VIP Connection Letters

From the DMN:


December 16, 2004, 8:03 a.m.

Subject was “Signings, practice at Cotton Bowl”

Howdy. Have all your shopping done? Football fever is high around the office, even though it is extremely quiet with coaches gone the last three weeks (except weekends) and players in finals. Practice resumes now that tests are over, and we bear down on finding a way to beat a Vol.

Coach Fran and Les have been ensconced in the offensive war room every day, at length, and have watched every Tennessee game on video. The last few days they have watched every Tennessee defensive formation broken down in groups of plays, and the two of them have been choosing or designing (or sometimes redesigning) plays to enter into the play book. When the rest of the offensive staff returns tomorrow, they will all huddle up and come up with a game plan over the weekend. We’ll practice through Wednesday the 22nd and break until we all meet up in Dallas at noon on the 26th.

• • •

I asked Fran about practices in Dallas. They are closed. But he invites you to attend if you are in town on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The only other persons invited are high school coaches and prospects. (Interestingly, if a junior high or high school student attends, none of the coaches can speak to him. It’s an NCAA dead period.) Thursday and Friday are sealed tightly, no exceptions.

Practices will be held at SMU’s stadium right off the Mockingbird and Central Expressway (Hwy 75) exit just south of downtown. I’ll get the times to you later today.

You must send me an RSVP on which days you plan to be there. Your name then will be placed on a list at the gate, and the student assistants manning the gate will work strictly off of that list in terms of admitting anybody into practice. You can let me know with a reply to this message, or feel free to call me on my cell phone: 979.XXX.XXXX (edited)

• • •

The two weekends of visits went exceptionally well. Several commitments were made before they went back home. You may have heard or read about Ortmann taking Michigan . He spent his childhood in the Chicago area and has always had a thing for the Wolverines. He also knew that if he took that visit he was risking his offer with us, because of the numbers squeeze – we have three other O-linemen committed, and fewer scholarships to offer than the limit of 25. His brother attended A&M for three years before transferring to North Texas.

Odd coincidence: fathers of two of the prospects who visited, one on each weekend, are corrections officers at prisons. One in New Jersey, at the infamous high-security prison known as Rahway. If you saw the movie a few years ago “The Hurricane,” Denzel Washington played the role of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who spent time at Rahway on a conviction of three counts of murder. Our prospect said that the worst kind of criminals get sent there and it is the highest security; he said his father has “unbelievable stories.”

The other prison guard football dad is at a county prison near Muskogee, Oklahoma.

• • •

If you read or heard about the incident at Taylor Schuster’s house, where a guy crashed a party and threatened a couple of our players, John Ray and Jaxson Appel, with a steak knife – our guys were all playing dominoes at the time. They handled the situation with aplomb, running the guy off and calling the police, who made an arrest when the guy came back to the house.

• • •

That’s it for now. Hope to see you in Dallas, if not sooner. Create and enjoy a wonder-filled holiday season. And please know that you are one of our great blessings in the Aggie football family.

Be of good cheer, Mike


Sent Nov. 28, 2005, 4:15 p.m.

Subject: Torbush out

In about 45 minutes, the sports information office will put out a release announcing the dismissal of Coach Carl Torbush as defensive coordinator.

Fran’s comment: “After evaluating our defense, I felt like it was in the best interest of our football program to make a change at defensive coordinator. I think Carl is an outstanding person and an excellent coach, but for whatever reasons, we were not effective on defense. I have begun a national search to find a replacement.”

In private, Fran was, as you certainly can imagine, hurting. Toughtest [sic] thing to do in coaching, as in any business, when you’re dealing with outstanding people. “This is the same group that was third in the nation in defense three years ago,” Fran said.

Coach Torbush commented for public consumption, “This is part of the business of coaching football. We didn’t get the job done on defense and that was my responsibility. I commend the players for giving great effort and I appreciate the coaches who continued to work through the whole season. One thing I thought was evident was this group refused to quit.”

He did not reveal any immediate plans.

Carl is a total gentleman and I feel certain he will land on his feet soon. I will misss him, Janet, and Trey. They are a genuine and warm family and have been a pleasure to be around the last five years.

More to come, if and when there’s something new to report….

And, tomorrow I’ll have some Texas game info to give you.


Sent Dec. 15, 2005, 3:14 p.m.

