The independent news organization of Duke University

Reporter's Analysis: Franks done in by Deacons

The only thing questionable about the decision to fire Duke football head coach Carl Franks Sunday is the timing.

His 7-45 record in four-and-a-half seasons does not beg the question "why did he get fired," but rather "why did he not get canned earlier?" If one could say anything about the situation, it is that Athletic Director Joe Alleva gave Franks ample opportunity to show what he could do with the football team.

Franks went 3-8 in his first season as a head coach in 1999. Although this was a game worse than Fred Goldsmith had in his firing-inducing 1998 season, Franks showed great promise at just 39 years of age in his first head coaching job ever.

The following two seasons, however, were two of the worst seasons ever by a football team, even by Duke standards. Franks' squads combined for zero wins and 22 losses over this period.

Then came the 2002 season, the most disputed and ambiguous of Franks' years. The Blue Devils had a very poor 2-10 record, but there was something different about that Duke team. The Blue Devils had five losses by five points or less, and these losses were not solely against chump teams. Duke had heart-breaking losses to bowl-bound Wake Forest, Virginia, N.C. State and Clemson, in addition to nail-biters against North Carolina and Northwestern.

There were two views taken of this season: One said that the close losses were just part of the losing culture Franks created at Duke; the other felt the team was slowly improving and that the close losses would eventually turn into close wins. Another benefit to Franks was that 22 of the 24 starters on the 2002 squad were returning for 2003. Alleva clearly agreed with those that felt Duke was progressing towards winning seasons, and brought Franks back again. Optimism was at its highest under the Franks regime with players seriously talking about playing in a bowl game in 2003.

But the 2003 Duke team compared more to the 2000 and 2001 Duke squads than any others, being annihilated by Virginia, Northwestern and Wake Forest. It was clear the Blue Devils were going backwards. But what benefits are there in firing a college coach at mid-season as opposed to waiting until the end of the year?

One is that it will give the team a much needed jump-start after lethargically beginning nearly every game this season, giving the seniors--who are clearly the most talented class on this year's team--a chance to win some games.

"Yeah, I do [think we'll play harder with Franks gone]," senior linebacker Ryan Fowler said. "Part of it is that there's no one else to blame now. It's easy to blame coaching when the team's not doing well. Now we've got a new coach. Hopefully guys will play harder under coach Roof because we need some improvement."

Another possible advantage is in attracting a new, higher-profile coach. Firing Franks in the middle of the season--in addition to lowering recruits' academic standards and building the $22 million Yoh football center--shows that Duke is serious about winning.

But all-in-all, Alleva's decision still seems less than sound. Much of the reasoning behind Franks being brought back year after year was stability, and nothing could be more destabilizing than removing the head coach in the middle of the season. One recruit has already taken away his verbal commitment to Duke, and some of the current players have said that they feel like they're in the twilight zone.

It was clear that in Duke football the status quo had to go. But firing Franks in the middle of the season will lead to unforeseen problems, as the foundation of the team has been completely taken away. Franks' firing was in part meant to show to possible future coaches that Duke no longer was going to deal with those who didn't know what they were doing. With the timing of its decision, the Blue Devil administrative staff may have proved to these candidates that they are the incoherent ones instead.


Share and discuss “Reporter's Analysis: Franks done in by Deacons” on social media.