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Bye, Bye #039;Bama

Dennis Franchione signs deal with Texas A&M

TUSCALOOSA -- It's official: Dennis Franchione is no longer the head coach of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.

Today, during an 8:30 a.m. press conference, Texas A&M University will announce that Franchione has signed a five-year contract, estimated to be worth $11 million, to become the Aggies head coach.

He left a 10-year, $15 million contract on the table in Tuscaloosa.

Franchione, who had a 17-8 record in his two seasons at the Capstone, replaces R.C. Slocum as A&M's coach. Slocum, a college-coaching icon, guided the Aggies for 14 seasons before being fired as head coach after a 6-6 season this year.

The dismissal came Monday at the hands of school president Robert Gates. The final nail in Slocum's coaching coffin came during a 50-20 loss to in-state rival Texas last weekend. Slocum has been offered a position in the school's president's office.

Franchione and his wife, Kim, boarded a private jet in Tuscaloosa Thursday morning at 10 a.m. and spent the day ironing out details of a contract which will pay him more than $2 million per season over the next five years.

Alabama athletics director Mal Moore addressed members of the media during a 4:30 p.m. press conference Thursday afternoon. An admittedly frustrated and shocked Moore said Franchione phoned him with the news of his departure.

"Coach (Dennis) Franchione telephoned me at approximately 3:20 p.m. today to inform me that he has accepted the head coaching position at Texas A&M University."

Moore wasn't the only disappointed person Thursday.

Alabama school of communications director of placement and recruiting Jim Oakley, a close friend of Franchione, said the move was "shocking."

"I find it hard to believe that he has done this, Oakley said. He has always spoken of how much he enjoyed Tuscaloosa. I'm just shocked."

Some Troy residents were not so surprised. In fact, it came as no surprise to Britt Thomas of Brundidge.

"I had already been afraid (of this happening) for a while," Thomas said. "Two or three days ago I really started to just feel it."

However Thomas, a die-hard 'Bama fan, said he doesn't harbor any hard feelings.

"It's just the nature of the beast," he said.

Chris Marcum of Troy said he was dissappointed by Franchione's decision.

"I would have been OK with Oklahoma or several other places," Marcum said. "I mean, A&M of all places?"

"I'm mad that he strung us along, coaching without the contract, lying the whole time about wanting to stay," he said.

Marcum suspects that the departure may signal future additional sanctions from the NCAA. The Tide were smacked for violations concerning Gene Jelks and Antonio Langham several years ago and then later were found to have given money to high school coaches in order to get them to lure a Memphis high school player to attend Alabama.

""He must know something we don't," Marcum said.

Thomas said he was concerned over the future of Alabama's program.

"There are lots of obstacles to overcome with where we are and the whole program," he said. "Success will be several years coming. It'll be a tough road. I just want to win all we play."

According to Moore, the search for Franchione's replacement has already begun. "I have formulated a short list of candidates," Moore said. "I feel strongly these candidates must have college head coaching experience…he must be someone who recognizes the potential for this program to win championships and honors our tradition."

Names likely appearing on that short list are current UA defensive coordinator Carl Torbush, current New Orleans Saints assistant coach Mike Riley, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris, Southern Mississippi head coach Jeff Bowers, Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer and Oklahoma associate head coach Mike Stoops.

Riley, former head coach for the San Diego Chargers, was a defensive back for the 1973 University of Alabama national championship team. Reports from Tuscaloosa currently have Riley as the odds-on favorite to be the top name on Moore's list.

Hints of a possible conspiracy explaining why Franchione did not sign the UA contract extension earlier were added fuel Thursday morning when U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) told Birmingham's WBRC Fox 6's Good Day Alabama program that a Texas congressman told him six months ago that Slocum would be canned at A&M and that Franchione would be the next head coach.

Bachus was on Fox 6 to discuss issues involving Iraq and U.N. weapons inspectors.

Bachus spokesperson Jeff Emerson confirmed the congressman did make those comments.

Emerson said Bachus had known about the move for six months and had discussed it with acquaintances, but had not been questioned about it by the media.

"Congressmen don't get asked about college football very often," Emerson explained.

Bachus also said during the program that he was under the impression Pittsburgh's Harris is the leading candidate on Moore's list.

Franchione reportedly spoke with his team Friday afternoon via video phone.

The call shocked some, disappointed others and sent some into fits of rage according to other press reports.

Moore indicated to reporters that the team was visibly disappointed in Franchione's decision.

Messenger Staffers Stephen Stetson and Robbie Byrd contributed to this report.