Coach Fran gave me a full, inside report to pass along to you on what has taken place in the DC search and pursuit, and I will get to that later tonight. He wants you to understand precisely what took place, on the trust that you will harbor it as personal information to persons he trusts and at the same time arm you with perspective when and if you need it in conversations with friends and family.

In short, Gary Gibbs declined to come.

Gary Darnell will accept the position, to be announced Friday morning. Contrary to the rants of numerous emails already to Byrne and Fran, based on hearsay, there are many positives to promote about Coach Darnell. Those will be part of the detailed report later.

Much of the hue and cry of persons opposed to this hire have (a.) wrong information, (b.) no insight into the search and hiring process, and (c.) are allowing their emotion to spew irrational thoughts based on bad information or memory. Perception is reality, and we must work to change the perception based on some realities.

Just like we have not done about the season, we will not try to sugarcoat anything; we merely will present what is factual, and let the facts say whatever they say.

For starters, without details (because I need to continue phone calls and research), Coach Darnell’s tenure at Texas under John Mackovic – the main point of attack for naysayers – included just his, Darnell’s, last three years of his five on the staff.

The first two years he was special teams and tight ends coach. During his three years as DC under Mackovic, Texas was conference co-champion (’94) and outright champion (’95) of the SWC, and the first champion of the Big 12.

During the last two years, t.u. defeated Texas A&M 16-6 and 51-15, and scored one TD against the ‘horn (i.e., Darnell) defense.

That stint served as springboard for Darnell to the head coaching position at Western Michigan. Mackovic went on to coach another year at Texas, but Darnell was not with him when that staff went down in flames.

Finally, DeBesse from Purdue will be visiting and interviewing, for running backs coach. The position isn’t sealed, yet.




Sent Dec. 15, 2005, 11:29 p.m.

Subject: Information that will help you in discussions

We have had countless calls and emails centering on rumors about how the deal came down with Gibbs. After long discussion today with Coach Fran, and some good ideas from members of this group, we decided to give you all the “ammo” you need to form an army of ambassadors who can help us offset the misinformation spreading rampantly.

Let’s start with this:

Fran talked to each candidate about having carte blanche on operating the defense – i.e., how the staff would set up, strong input and recommendations on whom the coaches would be (with Eggen immune), and especially on what kind of defense we would use.

Gibbs’s would have been somewhat different than Darnell’s. One example: under Gibbs we would have one coach for all DBs. Under Darnell we will remain with one for CBs and one for S.

Gibbs had a good visit with long sessions discussing his methods and philosophies with Fran, who was impressed with his knowledge and enjoyed the exchange.

Upon leaving Gibbs said it would take $400,000 a year to entice him to move from the Cowboys. When asked if that was hard and fast he said no, he’d listen to a counter, and that he was definitely interested in the position.

After soul-searching (including consideration of the impact it would have on his staff) Fran met with Bill Byrne. We then asked Gibbs if he would still be interested if our very best offer was $330,000 on a three-year contract, base (i.e., not counting camp income, bowl and other possible bonuses, et al). That would have made him the second-highest paid DC in the country known, just $3,333 short of the top.

He spent a day or so mulling it over and discussing it with his family, and phoned and said no, thanks. He was staying with the Cowboys, where he is one more year away from the NFL’s renowned, generous pension (five years to vest).

As Fran said this afternoon, “That was the only deciding factor – $70,000. We had no problem with anything else. It came down to salary.”

• • •

For perspective, the top paid coordinator in the country that has been published through state open records reports is Jimbo Fisher, offensive coordinator at LSU, $400,000, which he was raised to this year when the NFL courted him.

The highest paid DC is at Arkansas, receiving $1 million spread over three years.

Texas’ DC, Chizik, had a base this year of $260,000 and a total reported income of $295,000. Torbush had a $275,000 base; Koenning $250,000. Gibbs told Johnny Barr that he knew for a fact, through a friend in Dallas, that Chizik made $500,000. Most likely that “inside source” is confused by t.u.’s designation of Chizik and Akina as co-DCs, and Akina made $220,000 this year.

Bud Foster at Virginia Tech, whom we pursued, made right at $190,000 this year. The average salary of a position coach in the NFL is $212,000. We felt like we made a generous offer to Gibbs, with security, with which we could still maintain some integrity and balance on our existing staff salaries.

