.
Only after John David Crow and others drove to Austin to tour Mack Brown's office, to see the weight room and locker room and all the rest, did things begin to change. It didn't happen quickly enough to save Slocum's job, but it did happen.
A&M now has the best football facilities in the country. It pays top dollar for assistant coaches, too. If Slocum is bitter about any of this, he won't say. He's the living, breathing definition of a good soldier and a class act.
He doesn't have to say what has become obvious: He never had a chance in those final seasons. What's also clear is that Franchione inherited a program in far worse shape than a lot of people knew.
If you're one of those Aggies who'd like to fire Fran, here's some free advice. Chill out. He established himself as one of the country's best football coaches long before he arrived at A&M, and he didn't get dumb overnight.
When the Aggies didn't have a single player taken in the NFL draft last spring, it spoke volumes about Texas A&M football in Slocum's final seasons. Kansas was the only other Big 12 program without a draft pick.
Since 2004, the Aggies have had just six players drafted. Texas had seven players taken last spring.
"The draft tells people about the level of athleticism we've been dealing with," A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said.
I don't know that Fran has turned the corner once and for all. I thought he did that three years ago. I thought he might have done it with last year's victory over Texas.
One step forward ...Every significant step forward has been followed by one the other way. So any definitive statement about these Aggies is subject to a three-month recall.
But it does feel different.
A&M's 38-7 victory over Montana State on Saturday night proved nothing except that there's work to do before those road trips to Miami, Texas Tech, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
The Aggies won by 31, and Franchione emphasized that was all that mattered. He knows Aggies will be focusing on the numbers. Montana State rolled up 403 yards and had the ball for 27 more plays.
Afterward, the questions ran in a direction no coach is going to like. When does a 31-point victory have the look and feel of defeat?
"We're not Michigan," Franchione said defensively. "You learn from these things."
He has recruited every player in the program, and those early redshirt decisions have given him depth and experience. There's an experienced quarterback in Stephen McGee and two talented running backs in Mike Goodson and Javorskie Lane. McGee ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns and completed 10 of 20 passes. Lane and Goodson combined to rush for 116 yards.
"As McGee goes, their season will go," Montana State coach Rob Ash said.
If A&M's defense is just decent, the Aggies have a chance. Montana State pushed the Aggies around at times but scored just once. What's that they say about silver linings?
'Obviously want better'"When we were challenged with the ball in the air, we didn't do as well as we should," A&M defensive coordinator Gary Darnell said. "It's very easy to say I'm proud of our guys, but I think we obviously want better."
Franchione has said all
the right things about this
team working harder and having more experience and, finally, being the kind of team he has put on the field at other places.
"This team is fun to coach," he said. "We've got some guys that have been together for a while. That's a tremendous plus. There are a lot of things that let you feel more confident and comfortable."