Dennis was 23 years old and coaching in high school when his mother, a hairdresser, died of cancer. The day after, his father, who worked for the highway department, drove out to a quarry on the edge of town and shot himself. Later, whenever things got hard for Dennis--when his team lost, for instance--all he had to do was remember back to those dark days, and he knew his pain could be far greater. Not long after they were married, Dennis said to Kim, ?Your mom and dad are not going to take the place of my mom and dad.?
?Well, they don?t expect to,? she told him. But over the years her father, Kenney Kraus, and Dennis became close, and at times it really seemed as though they were father and son. When Kenny died two years ago, Dennis gave the eulogy at his funeral. And when Dennis finished and sat down next to Kim, he burst into tears.
There is loss and then there is loss. Losing to Oklahoma wasn?t the worst thing Dennis Franchione had been forced to endure. When he got home that night he embraced Kim at the door and walked to the bedroom, removed his tie and sat alone for a while in a chair by the bed. She strained for words to console him. Only the day before, he had left the house with high expectations, and now he was frustrated and dejected.
It was getting late when they were surprised by the doorbell. Kim answered it, and there stood Charley North, A&M?s director of football operations. North, a bald, heavyset man with a powerful presence but an easy manner, had coached for 34 years before getting out in 1998. In his career he?d worked with 18 All-Americas and 22 future NFL players. From 1979 through 1994 he had been the offensive line coach at Oklahoma, and in one of those years, 1985, the Sooners had won the national title.
Neither Dennis nor Kim had been expecting North, but it was just like him to show up when they needed him most. ?We?re going to be all right,? Kim remembers North telling her husband. ?We?ll get through this. Things are going to get better. We?ll just keep doing what we?re doing. We know what works. So just keep your head up and move forward. Give it some time, and everything will be fine.?
Three weeks and two losses later Dennis would come home with the same look on his face. The team had fallen to 4?8, Dennis?s worst record in 11 years and A&M?s worst in 31. This time the house was full of guests, and Dennis followed his routine, walking to his room, removing his tie and sitting in a chair by the bed. When he didn?t come out to talk to the guests, his son, Brad--himself a coach, at Bacone Junior College in Muskogee, Okla.--went in to check on him. Kim soon followed. ?It?s been a tough year,? Dennis said. Then he broke down and wept as he hadn?t since the day they buried Kim?s father.
?I know it?s because he wants it so bad,? Kim said later. ?He wants to win and make the people who love A&M proud of him and proud of their team again. And he feels like he disappointed people, like he let them down. I think the cumulative effect of the season finally just got to him.?
A couple of days after the Oklahoma game, with the final score still fresh in the minds of everyone who follows A&M football, Kim went to see her chiropractor in nearby Bryan. As she was leaving the appointment, a woman approached her in the parking lot. The woman asked if she was Kim Franchione, wife of the coach. ?Yes, I am,? said Kim.
?Will you tell Coach Fran something for me?? the woman said.
Kim nodded, not sure she was prepared to handle any criticism, but the woman smiled and said, ?Will you please tell him that we?re all so glad he?s here and that we?re behind him and that we know he?ll get things going?? She gave Kim another smile and said, ?Coach Fran is a class person, and we all appreciate that.?