It wasn’t good enough.

Next report: details on the search.



Sent Sept. 30, 2006, 9:48 a.m.

Subject: Pre-kickoff nuggets…

Especially for those of you who cannot be here:

We’re healthy. Nobody who usually plays will miss action. Here’s a couple of hints at the approach to the game plan on both sides of the ball:

I asked Coach Fran if he’d seen the movie “Patton” (which I knew he had), and told the offensive staff that I was reminded of the scene where Patton is observing through high-powered field glasses as his troops out-maneuvered Rommel’s tanks in South Africa, utilizing Rommel’s own tactics. George C. Scott’s line attributed to Gen. Patton was, “Take that, Rommel, you SOB – I read your book!”

The other hint is the age-old adage – fight fire with fire. We believe that on defense Tech is most vulnerable at linebacker, and we’ll try to get them in mismatches in “space.” On one play, for example, Coach Koenning commented, “I want to see that ‘Mike’ (middle) linebacker try to catch up with Chad Schroeder.”

There have been many references to “new wrinkles” all week, both ways. One thing distinctly different about Tech’s offense is the presence of Jarrett Hicks. Against TCU, QB Harrell threw almost exclusively to the right side where their other two good receivers nearly always line up. Hicks will line up wide to the left and give them more variety, and us more to cover.

Coach Leach at TT commented on his radio show this week that he didn’t care how little of the offense we had shown so far this year. “…I’ve got three or four years worth of film on those guys.” He also said, “I don’t know what they’d be saving it for. Seems to me you’d run everything and get as good at it as you possibly can. I’m not a big math guy, but are we going to see 80 percent different stuff than we’ve seen before? I sincerely doubt it.”

The game could cut severely into the dinner hour.

Talk to you after the dust has cleared….

Enjoy the day!



Sent Oct. 26, 2006, 11:21 a.m.

Subject: Ouch…undesirable news

Obviously, highly highly confidential, because we’re not even going to inform our radio announcers beforehand:

We’re likely to take on Baylor’s new “Air Raid” passing attack (Texas Tech copycat) without the services of Brock Newton at one safety and Red Bryant at one defensive tackle. Yemi Babalola might also miss yet another game, other than emergency service in a jam.

Red has a muscle strain in the back of his right knee. It’s gotten better each day, but it’s swollen. Everything is stable. The muscle isn’t even present in all people. His mental outlook has been off the charts positive, and he’ll be on the sideline as a spirit leader if he cannot go on the field.

Newton’s for sure out, with two different ailments from the OSU aftermath. One is clavicle – front of the shoulder – and prevents him from full range of motion in front of his body.

Look for either Johnathan Batson, who has proven to be a wonderful athlete but erratic (see: unnecessary personal foul hitting OSU player out of bounds with game on the line), or Japhus Brown, ibid, to fill for Newton.

Rather than replacing Bryant, if he can’t go, the defensive alignment might just change. Recall that Chris Harrington moved back to a standup position, essentially a third linebacker, in a “stack” against Missouri that gives a 3-3 look.

• • •

Troublesome stat: 5th year Baylor quarterback Shawn Bell, who reportedly wanted to come here but wasn’t offered by our predecessors, has thrown 10 interceptions this season and been sacked more than 20 times. (Baylor is among the national leaders in both categories.) But in the last two years against us, he has thrown 95 passes without us intercepting any. (Don’t have sack info.)

• • •

Two good days of practice. Last night in the rain, just like the previous Wednesday. Difference was, last week was a deluge – a fierce rain. And we stayed out in it. By the end of practice, almost everybody on the team had performed a belly-flop in the puddles and mud – either during a play, or on purpose. “We worked really hard and really well, but we all had a good time, too,” Coach Fran recalled. Last night the rain was steady, but not as strong. Still, the field resembled a rice paddy by the end of practice. Fran said that we had a good practice, and that the players have been consistently good at taking care of business.

This morning, he showed staff a video of Baylor fans, mostly students, tearing down the goal posts two years ago. He had James, our video guy, put it up on the looping video that goes to all the TV screens in the building all day so our players could see it.

• • •

LaMantia No. 12 again.

