You Can Blame New Mexico for Dennis Franchione

I like to spend my summers visiting various college programs and getting to know select coaches. The guise is that one day I’ll write about the experiences and compare the styles of various coaches. I also like to visit coaches at smaller schools that seem to be on their way up, so I can compare and contrast their coaching methods from their early years at mid majors to their years at major college football powerhouses.

Back in 1997, I visited the University of New Mexico and spent some time with Dennis Franchione during fall practice, prior to the start of the season.

Dennis spent a lot of time breaking down film and studying his team. He didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the opposition, but he knew what his team could do, and he had them work meticulously on the details of each player’s techniques and assignments. Dennis rarely showed emotion and most of his team feared him. If someone was called into Dennis’ office, he would slink in there and fidget until the ass chewing was over.

The weekend before the Lobos’ season was to get underway, Dennis organized a team building event near Roswell, New Mexico. Basically, he invited some members of the team out to a desert field to sit around a bonfire and bond. On paper, this would make the team closer and bring them together as a cohesive unit.

I rode out there in the backseat of Dennis’ Le Sabre. Dennis and Kim sat in the front seat and discussed marketing opportunities on the internet. Kim talked about her various charities to raise money for a wall on the border and Native American Siamese Twins and coyotes hurt in the coyote fighting rings located along the I40 corridor.

I thought it was odd that Dennis had scheduled that bonfire at 6:00AM, since Roswell was a good three and half hour drive from Albuquerque, and I wasn’t overly surprised when we showed up and only one player was there. The player, it turned out, was sophomore linebacker Brian Urlacher. As soon as we showed up, Urlacher poured several gallons of gasoline on a big pile of wood then threw his cigarette in it to make it ignite. He was pumped up and ran several laps around the fire. I moved away from the bonfire since it was already 90 degrees at 6:15AM.

While Kim and Dennis went on a romantic walk through the cactus plants and dead looking sticker bushes, I talked to Brian a while. He said he had always dreamed of going to Texas Tech, but Spike Dykes had told him that “No boy will ever play on my team if his name is harder to spell than Floydada.” So, Brian chose to go to New Mexico over New Mexico State.

As Kim and Dennis reappeared, with Dennis zipping up his pants, a bright light appeared in the southern sky. This mass of lights, huge lights, zipped along the skyline and stopped right over our bonfire. Urlacher got up and said it was time to kick the shit out of some aliens. A beam of light shot out of what looked like a flying saucer, and a little green man with big eyes materialized just a few feet from the bonfire. Urlacher charged him, but the green man shot some kind of ray from his finger and Urlacher froze.

“Hey,” said Dennis to the green man, “You can’t freeze my linebacker. He’s going to be a starter this year and will probably be an all-conference player as a junior and a senior.”

The green man said to Dennis, “He will be fine. I need to study your brain.” He shot finger ray beams at Kim and Dennis and they both froze. I moved behind a cactus plant and stayed still, hoping I wouldn’t be the next one zapped by the green man.

The green man signaled to his flying saucer still hovering above, and four more aliens appeared. They removed Dennis’ head and pulled out his brain. All five of them held Dennis brain and glowed a Ford Pinto Green. They muttered some Alien stuff in another language, but they all appeared pleased with their findings. Just then, Brian Urlacher started to move again. He was struggling, as if he had been frozen and he was slowly thawing out. “Hey,” Urlacher said, “What have you done with my coach? Have you killed him?”

The main alien, the one that had appeared first, turned to Urlacher and said, “Do you want him to live? We can put him back together.”

“Yes, we need him,” said Urlacher.

The alien stuffed Dennis’ brain back in his head and reattached his head to his body. He shot another ray of some sort from his finger and Dennis glowed red for almost a full minute. The alien turned back to Urlacher and said, “He will be fine in a few moments, but he will lose his effectiveness in about ten earth years, maybe less. We needed to study a human brain. Thanks for your support.”

The aliens were beamed back up to their ship, which darted back to the south. Urlacher and I sat around the bonfire and talked some more until Kim then Dennis emerged from their frozen state. Dennis seemed to have no memory of the aliens, but Kim did. Over the years she has done an outstanding job of suppressing the memory.

As we were driving back to Albuquerque, Dennis asked me if I thought the team building exercise would bring the team together. I told him it was a great idea.


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