A&M will prosper after lean times in 2003

For the Texas A&M football team, next season starts now. The calendar still says 2003, and the schedule shows that one game remains. That one game is a chance for the Aggies to rinse away the sour taste of this season. It won't be easy to beat the Longhorns. But that would have been the case whether A&M was 11-0 or sadly, 4-7 headed into Thanksgiving + 1 day.

I am certain where Aggie football is headed and know one thing for sure: Texas A&M's head football coach is Dennis Franchione. His assistants may not remain the same, and the names and faces of the players will change. But, make no mistake about it--Franchione will be in charge. This program will be rebuilt in his image and according to his plan. That which transpired under the previous coaching staff is irrelevant, as are any rumors that may circulate around the internet.

As disappointed as Aggie fans are with the results of 2003, it's constructive to watch the way Franchione approaches this program. During the spring and summer, as the season approached, Coach Fran had more information about this football team and a clearer understanding of both its positives and negatives than any fans had. As the year has unfolded I doubt much has surprised Franchione. Disgusted at times? Yes. Surprised? I hardly think so.

Don't mistake this as satisfaction on my part with the 2003 season. I am as frustrated as anyone; yet I am also willing to be patient. Short of selling out the future, I am certain that few if any coaches could have done more with the talent at hand.

Looking at the 2003 Aggie football team as one would a financial portfolio, something jumps right off of the statement: This team has a disproportionate share of assets invested in freshman and sophomores--useful assets likely to pay big dividends during their A&M careers. That is not an altogether bad thing, because one of these days it will be coupon clipping time. Starting now, it's time to begin bringing these assets to maturity.

Protecting the young talent and their remaining eligibility is the best thing Franchione has done this season. For example, when Justin Warren earned the starting linebacker job, we knew he would have the opportunity to learn as opposed to merely watching a year's worth of eligibility evaporate (see Ty Riley and Anthony Wright in 2002). Along with Ta Ta Thompson, Warren has had numerous snaps.

The general play at linebacker this season has been disappointing. Granted, A&M's defensive front four has offered little protection.One of the great strengths of previous Aggie defenses was the ability of the down linemen to keep the linebackers free to make plays. Maybe the introduction of Jason Jack, Chris Harrington and others to the unit next season will improve this apparent weakness.

Looking back at the development of this team's young talent, I would like to have seen Melvin Bullitt receive more playing time. As things stand, he has used a year of eligibility yet garnered a minimal amount of gametime experience. In keeping with "the future starts now" theme, watching Bullitt face-off against the likes of Roy Williams may have been the best kind of on-the-job training.

We've watched eleven games, but the Aggie offense remains a mystery. One week it's the option. One week it's pass down the field. Another week it's pound the ball again and again. This unit lacks an identity. I think the failure to establish "our way" on offense has been a coaching shortcoming in 2003.

With their appetites whetted by short stretches of action, most Aggie fans expected more from Reggie McNeal than he's been able to deliver this season. Do I think he's capable of more? Absolutely, and that's where this coaching staff will earn its money (and respect) during the off-season.

Several players exceeded expectations this season: Johnny Jolly on defense, Courtney Lewis on offense and Anthony Wright on special teams to name three. Unfortunately, their effort alone simply was not enough.

Texas A&M appears to be woefully short of big playmakers at all positions. That is not a coaching problem, it's a talent problem. And Coach Fran hasn't been given a full opportunity to assemble the talent and special playmakers required to compete in the Big 12. Perhaps he should have adapted better to the available talent, but would a 6-6 record be that much better than 4-8?

Texas A&M did not pay $1.7 million for a coach to simply bandage the problems on this team. We hired one to fix them. Sometimes the answer lies in getting rid of the non-performing assets and rebuilding with higher "upside potential" assets. That may have made for an ugly bottom line in 2003.

But won't it be nice when the dividends start rolling in?

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