Team leaves tomorrow by bus to Temple. Then bus to Waco afternoon before kickoff. Joey Thomas and Earvin Taylor scheduled to appear on Coach Fran’s radio show tonight. That’s available live on the athletics Web site, Will have the travel roster soon, and now we’re going into offensive sequence scripting meeting. Should have some insights afterward. And, one member requested the breakout of how many downs each player played at OSU, so I’ll fire that off to you, too.



Sent Nov. 22, 2006, 1:26 p.m.

Subject: Offensive sequence script


Big-play personnel – Lane, Goodson, Martellus Bennett, Schroeder.

Take shots deep. (Some involve trickery.)

Gadgets. (Some involve the kicking game)

Hardball running plays.

• • •

A lot of two-play huddles, depending on the intensity of the crowd noise. Coach Fran: “I don’t recall the noise there being a problem.”

If they’re in a one-safety set, look for hitch or fade passes.

Numerous plays they haven’t seen, or familiar plays but out of new formations.

A slant-and-go play with potential excitement.

Sequenced 16 plays instead of the usual 12, to give more looks and find out what to go back to.

Lane on power, and then Goodson on a zone read that goes toward a different place in the defensive set than usual (they’ve never seen it run this way).

Playbook includes the zone-read option that we hurt them badly on last year.

Coach Fran said of Texas: “We’ll need turnovers…have a sound kicking game…must be able to run on them, and then connect on passes like everybody else has done (t.u. is last in the conference in passing yardage given up)…nobody’s been able to dominate the line of scrimmage on them this year, but at the same time they haven’t faced a running game as good as ours.”

• • •

Before practice, Antonio (Shorter) Armstrong is coming to practice and he’ll talk briefly to the team. He was an All-American OLB who played on teams during ’91-’94 that never lost to t.u. (or anybody else in the SWC) and won 45 games in four years. He was defensive player of the game in the Cotton against Notre Dame, and went on to Hula Bowl and third-round draft with 49ers as an outside linebacker.

Interesting story. Played his first three years here under his mother’s maiden name. Didn’t know his father. Just before his senior year he learned that his brother stabbed his father to death in their front yard. At the funeral he became acquainted with his father’s family, and decided to honor his father by changing his last name to Armstrong.

The dad was a high school teammate of Jacob Green at Cashmere HS in Houston (is that the right spelling?).

Antonio now runs a fitness studio and serves as a personal trainer for athletes (and others), and on weekends he is pastor of a church. An Aggie friend said he is loaded with personality and charisma, is a good role model, and he’s coming back to Aggieland today for the first time in over five years.

• • •

Enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with friends and family, and yell like crazy on Friday morning until the sun sets (literally and figuratively) on t.u.

Be of good cheer, Mike


Sent Sept. 6, 2007, 12:24 p.m.

Game plan: CF: “they have not defended the speed option well.”

We’ll try to work the outside edge, spread them out, so that when we want to go in with J-Lane in Fresno’s smashmouth style we hopefully have them on their heels a bit.

We scripted 14 plays in the sequence – half runs, half passes. First play goes to Goodson, and second is a zone-read on which McGee either pitches to Goodson or keeps.

CF said “Fresno has a good defense, with good speed, and they’ll play very physical and aggressive. They have good speed on that side of the ball.” Fresno beat reporters say that the Bulldogs are inexperienced, but a better team than last year.



Sent Sept. 13, 2007, 10:14 a.m.

Gentlemen, I have sad news.

Coach Fran asked me to let you know he learned that some members of the media have obtained a copy or one or more of our VIP Connection reports, and some are upset that it exists. Therefore, Coach Fran has decided it is best to shut it down.

He said to let you know how grateful he is for your extreme loyalty and support, and that you represent in every way the reasons that he and Kim feel so at home among Aggies.

Coach said that Jeff Keys, whose company operates, will be in touch with you to return any pre-paid accounts. Thank you again, and please stay in touch any time.

One of my great pleasures is having you as friends, so please stay in touch regularly. This email address remains an open door at all times, and Coach Fran welcomes you to stop by whenever you can.

You have been, and shall remain special to us in so many ways.

Be of good cheer, Mike


3 comments on “VIP Connection Letters

  1. Pingback: Breaking Up is Hard To Do « Billy Pickard’s Hellspawned Javelinas

  2. Pingback: How Much More Can We Take? « Hellspawned Javelinas

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