Mark Story

Tuberville hires Franklin's guys to run Leach's offense

Adherents to the axiom "politics makes strange bedfellows" really should check out college football.

In the epitome of ironic associations, have you been following Tommy Tuberville's construction of a new coaching staff at Texas Tech?

When he replaced former Kentucky assistant Mike Leach in Lubbock, Tuberville had no choice but to keep the high-octane passing attack that Leach learned in his days with Hal Mumme.

That offensive approach has become as much identified with the Red Raiders as the fast break was with Kentucky basketball in Adolph Rupp's heyday.

Other than Leach, the foremost coaching proponent of the spread passing offense in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision is another former Kentucky assistant: Middle Tennessee offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.

The same Tony Franklin that Tuberville hired from Troy to install the spread passing system at Auburn in 2008 — before firing him after only six games.

What to do?

At a school where he needs to run Mike Leach's offense without Mike Leach, Tuberville has turned to "Tony Franklin's guys" without Tony Franklin.

Last week, Texas Tech hired Franklin protege Neal Brown as its offensive coordinator. Brown, the former UK and Lexington Horsemen wideout, moved up from coaching receivers and took over the reins of the Troy offense after Franklin went to Auburn. Brown will rejoin holdover offensive line coach Matt Moore, who was with Franklin at Troy before Leach wooed him away for Tech.

The Dothan Eagle (Ala.) also reported Friday that ex-UK player Chad Scott, another Franklin hire, was moving from running backs coach at Troy to the same job in Lubbock. So what does Franklin, 52, a former longtime Kentucky high school coach, think of it all?

"I take it as a compliment," Franklin said Friday. "In coaching, you get to my age, and it's a little bit like being a father. You take more pride in what your 'children' do than you do in your own accomplishments."

In spite of his own very sour experience working for Tuberville, Franklin says he encouraged Brown, the former Boyle County High receiving standout, to accept the offer to go to Texas Tech.

"It's a totally different situation than mine," Franklin said. "You're walking into a place where they've been doing what we do for 10 years already. It's a great situation for Neal. You've got good players. They're great at what we do already. You don't have to fix something that's broken."

Because the spread passing system is such a unique style of play, Franklin says it is vital for a coordinator to have other coaches on the staff he knows to be equally committed to the approach.

"That's what I didn't have at Auburn," Franklin said. "I didn't get to bring one guy with me. Neal will have Matt and Chad with him. All three of them know this system inside and out. I think they're going to do great."

If Tech thrives with Brown running the offense, he is a coach who will bear watching as an up-and-comer in college football. Outside Lane Kiffin's charmed life, not many guys are coordinators in BCS conferences by age 29.

This past year at Troy, Brown's unit finished third in the nation in total offense (485.6 yards a game) and 16th in scoring (33.7 points).

In fact, Franklin might have taught the spread to the boys at Troy a little too well. When MTSU and Troy went head-to-head this past season, Troy hung a 31-7 pasting on the Blue Raiders.

Still, Franklin didn't do too badly this past season.

In his first year calling the offense for Rick Stockstill, the Blue Raiders went 10-3, beat Memphis and Maryland and won the first bowl game (42-32 over Southern Mississippi in the New Orleans bowl) in the school's FBS history.

The Blue Raiders offense averaged 32 points and more than 421 yards a game. In its final five contests, Middle scored at least 34 points in every game.

"It's always hard at first, putting this system in," Franklin said. "We actually caught on quicker here than we did at Troy. It was a good experience. It was fun every day coming to work."

For Franklin, watching Tommy Tuberville hire the guys needed to run the "Tony Franklin System" must be rather amusing, as well.

"It's funny how things work out, isn't it?" said Franklin.

Strange bedfellows.