Is the Spread Dead at Auburn?

LigerCorrespondent IOctober 9, 2008

Tony Franklin now has at least one thing in common with his quarterbacks—they’ve all been sacked unexpectedly.


Sports fans and journalists are going to say a lot about the midseason firing of Franklin over the next couple of days, and I’m sure Franklin himself will soon provide some interesting sound bites saying, in essence, that he was never allowed to run his offense.


That’s a moot point because I believe the issues that led to his dismissal had more to do with play calling and discipline than with offensive schemes.


Let’s face facts: I’ve never seen a more undisciplined and confused offense than I’ve seen on the Plains this year.


In addition (as I’ve written before in this space), Franklin insisted on playing an injured quarterback. I have no doubt that a healthy Chris Todd could be an excellent player, but his injury prevents him from being able to get the ball downfield, which is an essential part of the Spread offense.


Kodi Burns has also not developed at quarterback and at times seems lost during plays, most notably last week against Vandy. Coach Tubs really believes in Burns, and seeing him looking confused at this point of the season also contributed to the firing, I would guess.


Remember, Franklin wasn’t just the offensive coordinator. He was also the QB coach, and both of his QBs looked horrible against the Commodores—in the sixth game of the season.


But what has been done is in the past now, and I, for one, say let’s leave it there.


The question of the hour is simple: Is the Spread dead at Auburn?


No. It’s not. Franklin is (allegedly) a Spread guru, but his Spread offense is not the only type of Spread being run in college football today.


One of my complaints this year has been that the Franklin offense is really simplistic compared to, say, Urban Meyer’s more developed and sophisticated version, or even the Spread variants run by Kansas or Missouri.


For example, Auburn essentially had one running play—the Read-option play, which was rendered ineffective without a run threat at QB.


And, if your opponents are not convinced that you can beat them deep, running the football from the Spread doesn’t have a chance to work for the fact that there are five linemen trying to block eight or nine defenders. Simple mathematics says it’s not happening.


As recently as yesterday, Tuberville stated that he still believes in the Spread offense, and I believe that he still does. But I think he wants to get the right guy to run it: a guy who will put the best players on the field (heaven forbid) and who can find ways to get the ball in the hands of Auburn’s skill players.


And if most of the skill players are running backs, then he needs to find a way to get the running backs the ball.


Over the next few days we’ll hear a lot about how Franklin didn’t get a chance to run his offense. Well, uh, Mr. Franklin, I do believe that’s the problem. Auburn football is not about your offense. It’s about the Auburn players who are executing the offense, so technically it's their offense.


One of the most basic elements of being a coordinator (offensive or defensive) is to scheme around your players. In hindsight, Auburn should have seen these problems coming.


When Tubs hired defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, Rhoads continually talked to the media about getting to know the Auburn personnel. He never said what kind of defense Auburn would run, other than the fact that he wanted the unit to tackle well. For Franklin, however, it was all about his offense.


Raymond Cotton, Sr., whose four-star son is an Auburn QB recruit, also emphasized Tubs' commitment to the Spread. After hearing about Franklin’s firing, he said, “from what we were told, Tuberville supported the Spread—he just didn’t support Tony Franklin.” He went on to confirm that his son is still planning to enroll at Auburn.


Make no mistake: This is not a good time on the Plains. Auburn should expect to lose some offensive commitments because of Franklin’s firing, although as of now they all say they’re sticking with their decision. But undoubtedly a few prospects will lose interest in the midst of the turmoil.


Recruiting aside, firing any coach at any time leads to instability. But firing a high-profile offensive coordinator who has another year and a half left on his contract can lead to some serious unrest amongst the powers-that-be at Auburn, as well as fans.


But as bad as firing Franklin is for the Auburn program now, I’m convinced that to not fire him would have been the greater evil.


OK, maybe evil is a little too dramatic, but certainly Auburn will be better off in the long-run with a coordinator who appreciates Auburn's players and who will build his Spread around them.